CONDE NAST RE-UPS WITH MRI, BUT CONCERNS REMAIN: PUBLISHER SIGNS MULTIYEAR DEAL DESPITE EARLIER, HIGH-PROFILE FEUD

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More than a year after sparking a major industry debate by declaring it had "fired" Mediamark Research Inc.,

Conde Nast Publications renewed its contract with the leading magazine researcher.

But the publishing giant, whose titles include Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair and Vogue, said it still has reservations about MRI's methodology.

"Our signing the contract was like people complaining about higher taxes," said Steve Blacker, Conde Nast VP-market research. "Some people pay their taxes and still think the taxes are too high."

MRI'S CONCESSIONS

Conde Nast President Steve Florio said in April 1996 that the publisher would not renew its contract with MRI when it expired in 1998 because of ongoing dissatisfaction with survey results. Last week, he said MRI has since "made some concessions on methodology and pricing," but declined to be more specific.

The contract that expires next spring was estimated to be worth some $1 million a year to MRI.

"They have renewed and we are very pleased," said Ken Wollenberg, MRI senior VP-sales and marketing, who said the agreement is a multiyear one. "Conde Nast is an important player in this business, and I'm glad that the concerns they had we could put to rest and that they have seen the value of having MRI research."

Mr. Blacker said "MRI did say it would increase its sample size, which was a step." He also noted that the syndicated research company agreed to sign up for accreditation by the Electronic Media Rating Council this past April, which was one of Conde Nast's concern.

INDUSTRYWIDE DEBATE

MRI rival Simmons Market Research Bureau got accreditation by the council last year, a fact it touted in pitches to magazines. Conde Nast dropped Simmons several years ago and has not yet returned, although some individual titles use it for subscriber studies.

Conde Nast's public declaration that it would not renew its contract with MRI kicked off an industrywide debate over audience research.

In the end, Conde Nast's decision to renew seems to have been driven by MRI's position as the primary audience research tool used by ad agencies in making decisions on magazine spending.

"Obviously, [MRI] is still the currency being used at many agencies, and we appreciate the value the MRI study has for new business," said Mr. Blacker. "We are realistic and practical business people, and we have voiced our concerns. We know how we felt, and if this brings up other issues for the industry to address, we see that as for the better."

After Conde Nast issued its threat last year, Messrs. Florio and Blacker were vocal in their support of a new circulation-database approach method being tested by Audits & Surveys Worldwide.

STILL BACKING A&S

Audits & Surveys will release its first reports in October. Its Total Audience survey measures 79 magazines and is based on a sample of 25,000 respondents. The Primary Audience survey is being done for 20 publications, including 13 Conde Nast titles, using a sample of 1,200 subscribers.

"We are still going to support Audits & Surveys," Mr. Florio said.

Added Mr. Blacker, "Our biggest accomplishment in the last year and a half is getting Audits & Surveys off the ground. Magazines are the one medium that has a database of its users. TV doesn't have it, outdoor doesn't have it. We should

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