Which is Better? PPM or Diary?

Now that’s a post title which speaks for itself.

And by “which is better?” I don’t mean “which is more accurate?”

I mean which is better for our clients?

And the answer is not at all what we might assume.


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  • Mark Barber

    I don’t think you can claim that PPM is more accurate than diary – they are both just different representations of reality.

  • With adequate sample I think you probably can claim that one is more “accurate” than another.

    But that, of course, is not the point of the video 🙂

    Thanks Mark!

  • David

    Interesting argument, Mark. They do measure subtly different things, and the more that’s understood, the better.

    I’ve wondered myself whether there’s potentially some interesting material to be mined in the relative size of the ‘gaps’ between diary and meter estimates.  For instance, would the size of the ‘gap’ correspond to the strength of the brand?  In other words, if there’s a big drop from diary to PPM, does that equate to a disproportionately strong brand?

    Hard to know for sure, since there are so many other variables at play.

    Have you asked any ‘end clients’ what they think?

  • I have not. I would love to do so, however. Any “end clients” for radio are welcome to pipe in!

    As for what explains the gaps, you’re right – LOTS of things at play there, so a straight answer is unlikely to be forthcoming. But this much would be easy: Correlate the passion a listener has with a radio brand with their usage in both methodologies. Which one has a stronger match of passion to ratings? Now, does that halo over the advertised brands? That, too, is measurable.

    Thanks for the comments, David!

  • Dick Taylor

    After having a chance to see both the PPM and the Diary in action, I found that the diary gave a better measurement of PASSION for a particular station or program vs. drive-by listening.  I also liked the “Comments” that people wrote down that explained the listening they entered.  I’d much rather have larger samples for the cost of PPM with a diary methodology.  I also really cringe at how few PPM meters are used to measure listening compared to the number of stations being measured. 

  • Mark, as a former station owner, I never had the chance to be surveyed – until just recently. I was contacted by Nielson for our household TV  viewing.  I received my $5 and my diaries – and tried HARD to follow the rules. 

    All I can say, is that the tens of thousands I spent as a station owner with Arbitron over the years was a scam.  There is no way that any sane, educated person would take the time to accurately fill out a diary.

    I enjoyed your commentary – and take it to heart.  Was my station #1 because people actually heard it more often, or because people loved the station (brand) so much they recalled it best?

    In the end, Arbitron was a game best not played… we were in a small enough market that we sold based on long term relationships based on results.  The time we spent worrying about the number are moments I can’t ever get back.

  • Mike, thanks for your note – so much to comment on!

    In my research over the years I have found many people who were insanely diligent about their diary-keeping (that doesn’t mean it was “accurate,” just that they gave it their all). So while there are many folks who wouldn’t bother, compare that to the bother of keeping a meter – there’s no comparison! (hence the significantly higher $).

    I intentionally didn’t write a piece on “accuracy” because it is so very subjective and, thanks to the realities of sampling, elusive.

    In the long run, what’s “best” for our clients is what works best for our clients. And, as you rightly point out, that’s not a ratings methodology at all, but rather the fact that messaging on this station or that actually “works” for the client’s business in terms of foot-traffic or sales or awareness or whatever the real-world metric happens to be.

    Because those real-world metrics are not Arbitron metrics.

  • Jay Sterin

    The agencies are not the clients, the clients are the clients.  despite “which is better” this point is so often overlooked.  thanks Mark!

  • Thanks Jay!

    And one day the clients will impress that fact on their agencies more unambiguously.

  • JK

    Just said it at a strategic a few weeks ago, Mark, and glad you are re-framing this. Diary rewarded passion. Ppm rewards utility. And a utility strategy does not drive audience engagement. Yet audience engagement drives ‘non ratings revenue’ because sellers can deliver measurable consumer engagements to clients. Without audience engagement strategies, this is just a slow painful slide to complete commoditization for music radio. What a shame.

  • Well put, Jim. And it’s no wonder you put this kind of thinking into practice – with great success – every day.

  • My issue with both PPM and Diaries is the fact that the vast majority of affluent citizens (unless they are passionate about a particular station or format) wouldn’t be likely to consider taking the time to do either, so the numbers are not truly representative.

  • That’s why ARB doesn’t have a breakout called “Job Creators” 😉

  • Cool, Mike!

  • Bob Rivers

    Upton Sinclair put it this way:

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.

    What’s best for our clients is and always will be results. You get them by developing relationships with an audience, not by playing music in the background while they shop someplace.

    Thanks for asking the RIGHT question! Always enjoy your commentary.

    Bob Rivers

  • Extraordinarily high praise coming from the likes of you, Bob.

    Thanks so much! And thanks for classing up the blog with the Sinclair mention 🙂

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