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3b or not 3b, that is BPA’s question

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BPA Worldwide’s board will meet May 26–27 to discuss and vote on what may be the most sweeping changes to the audit system since the organization’s founding in 1931.

The proposed changes focus on BPA’s Brand Reach Audit, which was introduced last year. This new audit, unlike a traditional circulation audit, examines the broad reach of a media brand, certifying the audience it touches via e-newsletters, events, websites and print.

In a blog post earlier this year, BPA President-CEO Glenn Hansen said this new audit format may replace the traditional format “as early as 2011.”

For the most part, BPA members appear poised to accept the proposed changes, but there’s one critical exception: the alterations that would be made to paragraph 3b.

“To date it is the 3b age reporting that is the controversial item,” Hansen acknowledged in an interview.

Paragraph 3b is the section in a BPA audit that requires a publisher to reveal how many subscribers to a print publication have been qualified or requalified in the past 12 months, 24 months and 36 months. The proposed change would require only that publishers reveal how many print subscribers have been qualified or requalified in the past 36 months.

This proposed new approach has been presented as flexible, because publishers would still be free to report readers qualified, for example, within the past year or six months.

A vocal group of media buyers and publishers have balked at this particular change. “When I first heard that was being considered, I was pretty vocal in my dislike of it,” said Jim Franklin, chairman of Marketing & Technology Group, a b-to-b media company. He added: “Those of us in the magazine business know that at the end of two years a name has gone sour.”

Kevin Arsham, partner-communications planning director at MediaCom, said, “When looking at an audience, the more granular the better. That would be taking that away.”

Hansen said the bulk of this discussion should be focused on how the Brand Reach Audit accommodates changes in the way audiences interact with brands. “Advertisers have indicated they are not interested in the date someone requested an e-newsletter. They are interested in the involvement of that subscriber, in this case, when it was last delivered,” Hansen wrote in his blog.

Joel Redmount, group director at OMD, said, “I think we have to recognize that the idea of hard and fast statistics applying to every single publisher and their publications and newsletters out there is no longer a viable proposition.”

Steve Weitzner, CEO of Ziff Davis Enterprise, said, “We’re getting hung up on how many one-year names we have when we’re interacting with some of these guys every day [on our websites].” Also clouding the discussion are the financial factors that are part of the proposed change. As b-to-b media companies seek relief from the expense of maintaining a qualified circulation database, some have abandoned BPA.

“Since July 2008, nearly 700 members have resigned from BPA with one-third having ceased altogether. This was offset by 258 new members,” Hansen wrote in his blog.

The hope is that a revamped audit approach will bring back members that have left BPA—and keep members that are contemplating leaving the organization.

Some believe the proposed changes to 3b are equal to print’s surrender; in an age of marketing measurability, the move would weaken one of the best ways that print is truly measurable.

Franklin also questioned the fairness of the 3b proposition. “It destroys what is now a level playing field,” he said. “If you don’t have rules that are standardized that we’ve all lived with for a long time, then you have people who abuse the rules.”

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