Starcom presses publishers for more accountability data

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publishers long have argued people pay more attention to ads they see in magazines than spots they passively watch on TV. Starcom USA, Chicago, intends to make them prove just how engaged those readers actually are.

Starcom, part of Publicis Groupe's media arm Starcom MediaVest, is pushing publishers for more accountability-asking them to provide quantitative and qualitative data proving ads in their titles help advertisers meet their business goals. It's also prodding them to demonstrate how content meshes with ads and how clients can tailor ads in different titles.

qualifying it

"Everybody [has been] talking about engagement for years," said Andrew Swinand, senior VP-group client leader at Starcom, a top print buyer. But "nobody has qualified it, quantified it or made it actionable."

Starcom is trying to do that in requests for proposals sent to magazines for 2005 planning. Through a process called "ACE," the agency is asking questions to measure magazines' effectiveness in three categories: accountability, connectivity and engagement. Starcom will work with publications to address perceived shortcomings.

"We totally applaud it," said Jack Haire, exec VP-Time Inc. Starcom is focused on "really understanding how to make magazines work harder for their clients."

A sales executive for a major consumer magazine said titles with extensive subscriber research shouldn't have a problem making the grade in ACE. It could challenge smaller publications.

For accountability, Starcom has identified six factors that represent reader engagement. It will ask magazines 75 questions related to how they stack up in these areas. The agency declined to disclose the questions.

Starcom has formed a partnership with research firm Affinity to do title-level research to measure engagement and how ads drive business.

Also related to accountability, Starcom is pushing magazines to provide circulation and reader data more quickly than they currently do. Observers said this will be difficult to pull off, but Starcom executives said they've had promising conversations in this area.

recent scandals

The process isn't driven by concerns that publications inflate circulation figures, said Brenda White, director-print investment at Starcom. This issue was raised most recently by inflation scandals at the Dallas Morning News, two Tribune Co. newspapers and Hollinger's Chicago Sun-Times.

For "connectivity," Starcom asks magazines to show how publications provide the right environment for marketers to connect with their target. The agency looks for alignment of context, contact and content, according to a consumer magazine executive who's familiar with ACE.

To measure "engagement," Starcom asks magazines to show that "readers regularly interact with your publication and internalize its information," the executive said.

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