Questex starts industry debate by selecting Verified as new audit firm

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Questex Media Group, publisher of Travel Agent and other magazines, revealed last week that it has selected Verified Audit Circulation as its new audience auditor. Questex properties previously audited by BPA Worldwide, a not-for-profit organization, will now be audited by the for-profit Verified.

The change has prompted consternation at BPA, grumbling among competitive publishing companies and doubts on the advertising agency side.

Questex said it made the change to improve measurement of audiences not only for its print publications but also for its events and online properties, including Web sites, digital editions and e-newsletters.

Measurement of “cross-platform reach” is necessary, said Tony D’Avino, exec VP of Questex. He added that Questex’s switch to Verified was also based on establishing a new audit program quickly, which he said BPA wasn’t able to do. “It really for us was about speed,” D’Avino said.

Glenn Hansen, president-CEO of BPA, countered that his organization could respond quickly and began offering an Integrated Media report a decade ago. “We are disappointed,” Hansen said. “We had asked Questex about their plans and were told they were confidential. It is difficult to help when you are not told what the needs are. If they had shared with us, as other publishing companies have, they would have found us willing to work with them to customize our Integrated Media report.”

Industry observers agree that offering an audience picture across all media types makes perfect sense. However, some say Questex, which cut about 40 jobs a few weeks ago—most of them in print—is looking to trim more expenses with the move to Verified, which focuses its business on auditing local newspapers and audits significantly fewer b-to-b titles than BPA.

“It is a cost savings move,” said one media investment banker who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s a lot cheaper to use [Verified], both externally and internally.”

An executive at a media company that has products that compete with Questex said a BPA audit requires great expense to continue qualifying subscribers and keep the circulation list up to date. “That’s the real rub, it’s not the cost of a BPA audit vs. a Verified audit; it’s the cost of keeping up the quality of the circulation to BPA standards,” the executive said.

The complaints baffle Tim Prouty, CEO of Verified, which has been in the auditing business for almost 60 years. “I wonder why anyone would make assumptions like that not knowing anything about us,” he said. “We’ve been in business a long time, and one of our strengths is looking at all types of media.”

Prouty added: “We don’t feel that our role here is to tell Questex or any other company how to run their business. Our role is to help support the relationships they have with their advertisers.”

Rick Segal, chairman of advertising agency HSR Business to Business and a BPA board member, said the for-profit model of Verified would make him concerned about the integrity of the audit. “As soon as you’re in the profit model, who are you working for?” he asked. “You’re working for the media outlet.”

D’Avino said he was more than satisfied with the rigor of Verified’s audit process. “It’s getting results that really matter, and the results are a function of good, qualified audience members who are responding to our content and to our sponsors and advertisers,” he said. “If the results aren’t there, the audit statement isn’t going to be a customer retention tool, whether it’s BPA or Verified. It’s not about the audit, it’s about the results.”

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