Fragmentation, non-cooperation, different measurement techniques, readership surveys the size of novels and the wider availability of media exposure all add up to data that lack credibility.
How to solve those problems may lie in greater use of database technologies, many industry executives believe.
WILL DISCUSS TECHNIQUE
It certainly is one technique that will be thoroughly discussed at the workshop on magazine research held at this week's annual Magazine Publishers of America gathering.
"The problem with syndicated research, like [Mediamark Research Inc.] and Simmons, is that they're using a study in 1996 that's better suited for the [media environment] of 1976," says Steve Blacker, VP-market research, Conde Nast Publications. "They haven't yet been willing to change their methodologies . . . to reflect what has happened in magazine readership."
"Research, like everything else, has to adapt to changing times, to changing needs," agrees Susan Smollens, VP-research and marketing services, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, and co-chairman of MPA's Syndicated Readership Research Task Force.
NEEDS TO CHANGE
There is no disagreement that syndicated research needs to change, but first "We need to get away from finger-pointing on the numbers," she says. "Then we can look a new techniques and develop new methodologies."
The task force, which has been working on the issue since March, will discuss its findings at the MPA workshop, says Kathi Love, MPA's VP-research.
It may disappoint some attendees, but the intent is not to announce a "solution" but to "gather additional input" from MPA members, she says.
The findings also will be shared with other industry associations, including American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.
"What we've learned so far is that publishers can live with data that agencies don't need, and agencies want data that publishers won't need," notes Ms. Love.
MPA by itself can't propose a solution, she says, until everyone else has a chance to say what they really need and want from research.
Databases appear to be one possible solution that has grabbed the attention of many industry executives.
It is with avid interest and some impatience that agency media executives and magazine publishers are awaiting the results of the first primary audience and total audience research surveys conducted last month by research company Audits & Surveys Worldwide.
"So much of the quality of the research depends upon the number of responses to the surveys," says Anthony Torrieri, VP-media research, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.
"The current MRI and Simmons surveys don't do enough to present I'm certainly interested in what Audits & Surveys is doing . . . because it may allow all of us toResearch data disaster
fine-tune and improve our methodologies."
A&S ONTO SOMETHING
"It's not that we expect syndicated research to provide answers to everything, but to make measuring better," adds Jayne Spittler, senior VP-director of media research, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "It may be that Audits & Surveys is onto something with it's database-based research, something that can improve sample size, for example, and provide numbers that truly make sense."
What is most intriguing to agency media researchers is Audits & Surveys' intent to use publishers' lists of subscribers to conduct primary audience data, as well as its plan to measure passalong and
"We know there are segments of the audience that are significantly underrepresented in surveys, and that for niche publications it's been difficult to achieve a large enough sample to come up with good numbers," says Paul Donato, Audits & Surveys' VP-research. "But we are at a point now that we weren't 10 years ago . . . where it makes sense to use databases to make up for past inequities."
LACK OF DIRECTION
Although some on the publishers side are quick to place all the blame for bad research squarely on the shoulders of the syndicated research companies, many agency media executives acknowledge that some of the problem stems from agencies and publishers not giving enough direction to researchers.
"Garbage in, garbage out" readily applies to the state of media research today, one agency executive says.
"There's no question we've asked for too much and now it's time for a reality check," says Roberta Garfinkel, director of print media, McCann-rickson Worldwide, New York.
"Sometimes the entire buy-sell community puts too much of a burden on the research company and doesn't assume enough responsibility to work through issues themselves before going to the research company," says Ms. Spittler. "We need to have some agreement of what's needed industrywide before we can expect the research community . . . to provide us with good data."
Publishers are quick to point out that no one appears to have been hurt by squabble over syndicated research-Conde Nast, for one, is pulling in record-breaking ad pages this year, according to Mr. Blacker-there is a nagging sense that syndicated research can be better than it currently is.
If syndicated research companies, agencies and magazines can agree on what specifically needs to be fixed, "then we've already made substantial progress and can go about finding solutions," says Charlene Trentham, director of research services at Business Week, and co-chairman of the MPA's research task force. "Then it's not a question of who's at fault but how it can be better. For all of us."