Until midyear last year, I worked for a WPP media agency. WPP is the world’s largest communication services group, founded by Sir Martin Sorrell. Unforgettably described by the Guardian newspaper as the “adland Napoleon”, Sir Martin was an early and enthusiastic exponent of digital world, who has consistently set aggressive digital revenue targets for his group of companies. (His last publicly stated target was to derive 45% of the group’s revenues from digital by 2018.) Britta Reid applauds a change in attitude towards print advertising.
The main rationale for this aggressive approach was that ad investment should reflect the amount of time consumers spent with various media types. The analysis on which this fairly simplistic argument was based done by Mary Meeker, a US venture capitalist, who focuses on digital media. Less openly discussed, but no less germane for agency management, were the impressive mark-ups the agency was able to add onto digital media costs. Move a few percent from print or outdoor into digital, and those globally set revenue targets looked a whole lot closer. In arguing for the shift to digital, Sir Martin also made some jocular references to the economic inefficiencies of transporting newspapers around the countryside, as well as the social unfriendliness of lopping down trees.
It was, therefore, with great delight that I read of Sir Martin’s recent volte-face on the value of print. Addressing the Broadcasting Press Guild in the UK Sir Martin stated that advertisers should rethink their advertising budgets, saying, “Newspapers and magazines, even in their traditional form” may be “more effective than people give them credit (for)”. He elaborated, “Some of the more traditional media are probably more retentive and engaging” than online and mobile both in terms of “advertising and content”. Continuing, he explained that “in a way, it’s logical, if the average reader spends 40 minutes with a newspaper, it’s probable that the memory will retain things.” This is a sentiment that any print reader would endorse as virtually self-evident, but it also introduces a more sophisticated metric into the investment allocation – that of the quality of engagement.
Sir Martin’s comments come at a particularly interesting time in the UK as the 60 year-old National Readership Measurement Survey (NRS) is being unceremoniously ditched by the publishers. They have formed a new company, the Publishers Audience Measurement Company (PAMCO), which is set to explore and provide a more future facing system of readership measurement. Besides delivering accurate cross platform readership measurement, it seems likely that the survey will seek to incorporate additional measurements such as engagement.
It is logical to hypothesise that high engagement would lead to better recall, and in turn, that would provide a higher ROI for the advertiser. While this has not yet been conclusively proved, there have been a number of interesting studies, especially in the UK, which have highlighted the differing role that newspapers play in consumer’s lives. Newswork’s seductively entitled ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ research, demonstrated that newspaper engagement outperforms other media across a variety of metrics ranging from “being in the know”, “fuelling the conversation”, “feeling uplifted” to the more mundane “ritual and routine”. The Guardian, together with Kantar Media, developed a process for incorporating engagement into the measurement process. However, to incorporate the engagement metric across industry readership research will require that a universally acceptable definition of engagement be developed.
“Engagement” is clearly going to be a key weapon in the armoury of publishers going forward, but much work needs to be done to ensure its viable application. I would like to believe that Sir Martin’s speech is a watershed moment for print. However, for this concept to turn the tide of print disinvestment, will require that media agencies place their client interests before those of their profit goals. Alternatively, marketers need to engage questioningly with their media agencies over the allocation of their budgets across media types. Of course, the publishers will need to educate the both parties in terms of their findings.
On one level, it is reassuring to see that we are not alone in South Africa in facing audience measurement challenges. Nor are we alone in feeling the need to move away from long established institutions in order to find new, accurate and workable research solutions. While the local print industry can take guidance from the international signposts, it cannot, and will not, wait for others to find the solution. The challenge is to assimilate various international learnings, in order to leapfrog South African readership research forward. That the local publishers were early partners of the Broadcast Research Company (BRC) in moving forward with the new Establishment Survey tender is a clear sign of their commitment to improved and credible media research.
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