As we know, cross-border communications is never easy, particularly in Europe. And it was not so many years ago that the media industry was crying out for more international research. Now it seems as if we're inundated with the stuff. So, what are the differences between the European Media & Marketing Survey and Europe 2004?
EMS is perceived by many to be the industry standard. Launched in its current form in 1996, it was the first survey to measure international and national readership and offered planners the opportunity to compare regional media with indigenous schedules. This year's survey is the eighth published by the research group Interview NSS in as many years.
In 2002, Interview NSS brought TV into the picture with the launch of EMS TV. This allowed detailed planning and scheduling against a variety of target groups. EMS now offers multimedia schedule analysis by combining measurement of print, TV, the internet, in-flight entertainment and cinema with the largest and broadest sample size.
And what of its main rival? Europe 2004 is the latest installment of what is known as the Europe series, which was launched by Ipsos just four years ago. It offers access to Europe's highest-earning decision-makers, and here lies the biggest difference between the surveys. The Europe series' universe consists of the top 4 per cent of adults in Europe, making it a highly attractive proposition to upmarket advertisers.
EMS is the larger, but broader, survey, which covers the top 20 per cent of Europe's most affluent people. It provides access to in-depth marketing data, has nine years of measurable trends and has recently been awarded an IPA Seal of Approval.
Europe 2004 is a rolling survey that comprises data from the field periods of the preceding two, Europe 2002 and Europe 2003. The introduction of easy-to-use software that can evaluate pan-European TV campaigns has enabled media planners to measure reach, frequency and optimum spot placement to guarantee they get the biggest bang for their bucks.
The last survey in the Europe 2000 series provided data covering more than 300 major publications, the viewing of more than ten European TV stations and the usage of 28 websites. By comparison, EMS monitors 400 publications, 15 European TV stations and 30 websites.
But size isn't everything. Sure, EMS monitors more stations and publications, but the direct relevance to the international community of having all that data has often been brought into question.
Both surveys have recognised the importance of introducing lifestyle elements to their questionnaires to delve deeper into the lives of Europe's rich and powerful. How often do you fly abroad? How much are you prepared to splash out on a watch?
So little is known about this massively important target group that the launch of these sections was critical.
But it is EMS that has taken the lead in this respect. In recent years it has developed its lifestyle section to the extent that it clearly distinguishes the two surveys.
Lastly, EMS and the Europe series both evaluate the media performance of a schedule in countries where pan-European titles aren't measured.
This helps to fill a gap in our understanding of the European media landscape.
Which of the surveys' methodologies is more robust? And how have they innovated to give more information for media planners?
Each survey undoubtedly has its strengths. Their lists of subscribers are testament to this. Both boast leading national and international media owners such as National Geographic and Time magazine, plus many of the big agencies and advertisers.
Both surveys have had to develop their methodologies over the years.
Their user groups have demanded it, aware that we need to get a better understanding of different European audiences. Better response rates and bigger sample sizes and representation have been crucial to winning more confidence from the media community.
The provision of more accurate data and the improved ability to plan and evaluate TV and print campaigns at a local level has grown healthily over the years, making both surveys increasingly valuable for media owners and planners. And adding attitudinal statements and segmentation analyses on each survey has given planners better targeting opportunities.
To many, it would seem that the content and methodologies of each of the two surveys are on a collision course. Last month, EMS put itself directly on a par with the Europe series when it decided to research the top 3 per cent of Europe's big earners by launching EMS Select.
How much longer the two surveys will be able to differentiate themselves we will have to see. Over the next 12 months, it will be interesting to see who makes the next move.
Do media planners really benefit from using both surveys? What's the point if there is now so much overlap? Why not merge them?
The claim that the media world would be better off with one mega-European survey is somewhat dubious as it neither offers improved quality of research nor lower costs, let alone choice.
Put it this way: would you want to live in a world where Tesco were the only shop?
What real benefit would actually be achieved from merging the two surveys?
The content and range of questions the survey asked wouldn't change. The costs would remain the same, as would the endless rounds of committee meetings to agree on the content.
Perhaps a better way of looking at this issue is to compare it to the situation in the UK market with the National Readership Survey and TGI.
No-one in their right mind would seriously recommend merging these two institutions of the UK research scene because they have different roles.
NRS is the primary means of assessing print media readership and TGI is the primary consumer research tool. Yes, they share similarities and, yes, they duplicate each other in some areas, but mostly they complement each other.
Perhaps the way forward for EMS and the Europe series is for them to follow this model. One should become the primary media-measurement tool. The other should become the lead tool for upmarket/business consumer research rather than trying to do the same job. The upmarket/business world has changed dramatically over the past ten years.
The emergence of new technology, ideas and service-based industries, along with the huge growth of low-cost travel and freedom of employment within the European Union, has changed both the business world and the type of people who operate in it. The real question that Ipsos, Interview NSS and the survey sponsors have to ask is this: have the surveys that research the business world changed enough too?
- Nat Swift and Adrian Smith are associate directors, Simon Baker is the media manager and Joanne McNeil is the research manager at MediaCom.