On 21 April an impressive contingent of media owner, media agency, research and marketing personnel descended on the Bryanston Country Club. There was a definite crackle of anticipation as we settled down to hear Johan Koster present the research, that the South African Audience Research Foundation (SAARF) had commissioned him to run to complement the 2013 Future Proofing Study. Britta Reid reports.
The former outlined possible ways forward for South African media research, but was not scoped to explore financial models to support these. After the drama of the last few years, most of the audience was hoping to be presented with concrete financing options.
Impressively Koster had managed to conduct 65 face-to-face interviews across 59 organisations, with 78% of respondents at executive level and 22% being research specialists. The sample spanned a selection of top 30 advertisers/marketers, media owners (in the areas of print, broadcasting, online and out of home), media agencies, software bureaus and research companies.
However, he swiftly disabused his audience of our overreaching expectations of quick fix solutions by stressing that the report presented attitudinal insight at a specific moment in time. He focused us on the more modest aims of the report – to explore what would constitute a feasible value proposition in terms of industry research, to highlight areas of consensus and opportunities for collaboration and co-operation. In addition, the report sought to highlight areas of differing views. That these aims fell short of our expectations cannot be denied. The simple question of “where to now?” was the first one to be put forward by a member of the audience. Bruce Williamson, chairman of the SAARF business committee, graciously exonerated Koster on this issue by explaining that the next step was to take the report to the SAARF Board for further discussion and brainstorming. Proposals would then be discussed at the SAARF AGM. Williamson reminded us that serving on the SAARF Board was not a day job for its members, and that this responsibility had to be fitted into their already hectic schedules.
Nevertheless one could not help feeling that it would have been more valuable to delay the release of the report to enable the Board to formulate some thoughts on the way forward. It could then have used the industry presentation to test these prior to the AGM.
Of course, it is very easy to assume the position of the carping industry know-it-all, asking, “where’s the beef?” The presentation did highlight some very worthwhile points. While there are differing models in various countries, the report underscored that, generally, media owners contribute the vast amount of funding towards media research. Although their contribution varies by country, a fair generalisation would be that they are responsible for 80%, while agencies and marketers account for 20%. Accepting this reality should help to quell the endemic marketer and media agency suspicions that sponsoring media owners will necessarily manipulate research. They tend to foot the bill internationally and manage to deliver credible research.
Interestingly, a number of questions from the floor highlighted this suspicion, asking how the media owners were kept honest across the globe. It was very valuable to be able to talk about the fact that Joint Industry Committees (JICs) facilitate stakeholder oversight of the research, and that independent auditing is a reassuring tool in this regard. It is also one that the BRC has used effectively here to ensure that the TAMS panel operates at a new level of efficiency and reliability.
For those of us who are working on moving the Establishment Survey tender forward there was the reassurance that we are meeting the industry’s requirements that there be one centralised hub survey, allowing for open integration with other surveys/currencies, and that it be designed by reputable experts through industry consultation. Representatives from all stakeholder groupings are working together, with the intention of delivering a gold standard piece of research. It was also reassuring to have it confirmed that budget challenges are globally shared. The report indicated that the most critical requirements of this hub survey were demographics and broad media consumption behaviour. We can be sure of delivering on these areas.
There were significant differences between the importance placed on products, brands and lifestyle information. With this in mind, it is comforting to learn that that 80% of marketers expressed a willingness to contribute towards joint industry research. Here is a definite area where there contributions could be meaningfully deployed. The collection methodology remains elusive, and the media agencies are disappointingly reticent about electing to provide the mechanism.
The report underlined the desire for change, the need to move forward and willingness for co-operation and collaboration. It indicates a desire for an industry body, but in the spirit of change it is perhaps time for us to settle for industry bodies.
Honestly and openly the report also stated “SAARF cannot continue in its current form or its current ways”. It acknowledged that South Africa requires new, innovative thinking and a fresh approach to research. Judge Hans Fabricus sits today to rule on Robin Stransham-Ford’s petition to be allowed to die with dignity. I believe it is also time for the media industry to consider the decency of euthanasia. Let us allow a once venerable organisation to exit with respect.
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