MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: MEDIA RESEARCH TECHNIQUES; BLM challenges the NRS way of defining press audiences

By ALASDAIR REID,, Friday, 26 January 1996 12:00AM

Does proprietary research help or hinder strategy in media, Alasdair Reid asks

Does proprietary research help or hinder strategy in media, Alasdair

Reid asks

Hardly a week passes without the release of a new piece of media

research that appears to undermine the industry’s basic press-buying

currencies. The latest study, released last week by Booth Lockett Makin

(Campaign, 19 January), goes further to argue that National Readership

Surveys fail to provide an adequate measure of how people actually read


The NRS counts as a reader anyone who’s had the briefest contact with a

publication. In effect, argues the BLM report, press is treated as a

broadcast medium. But press isn’t very good at generating awareness in

the same way as TV. Rather the reverse - it talks in depth to a few,

motivated readers. The implication is that, by basing planning decisions

on NRS data, agencies are wasting large chunks of the clients’ budgets.

BLM thinks it may have the solution - introduce a stricter definition of

readership. The old NRS definition, which indicates the total audience

of a title, should be called viewership. True readership should be

measured more in terms of the propensity of readers to react to a

particular publication.

Charlie Makin, a partner in BLM, claims that adopting the second

perspective would have significant implications for the strategic

planning process. ‘Current research doesn’t tell clients very much about

how the medium works,’ he argues. ‘What we are saying is that, if they

undertook some additional research before embarking on a major piece of

press planning, it might be beneficial to the way they think about the

whole communications process.

‘Agencies might use press in different ways and at different stages in a

campaign. But what we aren’t advocating is that clients automatically

spend less on press.’

But will media owners see it that way? Aren’t they getting thoroughly

sick of the continual erosion of the credibility of the industry

currencies? No is the short answer. Christine Costello, group

advertising sales manager of the Express Group, says that proprietary

research is nothing new.

Costello claims: ‘I don’t think it’s a threat and I don’t believe it

undermines industry currencies. I’m sure that’s never the intention of

agencies and that clients aren’t confused as a result of it.

‘In fact, it’s interesting that people are studying press and how it

works at a communications level; how people read newspapers and how it

works as a medium. Overall, it generates more interest in the press

medium and we are always keen to encourage that.’

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