BY DAVID HENRY
President, TeleNoticias and Hispanic Public Relations Association – New York

Those of us in public relations can all agree that an important issue in our industry is accurate evaluation of the ROI we deliver to clients.  One area that has proven challenging for some is measuring the success of radio outreach, placements and listener numbers from the time(s) a story aired.  The most reliable tracking and reporting data for radio listeners in the United States comes from Arbitron, the consumer research company.  While there may be other important standards like message delivery, positive tone and audience demographics, we all tend to start with the audience numbers.  Let’s examine those numbers and which are best to measure public relations outreach.

Arbitron operates on a subscription basis with radio stations that rely on audience data for their programming, ad sales, etc.   Stations must subscribe to Arbitron to be included in audience research and to receive the results.   Arbitron measures network and local-market radio audiences throughout the United States and publishes results on a quarterly basis.  The published listener information is used by radio stations to set ad rates and sell air time.  From a public relations perspective, the listener information provides the audience reach of stories aired on stations throughout the county.  If you cannot find Arbitron data for a particular station, then you can assume that the station is not an Arbitron subscriber.

Although Arbitron provides a range of data and measurements, the two numbers provided most frequently to evaluate a radio station’s reach are the Average Quarter Hour, referred to as AQH, and the Cume Persons or Cume.  Although those numbers have specific use from an advertising perspective (along with other Arbitron numbers), the AQH is the most accurate measurement of audience size for public relations purposes.  As PR professionals, it is important to know the difference between AQH and Cume.  Due to the way Cume is calculated, it gives inflated and basically inaccurate audience measurements for public relations placements.  What’s also interesting to note, is that most of Arbitron’s other numbers are calculations utilizing AQH.

To clarify, let’s first look the definition of each.

The AQH is defined (by Arbitron) as the average number of persons listening to a particular station for at least five minutes during a 15-minute period.

The Cume is defined as the total number of different persons who tune into a radio station during the course of a daypart for at least five minutes.  A daypart is a specific segment of the day.  For example, during weekdays there are five dayparts:  Morning Drive – 6am-10am; Daytime – 10am-3pm; Afternoon Drive – 3pm-7pm; Nighttime – 7pm-12midnight; and Overnight – 12midnight-6am.

With Cume measurement, listener count is the total number of different people who tune-in to a radio station for at least five minutes during a 4-6 hour period (a daypart).  With this broad range of time, it is impossible to accurately measure the number of listeners who could hear a story based using the Cume number.

Let’s look at an example to show why.  Let’s assume your story, interview, ANR, etc. airs at 6:07am on a particular day.  For this example, one person listens from 6:05-6:15am and another listens from 9:30-9:45am.  What happens is clear.  The first listener heard the story, the second did not.  Both, however, are counted in the Cume…as are all the other listeners who tuned in during the daypart before and after the time the story aired.  Yet all of those listeners are counted in the Cume and become part of an ‘official Arbitron number’, even though there is no feasible way that the majority of those listeners heard your story.  Therefore, those that use the Cume number for PR measurement are reporting listeners that never heard your story!

This example clearly shows that the AQH is the most accurate number of the listenership from a public relations measurement perspective.  AQH measurements are the average number of people who tune in for at least five minutes during a 15-minute window.  So, returning to our example, if your ANR aired at 6:07 am, the AQH will give you the most accurate number of people who were listening during that exact time.

At TeleNoticias, AQH is the number we use to report listeners to our clients, simply because it’s the most accurate.  It may not be as large as the Cume, but we know the Cume is counting people that didn’t hear our story.

The reason some use or are tempted to use Cume is obvious: Cume delivers much larger audience numbers.   They feel justified because the numbers are from Arbitron, thus making it ‘official’.   For those of is PR, it is, therefore, critical to know:  “are these numbers AQH or Cume?”

Here is an example from our experience.  One of our clients told us that they received a report for an ANR distributed to the Hispanic market that reached 12 to 15 million people.  Yes, 12 to 15 million Spanish-speaking people!  Given that the current population of US Hispanics is approximately 45 million people, 12 to 15 million represents 25% to 30% of all US Hispanics.  We ask: “Do you really think that many people heard the ANR?”  While it is possible that some stories do reach large audiences, the vast majority do not.  If you see numbers that don’t seem realistic, that’s most likely because they aren’t.

We rely on accuracy in audience measurement and think it is important for our clients to know what these terms mean.  Unfortunately, there are those who don’t want clients to know what the terms mean, because it would hurt their numbers.  Clients should know.  Reporting should be transparent.

The PR industry is moving in the direction of more accurate and transparent reporting.  We are dedicated to remaining aligned with our industry’s mission to count audiences accurately.  We think accurate reporting is the cornerstone for evaluating ROI and the effectiveness of any public relations program.

If you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you.  And we’d be happy to tell you more about partnering with a company that has integrity and accuracy permeate everything we do.