The recently released European Business Readership Survey 2002 is the latest in the series which began in 1973 to offer insight into Europe's most senior executives. Undertaken by Ipsos, it provides data for 423,034 senior business individuals in 17 western European countries and includes readership data for 18 international and 323 national titles. It also includes a wealth of data about business decision-making and purchasing.
It is used extensively for pan-European press campaigns against top-level business audiences. However, the fact that the EBRS only measures the readership habits of Europe's most senior executives makes the implicit assumption that the printed word is still the only medium they really use.
To give the survey due credit, it began measuring internet usage in 1996.
Since then, internet penetration has grown from an initial 18 per cent to 95 per cent in 2002. However, EBRS looks only at internet usage in broad terms rather than giving details. EBRS gives no information for TV viewing, radio listening or for any other channels of communication. For how long can the EBRS ignore the fact that chief executives and managing directors consume a variety of media?
The survey continues to expand. This year, subscribers also received the central European survey which provides the same data for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. But surely a survey that aspires to offer meaningful insight into this difficult-to-reach audience should provide more than a single-medium view of media habits?
For example, the EBRS could include a time diary so media consumption could be tracked during a typical day. Questions on attitudes to media, such as airport advertising, could be more productive than simply knowing that the respondent makes more than six business flights a year. And because of their position in business, their views about communication issues could be very useful.
It comes down to the raison d'etre for the EBRS. Its chief purpose is to provide robust data on the readership habits of an elusive target.
Based upon a good sample size, the EBRS supplies a common currency that enables agencies to assess the relative strengths of national and international press.
Indeed, the EBRS has been instrumental in helping build the pan-regional print market in the past three decades. But there's the rub. The survey is predominantly run for, and by, the international press titles. Involvement from media agencies in the development and direction of the survey is low.
So what do agencies feel they need? Other pan-European surveys covering broader audiences also exist and they cover more than just press. For example, Europe 2002 indicates the rise in the consumption of pan-European TV news channels as well as showing the popularity of news websites. But Europe 2002 is designed to look at a watered-down audience comprising the top 4 per cent of individuals - a key group for many advertisers but not as tight a target as for the EBRS. The Europe 2002 series also includes analysis of TV daypart viewing, which spurred the EMS survey to incorporate similar information.
The EBRS, as a print-only survey, can seem old-fashioned. Agencies and publishers are asking if the industry can support three such surveys.
Isn't it about time to focus energies behind one, all-encompassing study?
A possible route would be an expanded and merged EBRS/Europe 2002 study to the exclusion of EMS.
Such a study would surely help grow the whole international media sector.
The question publishers must be asking themselves is whether growing the whole sector is mutually compatible with funding a press study to help the press medium.
Ultimately, it is a question of priorities. If the prime reason for the EBRS is to create a press trading currency for pan-regional and national print among a senior business audience, then it performs this task well. However, if the overall objective is to provide agencies and advertisers with insight for implementing a multimedia strategy, then there is a compelling case for a total re-evaluation of all pan-European research.
So what does the EBRS 2002 show? The survey tells us the top international title is the Financial Times, with 16.2 per cent of the audience reading it. Second is Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with 13 per cent. Looking at the reading habits of chairmen, chief executives and managing directors, the top three titles are the Financial Times (18.3 per cent), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and The Economist (both 13.4 per cent).
Specifically in the UK, the top titles among the whole EBRS audience are The Sunday Times (51.8 per cent), the Financial Times (40 per cent) and The Times (33.7 per cent). The top magazine is Management Today with 26.3 per cent.
The survey also highlights certain trends which are interesting in the context of the current economic climate. With budgets under greater pressure, 71 per cent of senior management say they have taken an increasingly hands-on approach to purchase decisions, up from 62 per cent in 2000.
However, despite the changes in society and the workplace, the typical senior European executive is still likely to be a man - 87 per cent, in fact. He will be, on average, 46 years old and will earn, before tax, 119,000 euros per year.
Overall, there is plenty of research on pan-regional media, but perhaps advertisers' needs would now be better served by the creation of a single-source multimedia survey that provided robust information on high-value business people.
WHO ARE EUROPE'S BUSINESS ELITE?
Director and more senior 41%
Strategy decisions a main area of responsibility 34%
Involved in strategic decisions internationally 31%
Average value of business purchases (euros) 937,000
Financial/legal services decision-maker 41%
IT purchase decision-maker 56%
Do business internationally 61%
Any business air travel 76%
Six or more international business air trips 24%
Use internet for business information 71%
Average personal income (euros) 119,000
Average value of main car (euros) 38,000
EBRS 2002 - AVERAGE READERSHIP OF INTERNATIONAL TITLES
Net international titles 47.3
Financial Times 16.2
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13.0
The Wall Street Journal Europe 3.4
International Herald Tribune 2.7
USA Today 1.8
The Economist 8.4
National Geographic 7.3
Harvard Business Review 5.8
CFO Europe 2.5
Scientific American 1.8
Institutional Investor 1.7