WHAT ARE ADVERTISERS BUYING? Part 2: Who Are The Readers, and How Can You Tell?

Here is part 2 of our ongoing series of white papers examining an overall lack of accountability on both the publisher and advertiser sides of B2B.

Every magazine sales rep will claim that their print publication is still their premier asset — which is not surprising given the higher revenues that print vehicles generate versus digital properties and print’s long-standing reputation. However, sales reps seem to spend little or no time in their media presentations substantiating the quality and composition of their circulation, which is the foundation of the print product.

Through our media meetings (meetings wherein the advertising sales representative has the opportunity present their positioning and proposal for clients), AIM has confirmed that publishers are offering advertisers little or no metrics for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of their ads within a publication’s market. They simply are NOT that accountable, and their reasoning is: “None of our advertisers ask for it.” Besides, for a publication to be accountable, it has an obligation to report or to provide justification to advertisers for the dollars they spend.

Many B2B magazines have severely limited and, in some cases, eliminated the tools advertisers need to determine the success of their advertising programs in these publications. By doing this, they are sending clear, unmistakable signals to the advertiser: You are on your own. So for this series of white papers, we decided to continue our investigation into the changes taking place in B2B media, and invited publications that have publishers and/or sales representatives in the Chicago area to attend our Media Days in our Palatine, Illinois, offices.

During a two-week period, Interline offered media representatives one- to two-hour time slots to present their magazines and to participate in a give-and-take dialogue regarding the particulars of their respective publications. A total of 29 individuals or groups of media representatives — publishers and/or sales reps — attended our Media Days on behalf of one or more print and/or electronic media properties — an excellent representation of the B2B publishing world as it exists today. And while 29 is not the entire universe, we feel it is representative of the population we study.

Our internal debate over how these demonstrations fell short revolved between simple ignorance of facts, to the impact of the digital revolution itself. We rejected ignorance because in many cases, the reps we met with were seasoned professionals who have been in the industry for many years. Their knowledge (or knowledge we believed they once possessed) vaporized (not all, but many).

And while we can point the finger at digital’s effects on the marketplace, we cannot blame digital entirely for this poor demonstration of knowledge. There’s something else afoot.

AIM concluded that most publishers in recent years have focused more on their digital products and less on their circulation. The buzzwords today are paid, owned and earned media. Sean Corcoran’s blog on the Forrester research website gives some good definitions of these terms http://goo.gl/7EubG, adding that “they can be applied as a simple way for interactive marketers to categorize and ultimately prioritize all of the media options they have today.” But paid, owned and earned have always existed, only we didn’t call them by these names. You paid for an ad, and you “earned” a pr placement. Your company brochures were what you owned. And interesetingly, Nielsen posted a blog on “trust in advertising” regarding paid, owned and earned media http://goo.gl/6Z0O1. Their point of view is that these terms are on a convergence (which is supported by a recent Google event we attended, where the panel comprised of some heavy hitters from Google and THE Guy Kawasaki concluded that “Everything is advertising!.”). Thus, it’s being disrupted, leaving the sales person sort of flopping around for definition.

The time and money publishers previously spent qualifying and cleaning their circulations have either been abandoned or redirected to other areas of revenue generation (i.e., if everything is advertising, then they can charge for everything). By losing focus on their core differentiation — the circulations — they have freed their readers to go elsewhere for information.

When asked specific questions about their circulations, some reps did not have answers and even displayed minimum knowledge about publication auditing methodologies that support circulation figures. Let’s be clear: The audience reach that magazines provide through their circulation is what publishers sell (or did sell), and what advertisers in reality purchased. Advertising in print provides access to a segment of people in one or more markets who can specify, recommend or purchase advertisers’ products or services. If they cannot document these people, what are we purchasing?

The secret is that all an advertiser has to do is just ask some questions to quickly de-rail a publisher’s position. For example, our probing into circulation statements from BPA Worldwide or Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) quickly uncovered the fact that not only is the quality of the circulations eroding, but many publications have done away with the reader service cards/numbers — key tools for helping advertisers measure the success of a particular ad. In addition, most offer very inadequate electronic measurements for properly evaluating all the digital advertising programs available. With the abundance of information on the market today, it is surprising to find reps and publishers less informed on industry trends and the future of the market than ever before. In other words, we felt B2B trade publications are simply no longer being held “accountable” to advertisers for the money they spend in either print or electronic media. And, where does the fault reside? We believe it is with the advertisers, the agency AND the publisher. Perhaps more than ever before, in this world of digital disruption, we have to ask: what ARE we buying? In Part 3, we’ll explore further why circulation matters.

For more information on AIM or our sister companies, or for a complete set of our white papers on this topic, please fill our the form on our website, tell us a little bit about who you are, and we’ll send you the report. Thank you for spending some time with us.