Nielsen Boss on Client’s Public Criticism: ‘I’d Prefer They Were Saying Good Things’

“It’s always positive when our clients are talking to us in the marketplace,” CEO Mitch Barns says — it means company is “highly relevant”

Last Updated: February 11, 2016 @ 7:13 AM

Nielsen is in a tough spot. While still proprietors of the current TV ratings currency, a bunch of measurement companies are gunning for that title, and the analytics giant’s clients seem to enjoy complaining publicly about them.

A bold media analyst this morning asked CEO Mitch Barns what goes through his mind when he reads or hears about a company that pays Nielsen a lot of money griping about its performance in the press.

“It’s always positive when our clients are talking to us in the marketplace, because what it says about us is we’re highly relevant — and that’s always a good thing,” Barns said during a Thursday investor event. “Of course, I’d prefer they were saying good things instead of criticisms.”

And to be fair, sometimes clients definitely do — just not a lot recently, as Nielsen has been slow to adapt to changing viewership behaviors. Plus, perhaps the fact that no one has replaced Nielsen yet means the company is at least still the best of many imperfect options.

Barns did pat his own company on its back a bit, saying its doing a much better job listening and reacting to client concerns these days. His group “almost always” follows up with whomever is doing the latest round of Nielsen-bashing — and a teachable moment could theoretically exist on either end of their relationship.

After all, Nielsen data can be very confusing, and sometimes clients don’t have a firm grasp on exactly how to interpret it. We’re not sure who that is more of an indictment on, however.

If a dispute is a matter of a client being misinformed, the frustrating thing is, Nielsen can’t shoot back publicly. That’s just not how business works, and the company knows it is no longer in a position to risk alienating clients, especially with competition from comScore/Rentrak and others ramping up.

But Barns has accepted his reality, and he says Nielsen is committed to putting in whatever work is required to rectify lingering negative feelings — as much as it can, that is.

“While we never expect those types of comments to go away entirely, we do see — and we have heard others say — that we’re making progress on that front,” Barns concluded.

Read about Nielsen’s fourth-quarter and full-year financials — which were unveiled earlier this morning — here. The company topped Wall Street’s expectations in both earnings and revenue, which helps explain the smiling Barns pictured above.