Attention is more Important than Reach


Some weeks ago I asked Seth Godin why radio has anything to worry about given its remarkable level of near-ubiquitous usage, its enviable ease-of-use, and its historic role in the habits of nearly everyone with a home, workplace, and car.

“It’s not about usage,” he told me, “it’s about attention.”

And indeed, as the number of ways advertisers can spend their money explodes, reach and impressions remain one way to measure success, but there is a new way (or maybe a very old way) – and that new way will be more important tomorrow than it was yesterday.

That new way is attention.

Attention is an active force.  There is nothing passive about it.  Attention is the result of choice and action.  You pay attention.  Attention is not simply listening, it is hearing.  And it goes beyond hearing to active participation in whatever radio-mediated experiences you create across any platform – online, on-air, or in person.  There is no engagement without attention.

Attention is decidedly not the reception of a signal on a PPM device while passing a storefront playing a radio station. No, not nearly.

It has often been said to me that when you carve away the peripheral radio listening – the light listening of fringe occasions to fringe stations – the ratings from PPM look remarkably like the ratings from diaries.  And for better or worse, diaries may reflect an unusual amount of recall, but they also reflect an unusual amount of attention.  Because recall requires attention.

So why is attention in many ways as important as reach, maybe more so?

Because where the goal is action, conversation, foot-traffic, sales, whatever – where there is a metric defining advertising success (not simply advertising exposure) – attention is a pre-requisite for that success.  Reach without attention is not.

Radio has got to get into the attention business.

How do we do that?

Well many of us are in it already.

When I hear about a News/Talk station that ranks low in Arbitron but ranks high in market revenue, that station is in the attention business.

When I hear about a station that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, that station is in the attention business.

When I hear about a morning show that prods its listeners to vote for certain candidates on American Idol and seems to actually shift the vote, that station is in the attention business.

When I hear about an online radio service has more than 80 million registered users and the largest single fraction of online listening in the US, that station is in the attention business.

Note, however, that the attention business is not necessarily the Arbitron business, let alone the PPM business.

And this fundamental strategic friction is one of the most important to radio’s future.

Because our clients are awakening to a post-Arbitron world.

And then the only question will be:  Who are the players in it?

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