Advertising Week 2006

When Engagement Isn't Enough

Audit Bureau Panel: Print Needs Several Measures

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Print media has taken plenty of beatings, but a panel of ad buyers and publishers today said the business isn't dying -- it's just being redefined.
Buyers and publishers may be moving beyond 'engagement' as metrics and measures are being tallied faster and more pecisely.
Buyers and publishers may be moving beyond 'engagement' as metrics and measures are being tallied faster and more pecisely.

Where the business once revolved around the average paid-circulation figures released twice a year, today it is awash in faster metrics, more precise measures and even gauges of entirely new priorities, panelists said during "The Evolution of Essential Media Metrics," held today at Tribeca Cinemas by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Engagement may be passe
It isn't just paid circulation that has been reduced to one number in a suite of statistics. Even "engagement," long a strong suit of print and recently the subject of countless quantification efforts, may be passe already, said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment at MediaVest. She said readers' intent to buy an advertised product, for example, was much more important to nail down than their engagement with a magazine or newspaper.

"I can get engaged with a lot of things, but if I don't do anything about it, who cares?" Ms. Steinberg said. "Engagement is over by this point."

The Audit Bureau's new Rapid Reports and "verified" circulation category also got plenty of airtime, although publishers' discomfort with giving up increasing amounts of information was clear. Todd Haskell, VP-business development, the New York Times Media Group, compared releasing more and more performance data to an unsettling opening of the kimono.

But the media business is changing and the print business is changing with it. That means publishers are both doing new things and still emphasizing some persistent strengths of the medium, panelists said.

Other media are an 'intrusion'
"Magazines have a cultural relationship with readers," said George Sansoucy, Rodale's national director-corporate sales. "Nothing can replace it. Everything else is an intrusion."

Mr. Haskell recalled a recent phone call he received from a Madison Avenue jeweler who said a customer had come in with a New York Times ad in hand to purchase the $165,000 pair of earrings pictured in it. "What that tells us -- and advertisers know this -- is print works," Mr. Haskell said.

George Janson, managing partner-director, print at Mediaedge:cia, added that good creative will always get noticed.

Print media has also shifted toward marketing its publications as brands as opposed to a magazine or newspaper. Mr. Haskell said Times readers depend on them for the stories, and will follow them to whatever outlets to get it.

"To us, the newspaper is not the heart of the brand -- it's the journalism," Mr. Haskell said. "At the end of the day we're here to help the reader get access to that content."

Brand editors
Similarly, Rodale and Meredith have both started to appoint brand editors at their major publications, such as Prevention and Better Homes & Gardens, a sign of a possible shift in media advertising.

"I can see some day where we may walk away from the word 'magazine' and use 'brand' or 'commercial vehicle,'" Mr. Sansoucy said.
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