By: Joe Nicholson
For ad execs, many sold on newspapers, debate may be moot;
they want more and better information on readers ? and user-friendly service
The Newspaper Association of America has launched a drive to broaden the way advertisers look at newspapers by diverting attention from paid newspaper circulation, which has declined nationwide over the last decade by more than 5 million copies a day.
Tired of being judged ? usually harshly as an industry in decline ? every six months when the Audit Bureau of Circulations issues its FAS-FAX report, the NAA created a new barometer ? the Competitive Media Index ? to measure newspaper readership against audiences for prime time TV, prime time cable TV and morning drive-time radio.
JUST ONE MEASURE
“Because the latest six-month net-paid circulation averages are just one measurement of the overall health of the industry, our intent is to broaden the discussion,” NAA president and CEO John Sturm told members.
The NAA hailed the “good news” of ABC’s reported 0.072% increase in overall daily circulation, a sign that newspapers are turning around their long circulation slump. The daily figures were accompanied by a 0.172% decline in Sunday circulation.
The latest ABC figures follow a 6.4 million drop in aggregate U.S. newspaper circulation ? to 56.9 million, from 63.3 million between 1990 and 1996, according to the NAA’s Facts About Newspapers 1997.
“Circulation numbers don’t speak to the fact that our readers are educated, have good incomes, buy big-ticket items, travel, invest and so on,” Sturm explained.
To arm newspaper publishers and ad directors with proof of how well newspapers stack up against other media, the NAA created the CMI, a relative measure of media audiences based on existing Scarborough Research Corp. data. Timed for release just before ABC’s FAS-FAX report for the period ended in March, the new index paints a positive picture:
u Newspapers in the top 50 markets gained 700,000 readers,while prime time TV viewership fell 3% compared with the previous year and cable TV viewership declined 0.6%.
u Average Sunday newspaper readership surpassed Super Bowl viewership in the top five Bowl markets, led by Milwaukee, where the 73.6% level of readership surpassed 1997 Bowl viewership of 70.7%.
u Daily newspapers reached 58.7% of adults in the nation’s 50 largest markets, compared with 42.4% for prime time TV; 25.4% for morning drive-time radio; and 10.4% for prime time cable.
SHRINKING VS. GROWING
“This analysis dispels the notion that newspapers are losing readers, while reaffirming the industry’s vitality,” said Sturm.
ABC chairman S. Scott Harding said the NAA analysis is valuable to advertisers who spend more than $40 billion on newspapers and “want to get a real handle on the demographics of readership.” Both paid circulation and readership are important to advertisers, said Harding, who is also chairman and CEO of Newspaper Services of America, which places $1 billion worth of ads in newspapers a year.
“It certainly did not surprise me to see substantiated that newspapers have fared well in comparison with other media,” said Harding.
Chicago Tribune ad director Dennis Grant praised the NAA for taking advantage of the kind of expanded definition of audience used by TV and other ad mediums.
EYEBALLS, NOT BUYERS
“Newspapers are switching more of their attention toward total eyeballs, not just the person who paid the 50 cents or whatever,” said Grant.
“If they can put the newspapers in the proper and best light, then they have done the job for me,” said Grant, a 30-year veteran who noted the Tribune has marketed readership for as long as he can remember.
Ad agency executives think the NAA’s bid to emphasize readership can’t hurt ? and may even help sell ads.
Audry Nizen, vice president of Arts & Crafts, a Manhattan ad agency that focuses on fashion and beauty products, praised the CMI for showing “good news for newspapers” and providing “an effective way to get that information out.”
Advertisers often balance ad spending between TV, to make their brands known, and newspapers, to provide details about products.
On the other hand, Bernard Hodes, president of Bernard Hodes Advertising, with $700 million in media billings last year is among the nation’s biggest recruitment ad agencies, called the NAA’s statistics, even the figures comparing readership with Super Bowl viewership, too general to be of much use. He wants to see a breakdown of the occupations of newspaper readers.
WHAT ABOUT OCCUPATION?
“When you run an ad for an engineer, you have to be hoping that an engineer is reading the newspaper that week and looking for a job,” Hodes said, downplaying the value of newspaper audience size to recruitment advertisers.
Newspapers “have just taken for granted that they are the one place for help wanted, and they don’t have to” provide data on reader occupation, Hodes said, adding that recruitment ads pump more than $2 billion a year into newspaper coffers.
ABC’s Harding said many advertisers want detailed demographic information on readers to help them “reach specific target audiences.”
Along those lines, ABC has approved rules allowing newspapers to break out circulation by reader characteristics, or segments, such as senior citizens, Hispanics or students.
Sometimes selling is less about statistics than about being user friendly. Ad agencies have long complained about the difficulty of making multimarket newspaper buys.
Executives at two big ad firms said they felt the NAA could influence national advertisers more by focusing less on numbers and more on the unique power of newspapers.
Marcio Moreira, vice chairman and chief creative officer of McCann Erickson Worldwide, said the NAA’s analysis of Super Bowl audiences “leaves me outright cold. It’s not a numbers game.” Moreira, whose agency had $2.9 billion in media billings last year, called it a game of quality, mind-set and mood.
“I think there is a growing awareness of the power of newspapers, not in a circulation sense, but in an opinion-making sense,” Moreira said.
The White House sex scandal, he contended, illustrates this point. “People got titillated by television, but they made their opinions based on newspapers.” Newspapers can sell that power, he insisted, because of the continuing “love affair between Americans and newspapers, at least in an opinion-making sense.”
Newspapers’ greatest shortcoming, he said, has been a failure to communicate their power to young media planners and directors at both ad agencies and advertisers. Moreira credited the NAA for moving in the right direction, but he agreed with Hodes about the need for readership information more specific than broad categories like education and household income. Advertisers want a far more detailed picture of readers.
“Audiences should be more richly defined with regard to wishes and desires, other media consumption habits, influence in the community.
“In other words, newspaper readers are an interesting breed, and I’m not so sure advertisers are taking advantage of that because I’m not so sure they are being told.” Newspaper ad directors, he said, should sell state of mind, the “mind-set” of readers, who “are looking for a certain quality and quantity of information you might not get from any other medium. I don’t think that is being properly leveraged. Newspapers are not highlighting what makes them special.”
The chairman emeritus of J. Walter Thompson Co., Burt Manning, agreed publishers have failed to sell a strength of newspapers that goes beyond numbers. “There is nothing else in media that has the intimacy of an ongoing relationship. The papers people read are a part of their lives; they’re important to them, they matter to them,” said Manning, whose company had $2.7 billion in media billings last year. “I know people who get furious if somebody in their office reads their paper before they do and messes it up.”
Manning, who stepped down in January after a decade as chairman and CEO, said the NAA’s campaign “will help, but whether it’s going to turn the tide, I doubt it.” To grab more attention from Madison Avenue, he said, newspapers have to demonstrate their power to involve readers. He suggested the NAA investigate consumer relationships with newspapers vs. other media.
Even with the best promotion, however, newspapers remain hard to buy, most everybody agrees. Multiple buys are still maddeningly complicated and fraught with the potential for errors.
“You go bananas,” Manning said, referring to the differing prices, specifications, deadlines and often, billing mistakes. The drudgery, possibility of errors and other uncertainties make talented media buyers shy away from multimarket newspaper buys, Manning said, repeating common complaints that have even been picked up by newspaper folk.
The newspaper industry has taken steps over the years to resolve advertiser complaints. In addition, a new breed of networks and firms like Harding’s have sprung up to handle multimarket buys.
John Murray, the NAA’s vice president/ circulation marketing, expects the Competitive Media Index to become more influential in demonstrating “a renaissance in newspapers,” and comparing their performance with other media in terms of drawing and identifying audiences.
?(ABC chairman S. Scott Harding values readership data) [ Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 9, 1998) [Caption]