MEDIA BUYING EXECS COMMISERATE WITH PRINT PUBLISHERS

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TORONTO (AdAge.com) -- Newspaper and magazine circulation executives who gathered here for the 90th-annual Audit Bureau of Circulations conference could take heart in a message they heard this morning: Cheer up. You could be TV.
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"Don't think life in the TV business is that great," David Verklin, CEO of Carat North America, said during a morning panel of ad executives entitled "What Does the Marketplace Want From Print?" He said media advertising executives "buy TV like we buy pork bellies" -- that is, in a highly commoditized fashion. "You don't want us to hold you to standards as low as TV."

Scandal-plagued medium
Mr. Verklin's comments to the 500 or so attendees came as both magazines and newspapers have seen a spate of circulation-overstatement scandals broadly question the value of the medium and the veracity of its audience measurement -- the single metric that most affects marketers' ad-buying decisions.

But the panel's troika of advertising heavies -- Mr. Verklin, Starcom North America CEO Renetta McCann and Zenith Optimedia Canada President Sunni Boot -- focused more on print's power than print's problems in a discussion remarkably free of conflict or contentiousness.

Carat, part of Aegis Group, and Publicis Groupe's Starcom and Zenith Optimedia are agencies that buy and plan advertising for marketers in a variety of media.

'Chosen environment'
Ms. Boot, in her opening remarks, said print is a "chosen environment" for consumers, which neatly echoes the new message of "engagement" that a consortium of magazine publishers will soon stress in a major advertising campaign. At the same time, though, she cited the need for "improved metrics" to measure less-tangible indicators such as reader involvement.

Print executives have complained they are held to unusually rigorous standards of audience measurement -- but Ms. McCann pointed out that this was merely a trickle-down effect of what media-buying firms themselves face. The effects of federal regulation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, she said, now affects key operations of major marketers, and the attention to detail inevitably "cascades down to us" on the media-buying side.

"We are the largest line-item" in budgets, Ms. McCann said. This "invites a level of scrutiny we are only beginning to understand."

Tougher questions
The executives said their clients had begun asking tougher questions about circulation in light of recent scandals. But Ms. Boot, for one, had a quick suggestion to the publishers who aren't playing fast-and-loose with their numbers.

"You folks need an ad campaign," she said.

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