BPA forges into the digital future

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Auditors from BPA International Inc. have been huddling with trade publishers recently about the company’s plan to digitize all auditing materials and subscriber records by 2004.

While the move is considered essential, it has nevertheless raised questions about whether BPA might be losing the personal touch with publishers in going digital.

"There is a need to go out and explain the changes and make recommendations to publishers," said Glenn Hansen, BPA president-CEO. "We’re telling them that if they’re not already imaging subscriber records they need to begin to think about that."

Regional auditors replaced

Once the system is entirely electronic, all in-person services to BPA members will be provided by market managers working in seven satellite offices rather than by regional auditors. This is a move that concerns Francis Heid, VP-publishing operations at Advanstar Communications Inc. and a member of BPA’s circulation management advisory committee.

"One of the things we’re nervous about is that the face-to-face dialogue we get from auditors may go away," Heid said. "Instead of talking with an auditor about the nitty-gritty details the [market] manager is going to be talking ‘big picture.’ "

Countered Hansen: "Over time those concerns will dissipate as everyone acclimates to the new process. The nitty-gritty details will still be done by phone, e-mail and written responses."

Home stretch

The BPA changes, initiated three years ago, have started to accelerate:

• Half of BPA’s audits have been handled electronically this year and that percentage will steadily increase in the months and years ahead. Nearly four years ago, BPA started electronic audits of subscriber databases, eliminating many manual procedures. More than 5,200 audits have been completed using the technology. Audits for new BPA members will initially be handled face to face.

• BPA will centralize many of its operations when it moves its headquarters from New York to Shelton, Conn. The move is to be completed by Jan. 1. BPA will maintain offices in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Tampa and Washington.

• The company is enhancing its Web site, Upcoming build-outs will include an e-mail alert system to announce the availability of reports; development of an analytical tool that supports both qualitative and quantitative data; and the search and sorting of reports according to geographic parameters.

Hansen said the various changes would save the association $500,000 a year starting in 2005.

Lower staff turnover

Regina Starr Ridley, president of CMP Media L.L.C.’s Specialized Technologies Group, said she hopes the changes bring more stability to BPA’s auditing crew. "There’s a lot of travel and there’s a high staff turnover," Ridley said. "By auditing digitally and centralizing its functions, BPA should reduce staff turnover, which can only be better for publishing companies."

BPA has already seen a slowdown in the turnover rate among its auditors. In its 2001 fiscal year, 19 auditors left the company, down from 35 in fiscal 2000.

Larger publishing companies, which have the technological wherewithal to handle the conversion to digital, have embraced the changes. Smaller publishers have been a little reluctant, but are starting to adapt.

"It’s a natural progression that both BPA and publishers will have to grow into," said Stephen Schweikhardt, an associate with Quality Services Group, a publishing consulting group based in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and former manager of BPA’s Midwest region. "Publishers have been requesting digital auditing since the technology has been available."

Yet Schweikhardt stressed that auditors still need to get out in the field to meet with publishers. "There has to be a degree of interaction," he said. "You can’t leave everything to the computer."

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