Over recent weeks I’ve met with media agencies and major clients to gather feedback on the departure of large magazine publishers from the ABC circulation audit.
They’ve indicated a consistent view that this is a backward step and would impact how they evaluate the print channel.
Overall, it is generally being viewed as a sharp departure from the current industry trend towards more verification, accountability and transparency.
Not only does it signal the erosion of the channel, with some agencies expressing concern for the pressure on publishers, many see this as possibly further jeopardising revenue into the channel. Many clients, especially retailers, assess their advertising performance based on the hard data metric of circulation not on readership.
The publishers have cited the shift in focus to reporting their multi-platform audiences for their brands as the reason.
Nonetheless, the shift indicates a move away from the transparency of reporting a verified copy sales metric for print and digital.
Interestingly, comments have been made that circulation is an outdated metric.
But how is a measure of sales ever outdated?
For paid consumer titles, a measure of the purchaser is simply a measure of the primary reader. It works in tandem with the overall print audience as a measure of primary and pass-on readership.
Print is a channel valued for its connection with the reader, given they can only access the content by purchasing the title; it connects ‘one to one’ as distinct to the ‘one to many’ delivery of other channels like radio, TV and digital. The engaged primary reader has long been a key strength of the print channel.
Cost of the audit is another reason cited for the exit and it’s understandable that publishers have needed to address costs.
The AMAA audit, though, is provided at a minimal cost – just 0.16% of 2016 agency revenue – a small amount given its role in providing assurance for advertisers. In fact, the ABC audit was established due to advertiser pressure for independent verification of circulation figures for ad trading.
In the UK and USA the audit bodies have moved towards providing industry verification services, both in digital audit solutions and for certification against industry agreed codes, addressing the issues of brand safety, ad fraud and viewability.
Clients in these markets are demanding greater accountability in digital ad trading, so in response industry bodies have joined forces to implement programmes via JICWEBS in the UK and Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) in the USA.
What are we doing in this area?
As an industry, we know that audit and accountability measures deliver assurance for marketers with regard to advertising investment. Last year in our research, 76% of the industry confirmed we need not only agreed standards, but also third-party verification and independent referees to ensure everyone plays by the rules.
As yet, we haven’t moved to provide advertisers with the assurance of industry wide action.
The AMAA is in ongoing discussions with the other industry bodies in this market regarding these initiatives.
But the question is will marketers and agencies act on their concerns?
As a service driven by market demand, the AMAA actively seeks a cross industry body to drive work in industry accountability, we welcome any comments or feedback.
Josanne Ryan is CEO at Audited Media Association of Australia