As radio industry sticky wickets go, this one’s a doozy—and all-too familiar. You’re a smaller or midsize station, trying to prove your worth to clients and, among other ledger items, you’ve got one huge expense: Nielsen Ratings. Do those numbers give you the arsenal you need to sell, or is the price too high?

Stations all over the map, and format list, grapple with this all the time, and many have taken the leap away from Nielsen—and what is said to be a minimum $100,000 annually for data not everybody believes is authoritative enough to cement relationships with local advertisers. For those stations, it’s about hitting the streets, the web and the phone to prove ROI—and they’re finding their way to results.

True, in most markets, Nielsen remains the only game in town for radio to show advertisers who dominates a market by age, gender, daypart and so on. And yet some stations—and companies—continue to bow out. In midsize market Syracuse, N.Y., Galaxy Communications Syracuse market manager & director of Sales, Steve Vasick, explains, “The decision to forgo Nielsen ratings originally came about eight or so years ago when the economic collapse put pressure on everyone’s bottom line. With a six-figure expense tied to a ratings service subscription, it made more sense to maintain jobs and forgo the ratings.”

Since, Galaxy works with clients to generate ROI instead of peddling numbers. “It’s not just targeting 25-64 and delivering the top two stations in the market for that demo at the cheapest rate,” Vasick says. “It’s about being on the streets, meeting with the advertiser, learning their business and delivering a customized solution. The ratings game is a transactional business, which is great, but the real money has been—and always will be—delivering value to the client at the local level.”

Nielsen, of course, believes that’s where they excel, and they’re equally dogged about the need for the numbers. “Accountability has never been more important for advertisers and they use the ratings to quantify the effectiveness and results of their media plan,” a Nielsen spokesperson tells Inside Radio. “Now more than ever they need to make sure that their advertising drives concrete business results. That is why it is so crucial for station sellers to be experts in their local market and demonstrate how radio delivers solid, quantifiable business results.”

Let’s call this a case of same quest, different methods, believes Warren Lada, COO at Saga Communications, which licenses Nielsen data in only five of its 24 markets. “We are not cookie-cutter to our approach, and our sales strategies are determined market by market,” he stresses. “Saga provides an abundance of tools in all our markets to suit their needs. The secret sauce: our managers and salespeople.”