INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: SCORING RESEARCH - Biased and difficult to use: adland has been quick to attack research in the past Hilary Curtis asks if the latest media surveys are any better.

Good research is like gold dust, especially when it comes to the realms of international research. It’s difficult to find, there’s not enough, and when you find it, everyone wants it. The Advertising Impact survey is an attempt to plug this gaping hole, and is offering agencies a chance to steer the direction of future studies.

Good research is like gold dust, especially when it comes to the

realms of international research. It’s difficult to find, there’s not

enough, and when you find it, everyone wants it. The Advertising Impact

survey is an attempt to plug this gaping hole, and is offering agencies

a chance to steer the direction of future studies.

AIM is the brainchild of Brian Shields, research director at the

International Herald Tribune. The ’process’ as he prefers to call it,

has just entered phase two, with the publication of research at the end

of September. The third and final part of the report is due in spring

2000. Agencies already committed as sponsors include Carat

International, CIA, Doremus, Mediapolis UK, the Media Edge, the Media

Partnership Europe, MindShare, OMD and Universal McCann Worldwide.

The agencies contribute a nominal fee, which, according to Jane Perry,

research director of the Media Edge Europe, ’wouldn’t even cover the

launch lunches’, so the IHT shoulders the main financial burden, which

Shields refuses to divulge. The idea of AIM is investigate the way

international print media is read and how that relates to the

effectiveness of the advertising it carries.

The researchers - Amsterdam-based Interview International - used a

sample already identified by the 1998 tranche of the established

European EMS research survey. They then re-contacted 600 readers of

eight English-language publications. The daily publications were the

Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the International Herald

Tribune, the weeklies Business Week, Newsweek, The Economist and Time,

and the fortnightly magazine, Fortune. The sample was questioned about

three factors: the proportion of the publication that is read, the

number of times it is read or seen, and how intensely it is read.

The AIM factor links all three variables and is calculated for each of

the categories of reader covered by EMS, which includes higher income

individuals, those with high-ranking professional titles and corporate

credit cards, and by factors such as frequency of travel, internet use

or education. ’The higher the AIM score, the more potential there is for

your advert to be seen,’ says Shields.

The research concludes that weeklies are looked at more frequently than

dailies, but dailies are read more thoroughly. Newsweek and Time had the

highest proportion of pages read among weeklies, while The Economist had

the highest total number of pages read and was looked at for the

greatest length of time.

All well and good, but the key question is whether the AIM survey adds

anything to existing international print research that will aid media

planner/buyers. ’Practically, it produces results,’ says Shields. ’Up

until now, there has been no real information out there.’

Agencies are, of course, sceptical of research from media owners, as

Perry says: ’Generally, I don’t like media owner research, as no matter

how independent the owners try and be, they always put their own

interests first and keep control. The IHT hasn’t done this, but that

could be because the research is not important enough yet to upset


The research does, however, show the IHT ahead of all other publications

in its AIM factor assessment and in every category. Shields defends any

accusations of bias claiming the survey is entirely independent. ’We

have no sway over the results at all, and I have had no criticism from

any quarters stating that they think the questioning is unfair.’

AIM has been broadly welcomed by agencies but its significance, at this

early stage, is played down. ’It is not massively significant or ground

breaking,’ says Perry. ’This type of research is only ever going to be

supplementary. It is used to trim a plan, not to build one.’ But she

concedes that it is a first in terms of an international media owner

trying to provide detailed figures about readership patterns in the

print media.

Most planner/buyers point to the size of the sample - 600 - as one of

the reasons for early scepticism and agree that initially it will be

treated as a pilot. For the next year at least, depending on the level

of interest from other media owners, AIM will be used in conjunction

with existing surveys which include EMS and EBRS. The longest-running

survey, EBRS, is described as agency friendly, but rigid in its

definitions and reach.

’No survey, including EBRS, adequately covers television, as it is

always vetoed by the media owners, which is such a shame,’ says


Also due to launch this month is Europe 2000, backed by The Economist

and National Geographic, who were also behind the now widely discredited

Pan European Survey. ’My understanding is that Europe 2000 is just an

updating of the old PES method,’ says Shields, who adds that, despite

obvious problems such as its face-to-face interviews securing a

representative sample, he would reserve final judgment until its


The Asian Businessman Readership Survey and the International Air

Travellers Survey, which as of last year is supplied free to agencies,

are also used in conjunction with other research.

According to Perry, agencies were prejudiced against the IATS survey up

until last year, as it was difficult to use and, she says, ’many found

the samples dodgy to say the least, as they were full of old-age

pensioners and backpackers’. But she claims it has improved and

planner/buyers now get a sample of 50,000, which she describes as,

’fantastic, compared to EBRS, which only has 2,000’.

Stephen Pollock, managing partner of MindShare Worldwide, still has

reservations about current surveys, but claims something is better than

nothing in an industry suffering from a dearth of good research. ’I

wouldn’t rely on the IATS survey, and anyone who takes these figures as

gospel needs their head examining. It is just a pool of data to help you

arrive at a decision.’

As with many planner/buyers, Pollock says he will tuck the likes of AIM

and IATS away, to be called upon should he need extra pan-regional


’Frankly,’ he concludes, ’none of the research out there is very good.

But the print side is much better than TV - which is truly useless.’


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