Magazine Measurement: Right Direction, Wrong Speed

I have some good news and some bad news for magazine measurement.
Here’s the good news: The value proposition between consumers and magazine brands has never been stronger. The relationship between them is emotional, engaged and very personal. The advertising is not something to be avoided, or even just tolerated, but enjoyed, welcomed, considered integral to the reading experience and highly likely to drive consumers to take action. And the relationship between the printed page and the Web is complementary, rather than cannibalistic.
So what’s the bad news? Unless we find a way to communicate that value to advertisers, magazines will not survive as a viable and valued advertising medium. And without a system of measurement that is timely, accountable and most of all comparable to other media, we simply will not be able to communicate that good news.

Moving magazine measurement to the next level, then, is imperative for our survival and success.

In fact, there has been movement, and while it’s been in the right direction, it has not been at the right speed. The magazine business doesn’t exist in a silo, and the more change our clients see in other media, the more they need to see from us. In other words, advancing today’s currency by baby steps will not be enough; we need to simultaneously leapfrog our industry into the future.

There is no doubt that significant progress has been made in the past 18 months in identifying and developing new tools to demonstrate the value of magazines on their own and combined with other media. So I would like to first acknowledge the steps taken to move our industry forward, especially by MRI.

MRI Issue Specific, by creating an index to the national study, allows the delivery of more timely information. The company’s Local Market Service allows us to understand performance on a DMA basis, to better line up media delivery with business needs. And Media Day is a planning tool that quantifies consumer engagement with multimedia platforms throughout the day.

We’ve also made progress with fused data, to replicate “single source.” We applaud the partnership and collaboration of measurement services that are working together to bring new products to an ad community that needs to see media not in silos but in combination.

MRI has been especially willing to work with other services to provide the industry with magazine data fused with TV, online, mobile and new car buyer data. And JD Power is fusing its magazine study with its own online study.

Mendelsohn is adding more than 200 “companion” Web sites to its Affluent Magazine Survey.

Simmons has enhanced its study with Engagement and Local Market products, with a goal of going beyond demographics.

And Vista and Starch are providing additional metrics on ad readership, including actions taken after seeing an ad, and the advertising marketplace has been highly receptive.

But in a fragmented and dynamic media landscape, incremental change simply isn’t enough: Our future is dependent on our shifting the conversation from “circulation” to “audience.”

Let me be clear: I know that there is value to circulation as a measure of quality, and until we have an audience-based system that we have confidence in, that value must stay top of mind. But “audience” will be the first step toward comparability with other media, and toward our ability to combine them.

Second, we are fully in support of the MPA’s new initiative to facilitate the development of an improved approach to measurement. To that end, the MPA worked with McKinsey to conduct interviews with two-dozen client and agency executives, to understand their needs. The plan focuses on three key audience-based measures: exposure to the magazine, engagement with the ads and consumer action taken.

Third, magazines must be considered as brands in any discussion of audience measurement. As our magazine brands expand to new platforms, they create multiple touch points for their audiences. Whether for publishers looking to gauge brand strength across platforms, advertisers looking at the performance of their campaigns in multiple media, or agencies building new media mix models, we must be able to understand how audiences are using brands and responding to advertising wherever those brands touch consumers.

Finally, we must see new technologies as an opportunity, not as a threat or an obstacle. We cannot simply reject alternative methods in favor of the status quo. It’s not unlike the challenges that we are currently facing in digital measurement, where we are encouraging suppliers to consider a hybrid approach, which takes into account the strengths of different measurement methodologies as a short-term solution until a more perfect one comes along.

And while today’s experiments with RFID and passive measurement may ultimately carry too many caveats and too long a time line, we must support what they represent. We cannot lose sight of our ultimate goal: A measurement system that is timely, accountable and comparable.

To that end, we need to be creative and flexible, and keep our eye on that goal. Especially given the positive story we have to tell, it would be sad, indeed, if measurement limitations alone prevent us from telling it.

Betsy Frank is chief research and insights officer at Time Inc.