NEW PLAYER, NEW IDEA IN READER RESEARCH FRAY:KATHI LOVE GETS POST AT MPA; A&S THIS WEEK UNVEILS ITS OWN SURVEY SYSTEM

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Kathi Love, who last week was lured from her post as marketing director of The New York Times to be VP-research at the Magazine Publishers of America, is stepping squarely into one of the major controversies rocking the magazine industry today-the reliability of audience research.

Ms. Love assumes the post in mid-May. She succeeds Eckart Guthe, who is leaving the MPA.

"There is definitely a crisis out there-it's been bubbling behind the scenes for a long time," said Page Thompson, exec VP-U.S. media director at DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, who also serves as operating chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Media Policy Committee. "We spend millions and millions of dollars in the medium and all we hear is that the research is not reliable."

NEW SOLUTION?

Audits & Surveys Worldwide hopes to offer at least a partial solution May 3 when it unveils the Primary Audience Database, which will measure primary readers rather than total audience.

"We want to supply detailed and accurate information on a magazine's primary readership," said Paul Donato, senior VP-director of media and communications research.

Mr. Donato thinks the new survey model will be of particular help for specialized magazines with upscale readers. The researcher plans to monitor household demographics, product usage and lifestyle of subscribers and newsstand buyers.

The proposed survey will be conducted from September to November, with reports available to subscribers by the end of January. It will be based on 1,500 mailed responses for each magazine. In the second year, the survey plans to expand to a total audience study that will include paid primary readers and pass-alongs.

A TOUGH CHALLENGE

That could be a tough challenge, says agency research executives.

"I'm not sure how they are going to go from a subscriber study to a total audience study," said Sam Sotiriou, exec VP-worldwide media research at Ammirati Puris Lintas.

Currently, the two primary media research companies, Simmons Market Research Bureau and Mediamark Research Inc., both use massive surveys involving 10,000 in-person interviews in an overall media/product survey. But responses for some specialized magazines can be based on as few as several hundred responses, which can trigger wild variations in numbers from year to year.

CONDE NAST'S SHOCKER

Conde Nast Publications shocked MRI two weeks ago by informing the researcher it did not plan to renew its current $1 million contract (AA, April 15). Conde Nast dumped Simmons in 1994 in a cost-cutting move.

"MRI and Simmons are going to have to change the way they do research or they will face new competition," said Steve Blacker, VP-research at Conde Nast.

Scrambling to put out that fire, MRI Chairman-CEO Alain Tessier plans to meet with Conde Nast executives in late May. Of the latest Audits & Surveys move, he said: "It's a good idea within niche markets, but at best it is going to be a subscriber study, not a general population study."

The move was criticized along the same lines by Simmons President Rebecca McPheters.

MRI NOW DOMINATES

MRI has emerged as the dominant magazine media research company since Simmons scrapped its "through the book" methodology after coming under fire from the MPA two years ago. Simmons has since adapted a version of the "recent read" technique long favored by MRI and has been battling to regain share.

More solutions may be coming. Roper/Starch and Arbitron Co.'s Scarborough Research are said to be working on new magazine research proposals, according to The Myers Report, a research newsletter from Myers Communications that hits this week.

With a growing sense of urgency, publishing executives in late March formed a task force co-chaired by Charlene Tren-tham, director of research at Business Week and Susan Smollens, director of research at Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.

A universal solution is not going to be easy to find, and many agencies still prefer a single, broad-based source of media data.

"There are flaws with both Simmons and MRI," said Alan Jurmain, executive director-media services at Lowe & Partners/SMS, "but until someone comes up with something better-well, it's better to be partially right than precisely wrong."

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