MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: SECTION SURVEYS - Telegraph’s section surveys ruffle a few industry feathers/A section by section look at newspaper readership is vital, Alasdair Reid says

It is arguably the biggest scandal in the press advertising market. It sometimes beggars belief that advertisers and their agencies don’t make more noise about it - and their almost optimistic belief that a solution is imminent is probably the ultimate example of the triumph of hope over experience.

It is arguably the biggest scandal in the press advertising market.

It sometimes beggars belief that advertisers and their agencies don’t

make more noise about it - and their almost optimistic belief that a

solution is imminent is probably the ultimate example of the triumph of

hope over experience.



We are talking newspaper section research - and talking about it is all

that the industry has been doing for at least a decade. By and large,

publishers don’t want the advertising industry to know how many people

read the individual supplements, sections and reviews that have become

the newspaper experience these days, because some of the numbers are

bound to be embarrassing. The one exception, it appears, is The

Telegraph.



Back in the summer, it produced ’Telegraph Section Planner’, a piece of

research that looked at readership patterns, section by section, across

both The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. It was the first

detailed survey of this sort and the first time that a newspaper

publisher had actively sold itself to agencies on this basis.



A worthwhile initiative. But it took us no closer to the ultimate goal -

a piece of research covering the whole market, possibly under the

auspices of the core press advertising currency, the National Readership

Surveys.



Or so we thought. Last week we seemingly moved a fraction closer to

broader section research, although the initiative still doesn’t involve

the NRS.



In fact, it’s down to The Telegraph once more - it has announced that it

will extend its section planner to include comparable section research

on its rivals, The Times and The Sunday Times.



Chris White-Smith, the display ad director of The Telegraph, maintains

that extending this summer’s research to include the group’s closest

rivals is a consistent and logical next step. He says: ’We are

fulfilling our commitment as market leaders to take the industry forward

by introducing sound sectional readership research data to help agencies

plan more effective campaigns for clients. We could broaden this

research still further. Who knows?’



Who indeed? Just how cheeky is this initiative? Shouldn’t The Times be

doing its own research? We’ll have to try to imagine the reaction down

at Times Newspapers because its managing director, Camilla Rhodes,

declined to comment. But what does the rest of the market think?



The person with perhaps the greatest perspective on this is Peter

Bowman, the research director of Mediapolis.



Back in 1988, Bowman was chairman of the first Jicnars working party to

look at the feasibility of adding newspaper section research to the NRS.

Perhaps surprisingly, he is still optimistic that we’ll see a joint

industry initiative in this area sooner rather than later.



However, he argues that aspects of The Telegraph research earlier this

year were not without their merits.



He says: ’It is not controversial in itself that media owners conduct

research. There is only so much that joint industry research can do.

Meanwhile, there are many areas that need looking at - so I’d rather

have something that is flawed or partial than nothing at all.’



But Bowman is not alone in conceding that the first section planner

survey ’over-egged’ the case for The Telegraph and that the survey’s

methodology was flawed. For instance, it used a far from random sample -

its respondents were regular readers of, or had some sort of affinity

for, The Telegraph.



Bowman adds: ’It wasn’t a true picture of The Telegraph so we are doubly

worried when it covers The Times. The concern is not that one media

owner is looking at the performance of another but that it is being done

in such a predatory manner. I think a lot of publishers are either

surprised or annoyed at this for another reason too - the timing.

Despite all the recent controversy and disagreement, we’re starting to

see sweetness and light breaking out. I believe we are close to having

something covering sections agreed for the NRS.’



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