Ad agencies insist that there is still value in third-party audits for publishers
As the economy has fallen apart and started to rebuild, publishers have looked to cut every possible cost, big and small: from head count to fewer pens in the office.
One area that has come under consideration for some is membership in audit bureau BPA Worldwide. Some titles have left BPA to find other, cheaper metrics to satisfy media buyers; or a particular maket's advertisers may have expressed a lack of interest in BPA statements; or they are a single-title market with advertisers that buy ads directly.
“I work with a trade publisher who was in the enviable position of having very little competition, so they resigned from BPA to save the money,” said Jo Ann Binz, circulation-audience development specialist at consultancy Quality Circulation Services. “The majority of publishers, however, are not in that position and need to be audited in order to meet the competition and stay one step ahead to obtain those precious ad dollars.”
Even with print properties declining for BPA, the audit bureau actually gained more new members than it expected in the fiscal year that ended June 30: close to 200, said Glenn Hansen, president-CEO of BPA.
In general, b-to-b media buyers are encouraging audience developers to stick with the audit bureau.
“I really can't imagine doing our job effectively without these resources, especially the audit statement,” said Sheree Johnson, senior VP-director-media services at Nicholson Kovac.
She said other factors help media buyers make their placement decisions, but understanding a publication's circulation is mandatory. “Audit statements are the best way to evaluate a publication's circulation integrity, vitality and relevance to a particular target segment,” she said.
David Rowe, VP-media director at ad agency Doremus, also feels strongly about third-party audits. “We still rely heavily on the BPA statements, particularly on the print side,” he said. “I think it is very short-sighted for publishers to try and save money by dropping their circulation audit statements.”
For Jeff Kalish, VP-media director at Robin Shepherd Group, the most important part of the audit statement is the segmentation of audience by industry and title.
Doremus' Rowe said that a metric that is important at his company is the age of the qualification. “Many publications are letting more subscribers slip into the two- and three-year category, which is not a good indication of subscriber interest,” Rowe said.
Unaudited titles get little respect from these media buyers. “In the event that the budget is limited, which in most cases it is, where there are two similar publications—CPM, readership, circulation, editorial—the audited publication will be recommended,” Kalish said. Johnson labeled going without an audit as “troublesome.”
“With increasingly more advertisers seeking higher levels of advertising accountability as a media planning "best practice,' ” she said, “it is important to evaluate business/trade publications on the basis of their audited circulation. ... I believe that nonaudited publications should be used with caution and only in supportive roles, if necessary, with measures taken within to distinguish and give preference to audited over nonaudited books.”
As it is, BPA is attempting to deal with the changing marketplace by switching its auditing practices and pricing structure. By January, publishers should be looking at Brand Research Reports rather than circulation reports. The new reports will look at a brand across all its different formats on one page rather than putting each on a separate report. “This way, the salesperson will have one report to pull out of his or her toolbox when talking to buyers and publishers,” Hansen said. “It will have everything in one place so the salesperson isn't fiddling through things during the meeting.” M