How to compete with unaudited titles

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In a business in which most advertisers demand countless metrics, ROI and proofs of performance, the growth of unaudited titles has some circulators and publishing executives confused and frustrated.

"Ad agencies are abandoning their previous high standards of only running in audited publications," said Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media. "They have less staff than they did only a few years ago and a much heavier workload, with online and electronic advertising in the picture.

"And there are some books that the advertiser feels like they have to be in, for whatever reason," he added. BZ's titles, except for one quarterly, are all audited.

Christine Oldenbrook, director of marketing and e-media at Bobit Business Media, has worked with both audited and unaudited books. She said unaudited books often have much lower ad rates and value-added programs, and can end up with a larger market share than audited publications. "Marketers advertise with them because they can't afford not to. It's so cheap, and sometimes they get just as much response from their ads?although that is suspect," she said.

Michelle McKeon, circulation manager and team leader at PennWell Corp., has been in charge of many books whose main competition is unaudited titles. "This can be frustrating to us as, even though they are not audited, they continue to steal a large portion of market share," she said.

To compete with unaudited titles, Bahr suggested showing advertisers postal statements of publications that claim a specific circulation. "They have to print [a certain number of books] if they want to qualify for second-class mail, and often the number that the title prints is much lower than the number stated as its circulation," he said. Bahr said this strategy is more effective with smaller advertisers. "The smaller advertisers that don't go through an agency are always enraged," he said. "They really feel every dollar they spend, and they don't like giving dollars to someone who is lying to them." This approach doesn't work as well with ad agencies because media buyers don't want to relay to clients the bad news that a title in which they are advertising is misrepresenting circulation figures, Bahr said.

PennWell, McKeon said, has put every effort into competitively stating the advantages of being audited. The company has developed sales materials that explain why auditing magazine circulation is important. The age of circulation, guaranteed delivery, duplication and third-party verification of demos and quantity are all touted as benefits of advertising in an audited title.

"The fact that we invest a lot of money in our circulation to make sure the advertiser is getting what they are paying for is definitely a strong selling point versus an unaudited publication," McKeon said. "It doesn't necessarily equate to higher ad sales."

Bahr said that most of the onus is on the ad agencies to take unaudited titles less seriously. "They're the only ones who are going to call the bigger companies and tell them what's going on," he said. "If it continues this way, what's my motivation for continuing to provide high-quality circulation? I believe in audits and will continue to audit, but I could see plenty of titles just going auditless."

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