New ABC audit for business publications sparks debate

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The Audit Bureau of Circulations' new "Consolidated Media Report," which extends the scope of reporting beyond circulation, is fueling debate over whether ABC should develop a similar type of audit for daily newspapers.

The Consolidated Media Report provides ABC-audited business publications with a "total contacts" figure that includes aggregated information about circulation, pass-along receivership for controlled-circulation titles and Web site traffic. ABC affirmed at its November board meeting in Las Vegas that trade show attendance should also be audited if a publisher wants to include such statistics in a consolidated media report.

The goal of the report is to provide advertisers with the total number of people who read a publication, as opposed to reporting just the number of printed copies sold. Advertising Age was the first business publication to sign on for the report.

Michael Lavery, president-managing director of ABC, said that six business publishers, in addition to Crain Communications, have expressed interest in using the new reporting format.

"B-to-b publications have led the charge," he said. "By their nature, b-to-b publications focus on very specific audiences, and the reporting of consolidated reach is very much in keeping with how [business publishers] represent their brands to their advertisers and how advertisers evaluate the brand."

Some daily newspaper publishers, however, are troubled by the methodology used in the report, said John Murray, VP-circulation marketing at the Newspaper Association of America, whose members account for 87% of the daily newspaper circulation in the U.S.

"The concern expressed by members is that the term `reach,' as used by newspaper marketers, doesn't include duplication, while the b-to-b format uses the term `reach' for a gross number of impressions, meaning ABC is counting the same number of eyeballs twice," he said.

ABC and the NAA Task Force on Qualifications and Reporting have been discussing revising auditing methods for newspapers. Murray said the new business publication audit could be the catalyst for the task force to approve a similar reporting format for daily newspapers. Changes in the way ABC audits newspapers may materialize sometime in 2007.

"Conceptually, the report has a lot of value," Murray said. "The challenge is to produce a report for our advertisers that conveys the total audience for newspapers and does so in a manner that provides audience data [marketers] need to reach their target market with newspaper media."

Lavery responded to NAA's concerns by saying: "There is explicit language that there may be duplication. But the report reflects the total number of touch points by different media, whether it's traditional circulation, pass-along receivership or Web traffic. It's what advertisers are looking for. Some are interested in one of them, or two of them or all three."

Opinion is divided on whether the new auditing report format will be a help or hindrance to b-to-b marketers.

"It's about time," said Rick Segal, CEO of ad agency HSR Business to Business. "We're into 14 years of Web media and that just now auditors are getting around to including it into a media brand's reach seems slow at the switch at best."

But Dave Morgan, chairman of Tacoda Inc., which provides targeted marketing technology and services to online marketers, said daily newspapers have a legitimate gripe about the new ABC report.

"Newspapers live in a reach world and magazines live in a frequency world," he said. "It's great to get more numbers, but by combining the reach of all media channels ABC is creating a very dangerous number, which is going to be used by everybody in sales."

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