MEDIA: FORUM; Is joint industry research a redundant measure?

Is it time to do away with all joint industry research? As Phil Georgiadis, chief executive of Initiative Media, pointed out in a speech to an industry conference on the subject last week, joint industry research is failing to keep pace with the rapidly changing market. Are Barb and the NRS doomed? Alasdair Reid reports

Is it time to do away with all joint industry research? As Phil

Georgiadis, chief executive of Initiative Media, pointed out in a speech

to an industry conference on the subject last week, joint industry

research is failing to keep pace with the rapidly changing market. Are

Barb and the NRS doomed? Alasdair Reid reports

Joint industry research, some might argue, is the advertising industry’s

equivalent of the National Health Service. It is egalitarian, accessible

to all and subscribers pay for it according to their ability to pay - on

a percentage of their billings. Because it is so open, it is not subject

to corrupt practice; and by guaranteeing that even the smallest of

agencies and clients can get hold of basic numbers, it ensures healthy

competition in the media market.

Its defenders use another analogy. They point out that it is the trusted

currency, the gold standard upon which the whole market is constructed.

Criticising it may be trendy, but doing without it would be like trying

to do without banknotes - anarchy would prevail.

Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Initiative Media, admits he may

sound a bit like an anarchist or worse. At a media research conference

last week, he criticised joint industry research and even called for its

abolition. Joint industry research just wasn’t coping any more, he

claimed (Campaign, 31 May).

‘The truth of the matter is that the joint industry research committees

cannot find solutions to the proliferation of media opportunities within

their current structures, nor do they answer the burning questions that

advertisers are increasingly asking about the communication

effectiveness of different media - and segments of media - in relation

to their individual brands,’ he said.

Georgiadis proposes an entirely new system. Media owners should be

responsible for conducting basic ‘head counting’ research on their own

behalf and this data will be validated by a watchdog body. Individual TV

channels and publications could conduct the type of research that would

give a more complete picture of the type of audiences they attract. They

do a lot of that anyway - it would just move centre stage while the

British Audience Research Bureau and the National Readership Survey


Agencies and advertisers would also carry out a lot more research,

almost all of which would be brand-specific and oriented towards

qualitative, communications effectiveness issues.

Will it work? Or is this exactly what the boss of a big buying point

would advocate? He can afford to commission major pieces of in-house

research - smaller specialists can’t. Is he just seeking to widen the

gap between the haves and have nots? Is industry research really that


Mike Ironside, the advertising sales director of the Daily Mail,

questions the track record of agencies and advertisers when it comes to

research. ‘They’re great at saying what they want but not so good at

resourcing it,’ he claims. ‘With joint industry research, there may be

the odd hidden agenda and it sometimes might not move as quickly as some

people might want, but the benefits for advertisers and agencies far

outweigh the drawbacks. It is robust data and it is robust because it is

well funded. It is only by sharing costs throughout the industry that we

can afford to do it.’

He adds that the problem with media owners doing their own research is

that agencies never believe it. ‘They are excellent at playing both

sides against the middle when it comes to using research figures,’ he

contends. ‘As for ad hoc qualitative studies, I’m not at all convinced

that leaving that wholly in the hands of agencies would be a good thing.

We are happy to spend pound for pound on research with any advertiser or

agency on ad hoc research where we can both see the benefit - the

industry knows that.

‘British industry research is the envy of the rest of the world. I think

maybe our problem in this country is that familiarity breeds contempt.’

Graham Bednash, a managing partner of Michaelides and Bednash, points

out that the centre of gravity in media is moving towards media

creativity and ideas-driven rather than number-driven solutions. But

despite the fact that his agency relies heavily on the tailor-made

focus-group studies it undertakes for its clients, he doesn’t think you

can do without industry research: ‘Quantitative research is never going

to give you a true picture of the world and there is a greater drive

towards understanding how consumers really behave. You can only really

attempt to do that with qualitative research. But if only from the point

of view of negotiating with media owners, you need the industry


Surely a move away from industry research would benefit the smaller,

hungrier media owners? Dave Brennan, the vice-president of research at

United Artists Programming, doesn’t agree. ‘We have to look to the

future - and most of our programmes already get reasonable audiences by

any measure,’ he points out. ‘I don’t think it would benefit anyone to

have hundreds of bits of research using a billion different research

parameters. The amount of time that agencies would have to spend going

into the arcane intricacies of each study would be horrendous. There

would just be no usable currency. It’s obvious, though, that industry

research does need to change. It has to become more flexible.’

Bob Wootton, the director of media services at the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers, agrees entirely. ‘One area where there is

already a free-for-all is the trade press. If you go to four competing

trade titles, they all have research to show conclusively that they are

the best. If big budgets were involved, it’d be worth having a meeting

with your research director to go through it all. Although that’s not

what usually happens. If everyone did what the trade press does, the

market would be a shambles,’ he maintains.

‘Obviously, we wouldn’t want to see the baby thrown out with the bath

water. Change is needed and we should look again at how industry

research is funded. Advertisers ultimately fund research as they do the

whole advertising industry - but their voice isn’t that well represented

in research issues. If funding came from a more neutral source, say a

levy on all space booked, it might help to expose some of the vested

interests. It would be a better way to pay for a credible universal

research currency.’