Campaign India Team
May 25, 2009

Desperately seeking the truth about numbers

A couple of decades ago, the average media buyer/planner had no doubt on the circulation of any magazine or newspaper that he was considering. He had the ABC certificate, which every single magazine or newspaper of repute would be happy to send you. Almost by default, it was the magazines and newspapers which were of little consequence or of dubious repute which were not part of the ABC regime.

Desperately seeking the truth about numbers

A couple of decades ago, the average media buyer/planner had no doubt on the circulation of any magazine or newspaper that he was considering. He had the ABC certificate, which every single magazine or newspaper of repute would be happy to send you. Almost by default, it was the magazines and newspapers which were of little consequence or of dubious repute which were not part of the ABC regime.

About a decade ago, as competition stormed into the print area, leading magazines and newspapers stayed away from the ABC, using one excuse or another. Last week, I dropped in at Sam Balsara’s office for a coffee and conversation when he mentioned that the ABC was taking serious note of the concerns of magazine publishers and proposed to make changes in keeping with changing business mores and business practices. Sam was confident that publishers’ larger concerns would be met and that they would flock to the ABC once again.

This is fantastic news.

In the absence of reliable data, media practitioners have developed their own methods of assessing claims made by publishers. For instance, I re-route my walks over the weekend mornings so that I visit five newsagents in Bandra. I can easily see the various piles of various titles, giving me a reasonable idea of the pecking order in each category.

Today, planners and buyers rely on ‘CA certificates’ which are supplied by publications. Most of the planners discount these figures by whatever factor and arrive at their own ‘estimate’ of print run and circulation.

Is this enough? While TV data is available week on week, and while TV allows one to negotiate CPRPs, print circulation data is available once a year (readership data is available twice) through ABC certificates and CA certificates.

That means, once numbers are entered into a database, the rates hold for the whole year. If there is an error in the data inputted, advertisers are overpaying for the whole year.

It is the responsibility of media agencies to demand accurate and truthful data from publishers. It is time that they used the stick to enforce this.

Conde Nast, faced with the lies dished out by other magazines targeting the same TG (I use other magazines, rather than competition, after significant thought) had to go to extremes to prove their bona fides through certified print orders, certified payments to printers, certified deliveries to distributors, and so on, for Vogue magazine.

So Conde Nast spends a fortune to prove that they are telling the truth while others spend zip as media agencies couldn’t care less.

There are simple ways to catch the lies. Some of the publications have the temerity to claim circulation in six digits while the presses they use are incapable of handling such volumes – can buyers do a rudimentary check?

Similarly, can they call up distributors and ask them to certify the number of copies that are received? Can agencies depute someone to do a dipstick at major outlets? There is too much AdEx at stake for the media agencies to continue to look the other way and pretend that there is no problem. Their indifference results in losses to the advertisers, who believe media agencies have done the due diligence on the numbers.

The truth, sad to say, is that media agencies have not.

It would be a relief if Sam’s belief that a re-vamped ABC regime would address most of the concerns that I have highlighted. Till that happens, there is no solution except for media agencies to do something simple – work harder.

Media agencies need to do this before clients demand that they do. Which will not be too long considering the extent to which lies have permeated.

Source:
Campaign India

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