Report From the AMC

PUBLISHERS, AGENCY EXECS SPAR OVER MAGAZINE METRICS

Panel Sees Sharp Exchanges Over Audience Measurement

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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- A morning panel on the sometimes picayune topic of magazine audience measurement prompted the fiercest fireworks of this year's American Magazine Conference, as a top magazine
Photo: Doug Goodman
Hachette Filipacchi Media US President-CEO Jack Kliger repeatedly crossed verbal swords with Initiative Worldwide CEO Alec Gerster.
CEO, two agency heavyweights and one research-side executive sparred spiritedly over several sides of the story.

During the discussion, which was moderated by the editor of Advertising Age, Scott Donaton, Initiative Worldwide CEO Alec Gerster was repeatedly on the defensive amid challenges from Hachette Filipacchi Media US President-CEO Jack Kliger; Rebecca McPheters, president of research firm McPheters & Co.; and -- surprisingly -- Starcom Worldwide Senior Vice President Andrew Swinand.

Initiative, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., and Starcom, a unit of Publicis Groupe, are agencies that buy and plan in which media ad dollars will go on behalf of their clients.

'Two hammers'
Mr. Kliger and Ms. McPheters went on the offensive, with the unfortunate Mr. Gerster bearing the brunt of their wrath for a system that Mr. Kliger contended gave media buyers "two hammers" to attack publishes with. Airing concerns he has long expressed, Mr. Kliger said the current focus on magazine circulation, as measured by the likes of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, severely misrepresented a magazines' audience -- and audience is the basis for what media buying decisions.

"The way we use ABC [data] so often [is] so offbase," Mr. Kliger said. "It disregards three-quarters" of magazines' total audience, which is often arrived at through calculations of readers-per-copy and "pass-along" readership.

"Magazines are handled differently, to some extent," said Mr. Gerster, but added that as a medium, magazines "are different from everyone else." He insisted that with the standard metrics in place, "you can measure and find enough correlation that you will be able to know" the basics of correct audience measurement.

Average price paid
In a response that likely warmed the hearts of most magazine publishers in the audience, Mr. Swinand said Starcom had looked at magazines' average-price-paid figures that subscribers pay -- sometimes touted as an indicator of how wanted a magazine is, to the irritation of publishers who claim this metric is misleading -- and found that average price paid had "absolutely no correlation with anything."

Mr. Swinand said he felt "print was on the cusp of an explosion," and agreed with a key point put forth by magazine executives at this conference -- that its readers are unusually "engaged" in the medium. (This conference may go down as a buzzword-switcher for the inside-game of media buying, where readers' "engagement" supplants media buyer concerns over the "wantedness" of magazines.)

Mr. Swinand also said that research into TiVo users found more than 70% of such users routinely zapped all ads. "That's pretty damning," he said.

Circulation data delays
But all the same, he raised longtime concerns that magazine circulation data is not available until long after issues are pulped and forgotten. Publishers' estimates of circulation are not available for at least six months, he pointed out, and audited circulation takes "18 to 24 months." (In fact, most ABC audits are now finished within a year.) Yet magazine publishers have rough data available to them much more quickly, to determine circulation minutia of how many copies to send to newsstands, based on how many of a given issue were sold. "How come we don't have that real-time access?" he demanded.

At one point, audience members by a show of hands said they wished rate bases -- the circulation guaranteed to advertisers -- were abolished, but not one felt that would happen within five years.

RFID consumer tracking chips
Ms. McPheters' cited one company's estimate that a billion dollars was spent dealing with rate-base and related circulation issues, which she termed a "tremendous misallocation of resources." Mr. Swinand waxed futuristic to say that magazine data might one day be aggregated via the use of radio-frequency devices -- or RFIDs as they are known -- which could be embedded in issues to determine how long readers spent with which parts of the magazine.

Near the end of the discussion, Mr. Gerster was asked what he would do if he could junk the entire current system of measuring and start over.

"I'd go become a plumber," he said.

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