CONDE NAST BACKS NEW RESEARCH:AUDITS & SURVEYS ATTRACTING AGENCIES, PUBLICATIONS:BACKLASH GROWS AGAINST MRI RESEARCH

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Turning up the heat in its battle with Mediamark Research Inc., Conde Nast Publications is joining a group of media companies and ad agencies signing letters of intent to support new print research in the works from Audits & Surveys.

National Geographic, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and a dozen ad agencies-including Ogilvy & Mather, Bates USA, Wells Rich Greene BDDP, Bozell and TBWA Chiat/Day, all New York-have also signed on.

GROWING CONTROVERSY

While none except Conde Nast have indicated they will abandon the embattled MRI, the letters underscore the increasing controversy surrounding magazine research.

Conde Nast has said it will drop MRI when its $1.5 million contract expires at the end of 1997 (AA, April 15). TV Guide is also said to be close to endorsing the Audits & Surveys research, expected to be released next March.

"The truth of the matter is that we have enough letters of intent to make this viable," said Paul Donato, senior VP-director of media and communications research at Audits & Surveys.

The proposed research will use a mail survey to measure primary readers of a magazine or national newspaper. That can be important to publications that have high-quality demographics but low pass-along rates.

MRI ATTACKS CONTINUE

MRI Chairman-CEO Alain Tessier is working with a task force from the Magazine Publishers of America on research issues and MRI has met at least once with top officials at Conde Nast, but so far the talks have gone nowhere.

If anything, Conde Nast has stepped up the level of its attack against MRI in recent weeks.

"They are deliberately overloading their survey," said Steve Blacker, Conde Nast VP-research. He said the 200-page survey is primarily funded by magazine publishers, but that MRI is measuring other media and brand habits and selling results to a range of media and marketing companies.

"That's a ridiculous charge," said Mr. Tessier.

To track primary readers, Audits & Surveys proposes to mail a 12-page questionnaire to a magazine's subscribers and use bind-in questionnaires to reach newsstand buyers. Unlike MRI and Simmons Market Research Bureau, the company won't try to decipher other media or product habits.

Simmons also relies on in-person interviews with 10,000 respondents. While much of the recent heat has focused on MRI, Simmons already lost Conde Nast and some other big customers several years ago when it adopted new research methodology.

Still, few see the untested new survey as an overnight replacement for Simmons and MRI.

"I see Audits & Survey as an enhancement, not a replacement for syndicated research," said Rene Clepper, director of marketing research at National Geographic.

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