Integrated audits impress

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When you pull together the circulation lists and demographics of more than 50 publications, you end up with a powerful sales tool. That was the thinking at Reed Business Information, which had its titles audited as an entire group this past summer by BPA Worldwide. Combined, those numbers added up to more than 3.7 million subscriptions.

"You don't think of many b-to-b magazines having huge circulations," said Eric Rutter, VP-controlled circulation at RBI. "But when you bring them all together, you create a very powerful entity for your sales staff to work with."

While BPA has conducted about 15 network audits to date, what is growing much faster is the so-called "integrated audit," which audits one media company's entire print and online information together. BPA has performed 15 to 20 of these.

"The last two years have seen a huge growth," said Peter Black, senior VP-business development at BPA Worldwide. "We expect next year to be huge in this area. We've already started receiving lots of inquiries about it."

The goal at RBI is to woo potential advertisers that in the past would have only considered general-interest titles such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes or Fortune. "It used to be that each of our magazines looked pretty small next to those," Rutter said. "But now we're on a par with—if not bigger than—all of the bigger names. When you put together our supposedly itty-bitty numbers, it's just huge." Another advantage of the network-audit report is that it provided deep, across-the-board demographic data, he said.

The process was reasonably simple, Rutter said. "The challenge is to create the lowest common denominator for categories of all the demographics that you have across 50—some very diverse—magazines," he said. After picking categories, Rutter and his assistant typed the information into one spreadsheet. "It only took a few hours in the end, since all of the information is already there from your other BPA statements," he said.

The actual auditing doesn't take much time, either, said Black, because it came from previously audited numbers. "It costs maybe a couple of hundred bucks and takes an afternoon for one of the people in production here," he said. "To me, it's a no-brainer."

At RBI, the plan is to break the monster numbers down into smaller groups, in order to sell advertising into different categories.

The original idea for RBI to do a network audit came out of a group in the company's Strategic Accounts office created by former CEO Jim Casella. Mike Rogers, VP-strategic accounts, said the group started to meet with advertisers and agencies to discuss how RBI could create more "strategic solutions" for those entities. "When we started working with them, they were totally unaware of the scope of what RBI does," Rogers said. "This happened over and over again."

This created the need to create something that could show just how many people across the board RBI is serving. "What's important here," Rogers said, "is that we didn't want to just produce an audit that represented the sheer size of RBI's audience but the depth and resources of that audience."

Rogers said traditional media buyers have responded well. He notes that a decade ago it was conventional wisdom to advertise in Forbes or Fortune to reach executive management and a cross-section of industries. "But not all industries are created equal, and doing something like this allows you to get into the specific groupings of executive managers that are really important to you," he said.

Rogers also said the network audit helps RBI change with the times. "There's more and more emphasis on getting more and more granular information and targeting within different environments for better ROI," he said. 

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