Longtime Simmons client Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, dropped the researcher, opting to go only with its main rival, Mediamark Research Inc.
"We've done an evaluation, and we believe MRI is now the better service," said Allen Banks, exec VP-media at Saatchi.
Though an executive in Saatchi's research department praised the Simmons reader studies as "more robust" than its rival's, the business went to MRI because the software was easier to integrate with the product data studies that both services also provide.
Rebecca McPheters, Simmons president since September 1994, said: "We were sorry to lose Saatchi & Saatchi, but we have 176 agencies and manufacturers on our client list and 96 of them are Simmons exclusives."
Ms. McPheters insisted that her company has been steadily rebuilding its customer base. Of the top 10 ad agencies, she said, six subscribe to Simmons research reports.
But among many buyers of both services, Simmons is facing tough going in its bid to be recognized as the primary measuring source. And two tools for rebuilding its customer base seem to be drastic price cuts and substantial discounts below MRI prices.
"The cost of being a Simmons customer is peanuts," said Page Thompson, exec VP at DDB Needham Worldwide. "We buy both, but we are basically an MRI shop."
"We dropped [Simmons] in 1990," said Bruce Rodgers, director of communications at Forbes. "At the time, it was costing me $100,000 a year to subscribe to Simmons." He said Simmons recently tried to lure the title back with an offer that was about "two-thirds less expensive than the 1990 price." But he still decided to stay with MRI.
Simmons' falloff began last year, shortly after the researcher came under fire from the Magazine Publishers of America and some top ad agency researchers over the methodology for its old "through the book" technique of determining a magazine's total audience.
"Through the book" was generally seen as a more accurate sampling technique to determine total readership audiences than the "recent reading" method, then used by MRI but not Simmons. But survey time for "through the book' was longer and more costly, and the number of titles was therefore limited. And some researchers noted what they felt were some disturbing inconsistencies that began cropping up in Simmons data.
Shortly after Ms. McPheters came on board, she jettisoned "through the book" in favor of the "recent reading" method.
Among magazine clients, Hearst Magazines and Conde Nast Publications had already abandoned Simmons before the methodology switch, costing the researcher an estimated $1.5 million. Both companies sited cost as a reason.
Recently, however, Conde Nast's Glamour, Vanity Fair and Bon Appetit, as well as sister Advance Publications title The New Yorker, have resubscribed. Hearst's Cosmopolitan and Redbook have also returned.
But other magazines and agencies have been slow to come back.
Ms. McPheters countered: "There are a number of agencies that only bought MRI but which are dual now .*.*. I expect to add a lot more magazines in the next year."
Magazines-and by association both Simmons and MRI-have been under pressure from some advertisers to produce faster, better research that will really show brand managers how advertising works.
The problem was highlighted at the recent American Magazine Conference in Boca Raton, Fla., when Judith Beaudry, associate director of media/print for Procter & Gamble Co., said: "We would increase [print ad spending] more if we could really show our product managers that print works."