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While researching for a recent media buy, Susan Kelly, director of advertising for Mid-Atlantic Newspaper Services in Harrisburg, Pa., ran into a typical problem.

As she searched for newspaper markets with high computer and Internet usage, she had to sift through several readership studies.

Research she received was comprehensive, but each study used different, sometimes unmatchable criteria.

One study detailed the number of high-tech companies in the region, while another focused on the local population of high-tech professionals. Some broke out the number of computer professionals in the paper's readership while a few dug deeper, specifying what sort of computer field employed them. In the end, without any way to create a simple graph or chart to compare the data for the client, Ms. Kelly had to present each study on its own.


"We were able to make a presentation to the customer and get the order, but it was piecemeal," she says. "We couldn't develop one standardized form that said, 87% of these people do this.' "

The confusion Ms. Kelly and most other media buyers experience with newspaper readership surveys is a source of frustration that Audit Bureau of Circulation is trying to stamp out with its Newspaper Reader Profile Service.

The program has been created to verify third-party readership studies and review factors such as audience makeup and size.

"The intangible has always been the readership number," says Terry Prill, newspaper strategist for department chain Dayton Hudson Corp. who sits on the ABC board that has planned the studies. "The circulation is sort of the skeleton and the readership and demographics are sort of going to be the flesh."

ABC tested the program last fall at The Times in Shreveport, La., and expanded the experiment to nine more newspapers, from Raleigh, N.C.'s 157,000-circulation News & Observer to Gannett Co.'s 45,000-circulation Palm Springs Desert Sun.

Based on the results of these studies, the company will consider rolling out the service to its membership by this summer.

Jack Ponstine, president of Promotional Media Management, Grand Rapids, Mich., says wading through conflicting readership studies is part of his job and the reason media buyers are hired in the first place. Still, he's not against making that job easier.

"ABC [circulation] audits are OK, but they aren't as valuable as knowing what the customer's readership is really all about," he says. "That kind of information would definitely help us purchase media better."


Each Newspaper Reader Profile audit will standardize every aspect of a research study, including interview training and response rate calculation. Eleven demographic elements are tracked.

Bob Faricy, director of market development at the Shreveport paper, says adopting the 61-step ABC methodology added a few questions and extra time to the paper's survey process, but the difference was negligible, especially considering the added assurance an audit has given advertisers since the sales department began using the study in November.

"A paper our size [56,000-circulation] is not a factor for everybody [so this study] offers an extra level of credibility," he says. "The benefit is it allows us to focus the conversation on readership vs. circulation."

Ms. Prill says the studies would allow advertisers to do this sort of targeting with unprecedented speed. "Let's say a college program comes up. You'll be able to look at these [studies] to pull some really good college numbers. And it will cut time down. As opposed to having to make 10 phone calls, you only have to look up this information or download it."

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