October 1992: Lou Schultz, then exec VP-director of media services at Lintas:USA, shakes up the annual MPA meeting by calling for new research techniques to examine a magazine's core audience. (The main syndicated research providers, Media-mark Research Inc. and Simmons Market Research Bureau, base their findings on total audiences.) His reasoning: with advertisers demanding more accountability for their media dollars, he tells conference attendees, "we must throw out our bias toward total audience and get back to the core reader." In addition, he announces that Lintas media buyers and planners are "officially putting total audience at the bottom of the spectrum" when evaulating magazines. Reaction among publishers and media buyers to Mr. Schultz's declaration is mixed.
November 1992: After smoothing out some misunderstandings, MPA and Lintas agree to form a task force comprised of publishers, advertisers and agency media directors to explore research techniques.
February 1993: Citing a lack of consensus among themselves and a high price tag to devise a new research method, representatives of MPA, Advertising Research Foundation, American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers decide not to pursue creating a core readership measurement plan. Mr. Schultz still believes his point is valid but won't push the issue for now.
July 1994: An MPA draft report leaked to the media questions aspects of Simmons' research. The issue under scrutiny: the percentage of Simmons respondents saying they're readers in the screening process has decreased while magazine readership in general has been stagnant. (Ideally, both figures should move in the same direction.) The MPA draft calls the difference "perplexing."
August 1994: All but one of Conde Nast Publications' magazines drops Simmons as a research supplier. Insiders at Conde Nast say the move was done for budget reasons, though the company retains MRI surveys. This marks the second large publishing company to drop Simmons; Hearst Corp. titles had ceased using the research company the previous year.
As the MPA/Simmons issue sets the normally quiet world of media research buzzing, Mr. Schultz renews his call for creating magazine research techniques to examine core readers.
September 1994: Simmons announces plans to abandon its "through the book" research method, in which respondents flip through an entire magazine to explain how much they actually read. Instead, it will use the "recent-reading" method, which merely requires respondents to say whether they read a recent issue. The latter technique, used at MRI, is less comprehensive but also cheaper and less time-consuming. Tim Bowles, chief executive at Simmons' U.K. parent MRB Group, says the switch is unrelated to the MPA controversy.
The Four A's convenes a meeting between Simmons and MPA to help settle their dispute. The two sides present their cases but don't actually meet face to face. ARF is asked to arbitrate. No timetable is set on when the foundation will announce its recommendation.
October 1994: Simmons installs a new president-CEO. Rebecca McPheters, former VP-research of New York Times Co.'s Women's Magazines Group, replaces Ellen Cohen, who becomes a consultant. Ms. McPheters delivers a change in Simmons' stance on the issue by conceding there may be some quirks in the '93 Simmons numbers.
On Oct. 5, Simmons executives meet with the MPA in the first face-to-face session since the controversy erupted three months earlier. A second meeting between MPA and Simmons is set for November.