CAMPAIGN REPORT ON TOP MAGAZINES: Where quality counts - So you’re a media planner and you’re looking to gain the most effective exposure for your brand. While ABCs offer an overview of audience figures, Jon Wilkins weighs up some of the o

ABCs are the most up-to-date, reliable numbers that magazines have to play with and can provide a good idea of readership levels. Sales figures, however, represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to planning magazine campaigns. Recently, the Audit Bureau of Circulations has made real improvements in the depth of its analysis. But its figures are still just one tool media planners and buyers use to assess what each title offers in the way of readership.

ABCs are the most up-to-date, reliable numbers that magazines have

to play with and can provide a good idea of readership levels. Sales

figures, however, represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to

planning magazine campaigns. Recently, the Audit Bureau of Circulations

has made real improvements in the depth of its analysis. But its figures

are still just one tool media planners and buyers use to assess what

each title offers in the way of readership.

In the past few months, the ABC has taken steps to give more information

about the make-up of the buyer base. It has addressed questions such as

were the copies bought from the newsstand or were they via


Were they bulk sales given away as part of a marketing initiative? Were

they sold outside of the UK, and if so, where?

Those changes are welcome. The more information about the type of sale,

the better. Distinguishing paid-for copies from others is important.

Free copies are great at promoting trial but are not necessarily read.

The ABC for a title may have actually increased, but closer inspection

shows whether the growth has come from bulk copies, overseas copies or

fully paid sales. If the increase is solely down to bulk or overseas

copies, they are likely to have considerably less value placed on them

than paid-for copies.

ABCs are the most contemporary currency we have for publication


Actual sales are a vital indicator of performance in the


Needless to say, a successful title is in a stronger position to suggest

a rate increase than one whose sales are going through the floor.

But ABCs, despite their quantitative strengths, fail to provide a real

take on the quality angle of why a certain title should appear on a

schedule, and lead us to explore how we would build upon this base

knowledge. So for now, let’s say ’never mind the quantity, let’s feel

the quality’.

Readership figures obviously play an important part in negotiations,

despite the fact they don’t offer any information on when the copy is

read. The third or fourth reader of a monthly title may look at it three

or four months after the on-shelf date.

The main readership survey used in the media planning process is the

National Readership Surveys that replaced JICNARS in 1992. The research

is funded by the NPA, the PPA, ISBA and the IPA, and conducted by RSL.

Using a continuous sample of personal interviews, respondents are shown

the masthead of each publication and asked when they last read or looked

at it.

Total average issue readership figures are calculated from the sample


If you compare the top ten ABC titles for the period July to December

1998 with the corresponding period for NRS, some interesting patterns

emerge (chart, top left). Some titles have considerably more readers per

copy. This is probably a reflection of their value within the household,

and gives an indication of the breadth of their readership.

So, for example, if you compare Sky TV Guide with Radio Times, you see

on average that Radio Times has a higher readers per copy ratio (1.6 to

2.8 respectively). This will be partly due to the fact that Sky TV Guide

is sent out free to Sky subscribers, and hence will have less perceived

usefulness or value than Radio Times, which is bought from the newsstand

or by subscription.

If you look at lifestyle titles you see even higher readers per copy

ratios. This may happen for various reasons. For Take a Break, it could

be because readers are more likely to pick up a copy in a shared


For FHM, you could hazard a guess that colleges and shared accommodation

allow for a large part of the recycling that takes place.

Back in 1997, the PPA conducted its additional research to look beyond

the NRS readership definition, dubbed the Quality of Readership Survey.

It aimed to help our understanding of how people read specific titles

and build relationships with them. Looking at what some would claim were

’immeasurables’, the research caused some controversy. But, that aside,

there were many useful facets to the survey.

One new form of measurement was Page Exposure or PEX. PEX looks at the

number of repeat exposures a reader may have to a particular magazine.

Many studies have demonstrated that repeat exposure to magazine ads are

more valuable than single impacts. In fact, the Politz Study in the US

highlighted that although single exposures do work, two exposures to any

one ad works approximately twice as well.

PEX scores are calculated by looking at the proportion of pages read or

looked at on an average day and multiplying this by the number of days

on which a title is read while still current.

If you look at the highest PEX scores for the women’s monthly market

(chart, middle left), you see a mixture of coffee table titles as well

as early figures for the successful launch of B magazine.

If you then look at the top readership figures for women’s monthly

magazines at that time on NRS, none of the top ten readership scores

coincide with the top rating PEX score titles (chart, middle left). This

emphasises the significance of looking at PEX scores alongside NRS data.

Beyond PEX scores, another interesting area for advertisers to look at

is the number of pick-ups. Different types of magazines are used for

different reasons.

One reason why several of our clients have used TV listings magazines

was based on the theory that by creative use of the titles, you get a

relatively continuous dialogue with readers, who refer to them


Source of copy is another factor that’s worth thinking about when

planning magazine schedules. Evidently, some sections of magazines are

more prone to being passed on to others, and extra passed-on readership

is a bonus to advertisers.

But what you really pay for is the special relationship between the

primary reader who actually buys or subscribes to the title. If you are

looking at the women’s weekly market, this is an especially important

consideration (chart, bottom left).

There is also a range of attitudinal issues when placing ads in


Are you trying to piggyback on the credibility the magazine has with the

reader? Are you trying to talk to readers when they are in a specific


It’s worth looking at research into whether readers believe what they

see and whether they usually read when relaxing, when comparing customer

magazines with consumer ones.

One final aspect worth considering is clutter or stand-out. Nowadays,

with the average advertising-to-editorial ratio standing at 30:70, the

hardest part of planning media within magazines can be to guarantee

stand-out above the clutter.

Take, for example, the top-selling women’s and men’s monthly titles,

Cosmopolitan and FHM. Here, the ’ad/ed’ ratio is more like 40:60.

Cosmopolitan (March 1999) carried 117 ads out of a total of 240 pages

while, similarly, FHM carried 114 ads out of 250 pages.

So how do you stand out among all that? If these titles really are

crucial to your media schedule, then one way is to be very creative with

your execution, another may be to explore sponsorship or advertorial

routes so you are inextricably linked with the magazine product.

In this month’s FHM, you have an almost pull-out poster-style ad for

Calvin Klein jeans, and a mini tip-on catalogue for Kickers shoes. In

Cosmopolitan, you have stick-on sachets for Cadbury’s chocolate


Another route is to look at the actual time spent reading a title, or at

claims that a magazine is read from cover to cover. Clearly, if you can

get a feel for the number of pages actually read, you can start to be

more confident that your ad has a chance of being seen and taken in.

Jon Wilkins is the creative communications director of New PHD.

Additional contributions by New PHD’s media director, Laura James, and

its research assistant, Natasha Ross


Publication                    ABC              NRS    Number of

                   (July-Dec 1998)  (July-Dec 1998)      readers

                                                        per copy

Sky TV Guide             3,403,912        5,498,000          1.6

Cable Guide              1,860,622        3,319,000          1.8

What’s on TV             1,765,369        4,190,000          2.4

Radio Times              1,400,331        3,948,000          2.8

Reader’s Digest          1,302,659        4,063,000          3.1

Take a Break             1,273,870        4,584,000          3.6

TV Times                   820,282        3,320,000          4.0

FHM                        751,493        3,489,000          4.7

TV Quick                   740,800        2,087,000          2.8

Woman                      711,133        2,240,000          3.2


Publication          PEX score       Publication                     NRS

                                                        (Jan - Dec 1997)

Pregnancy & Birth            5.6     Sainsbury’s magazine      2,151,000

Period Living                4.7     A Taste of Safeway        2,025,000

B                            4.4     Good Housekeeping         1,741,000

Country Living               4.3     Cosmopolitan              1,707,000

Perfect Home                 4.2     Somerfield magazine       1,579,000

House Beautiful              4.1     Prima                     1,470,000

Hair Flair                   4.1     Marie Claire              1,400,000

Practical Parenting          4.0     Woman & Home              1,294,000

BBC Veg Good Food            3.9     Vogue                     1,290,000

Slimming                     3.9     Ideal Home                1,266,000

Base: all women                      Base: all women


Publication                ABC             NRS     Primary          NRS/

               (July-Dec 1998) (July-Dec 1998)               Primary (%)

Take a Break         1,273,870       3,615,000   2,729,000            75

Woman                  711,133       2,050,000   1,302,000            64

Woman’s Own            654,473       2,452,000   1,470,000            60

Bella                  610,843       2,178,000   1,366,000            63

Woman’s Weekly         594,680       1,700,000     916,000            54

That’s Life            540,003       1,016,000     696,000            69

Hello!                 510,552       1,734,000     638,000            37

Best                   501,205       1,583,000     970,000            61

Chat                   497,731       1,650,000     992,000            60

People’s Friend        438,980       9,820,000     554,000            56

OK!                    400,701         704,000     109,000            15

My Weekly              358,381       1,059,000     648,000            61

Now                    350,999         395,000     189,000            48

Woman’s Realm          197,313         764,000     318,000            42

The Lady                45,413         161,000     133,000            83



Readership                                 1.8m

Number of people who buy it themselves     1.5m

Number of people who buy it regularly        1m


Number of pick-ups                          6.5

Proportion of pages read                    84%

Pages read cover to cover                   47%

Minutes spent reading                        69


Ad/ed ratio                               40:60

114 ads/250 pages

51 fashion ads


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