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Nielsen-Driven Pledge Drives

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Your station’s Nielsen audience data can be a pathway to a better pledge drive outcome.

There are a few simple steps you can take when you plan your drive to better understand your audience and its behavior. Knowing how your audience listens is key to finding out when and from where they might respond with a contribution.

Audience data is regularly used by stations to make important programming decisions and determine how the station is doing in encouraging listeners to stay tuned in, or to tune in more times each week.

Most stations have a point person who manages audience analysis. Meet with this person and together look over the most current audience data. Below you’ll find a number of data points that will inform your pledge drive planning.

Check the recent Average Quarter Hour (AQH) trend

Is your station’s listening growing, stable or declining? A development director once asked why her fund drive performance was down. “We’re not doing anything differently,” she said. However, the audience was. A check of the AQH trend for the past year showed the station had lost half its listening. Fewer listeners will mean fewer pledges.

Public Radio’s landmark study, Audience ’88,” states, “Audience growth precedes membership growth.” At the same time, “…decreases in new listener growth rates portend corresponding decreases in new member growth rates…” [i]

Why do we look at AQH? The AQH is a measure of the number of listeners combined with how long they listen. Time Spent Listening is crucial. The more someone listens, the more likely she is to hear the pledge message and, therefore, the more likely it is she will pledge.

Where can I find this? Radio Research Consortium, the provider of public radio’s Nielsen audience estimates, sends the AQH trend monthly to stations in PPM markets. It is part of a one-page document called Vital Signs and it looks like this:

Learn how to read an interpret Vital Signs at Click on Training, then Training Videos and watch the Vital Signs video. Ask your PD for the necessary username and password to access the site. You can also produce a Vital Signs report using Nielsen’s PPM Analysis Tool software.

If your market is measured by Nielsen Diaries, you can produce the AQH trend using RRC’s ListenerPC online application or Tapscan online at your station’s Nielsen site.

Is your station maintaining P1 listeners?

P1 means First Preference listeners, sometimes called “core.” These listeners choose your station more than any other when using radio. They listen more than the tune-in audience as a whole. That makes them more likely to pledge. Is your P1 growing? If so, your pledge success might also grow. Some stations have tracked P1 against total membership over time to get a sense of the effectiveness of their membership efforts.

Where can I find this? In PPM markets, a P1 trend is also in the Vital Signs report RRC sends your station. You can produce one using PPM Analysis Tool. In Diary Markets, look for a P1 summary in RRC’s Listener Behavior Report or produce one using the ListenerPC online application.

Where else can I find comparative information? The highly informative Benchmarks program from Greater Public similarly tracks the total number of listeners and listener hours against total fundraising. Benchmarks compares individual stations fundraising effectiveness against all other Benchmarks participants in this and many other areas.

What is the average Time Spent Listening (TSL) during key dayparts?

It’s important to know TSL when planning the number per hour and the length of individual pitch breaks. Your listeners will spend more time listening in some dayparts and less in others.

For example, you might assume that listeners may be more likely to tune in and out during morning and afternoon drive time but listen longer during the weekday middays. Therefore under this assumption, you may want to plan more, slightly shorter pitch breaks in drive time and fewer, slightly longer ones during midday.

Let’s find out what the Nielsen numbers might say on this assumption of TSL. The essential number to know for each daypart is the audience turnover. Turnover is a ratio that tells you the number of different quarter hour audiences that equal the Cume for your daypart. Divide the daypart Cume by the AQH.

For example, our sample station below has a Mon-Fri 5 am - 9 am Cume of 45,500 and an AQH of 5,800. The Turnover Ratio is 45,500/5,800 = 7.8 This means it takes nearly eight unique quarter hour audiences to equal the total number of listeners or Cume for the daypart.

In Middays between 9 am and 3 pm, our sample station Cume is 44,700 and its AQH is 4,000. The Turnover Ratio is 44,700/4,000 = 11.2 This means it takes over eleven unique quarter hour audiences to equal the total number of listeners or Cume for the daypart.

What does this mean? Turnover is the opposite of TSL. A ratio of 11.2 means Time Spent Listening is shorter than for mornings where the ratio was 7.8. Surprise. There are a lot more people, each listening for fewer minutes to make up the Cume. That means that in this example, the midday audience turns over more than the morning audience does. If you had assumed the opposite, you would have planned fewer pitch breaks in midday and perhaps reached fewer listeners with your pledge message.

Where can I find this? To determine the Turnover Ratio by dayparts, you’ll have to use software or online applications. For each daypart, find the Cume and AQH and divide the first number by the second number. You may want to base your calculations on the most recent survey, or you may want to average several surveys to be sure turnover hasn’t changed.

Speak to listeners about the programming most important to them.

People listen at different times of the day and week. They pledge when it’s convenient. Here’s the important message: As they’re listening to the program right now, you can also remind them of their other favorite programs or dayparts. Audience duplication or crossover analyses will tell you how many Morning Edition listeners also listen to ATC or to Wait, Wait.. and other weekend programs. Remind those tuned during ATC of an important story many might have heard during their morning drive. Or tell them of a fascinating guest that they might have heard on a weekend program.

But it’s not just picking stories out of a hat. First, you must understand affinity among programs.

Where can I find this? In online or software applications. In PPM Analysis Tool choose “Duplication.” In Diary markets, use ListenerPC’s Crossover Analysis. Here’s an example:

Sixty-three percent, nearly two-thirds of this station’s Morning Edition Cume (MF 5a-9a,) also listens to ATC (MF 4p-6:30p).

Are you consistently attracting your station’s target audience?

No station appeals to all persons six and older. Every station has a target audience. Audience composition reports show you the age, gender and ethnicity of listeners who listen most. Focus on your station’s AQH composition. If this changes or if programming in a certain daypart appeals to a different target, you need to be aware of the target listener. Pledge dollars are likely to come from those who contribute the most quarter hours of listening.

Where can I find this? Vital Signs and PPM Analysis Tool in PPM markets. ListenerPC in Diary markets. Here is what the ListenerPC age cell report looks like for one survey, however you can show a trend, as well. This station appeals 45+.

Vital Signs shows the current survey, trend and average.

Know where your listeners are.

Are they at home, commuting, in the office or someplace else? If they are on the move, this might mean keeping the pledge pitches shorter than at other times.

Where can I find this? In PPM markets use PPM Analysis Tool. Choose Location at the main set up screen, then choose In Home or Out of Home. In Diary markets, use ListenerPC and choose YES for Location of Listening in the Stations and Dayparts screen. In the example below, the station has significant listening (AQH) in the car from lunchtime into afternoon drive.

In Diary markets, Away from Home listening can be either At Work or In Car. In PPM markets, it’s either In Home or Out of Home.

Summary It takes a team to build a successful pledge drive. Work with your program director, general manager or pledge producer to use these concepts to inform the creation of effective and purposeful pledge breaks. Taking time to learn these audience behaviors and tracking them over time can help you deliver what you need from your next pledge drive.

  • David Giovannoni, Audience 88, Membership (Washington DC, Audience Research Analysis and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting 1988), 26.


Craig Oliver

Craig Oliver Consulting


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