Media: Perspective - Is the Newspaper Marketing Agency finally growing up?

During its early months, the Newspaper Marketing Agency resembled a fledgling US sitcom that had staggered beyond the first pilot but looked set to be canned after every subsequent episode.

Its early bungling is covered in our "Lifeline" piece on the second page of this week's media section, so it would be a bit harsh to stick the boot in again here.

Harsh but fair, some might say. But, on the whole, the NMA's latest initiative - some multimedia research combined with a "Brucie Bonus" giveaway of £10 million of newspaper advertising - is a step in the right direction for an organisation that has slid on a jungleful of banana skins.

The NMA research, snappily entitled Measuring Advertising Effectiveness - A Fresh Approach,continues in the rational vein that the organisation, backed by a bunch of sometimes none-too-rational national newspaper shareholders, has pursued for the last year. As the NMA chief executive, Maureen Duffy, helpfully states: "Accountability is the biggest single issue facing the advertising industry." It's a shame then that the research appears little more than a rip-off of the RAB's "media multiplier" research in attempting to demonstrate how well newspaper advertising can work in conjunction with other media.

Apparently 12 test campaigns, shown to 1,000 consumers, revealed that papers had a big effect in raising ad response figures and that the scores were higher for the combination of TV and newspapers than for a mix of newspapers and other media (such as radio and outdoor).

It may be self-serving but the research could convince a few advertisers that national newspapers are more than a call-to-action medium and that they have brand-building potential. The next stage will involve the £10 million "giveaway", quite cunning on the newspapers' part because it's really anything but. In exchange for a bit of "free" ad space, advertisers will need to use a new research system developed by the NMA and publish the results in case studies.

But at least this is something new from the NMA. At last, the body is actually becoming vaguely competent at providing a rational, research-based argument for national newspaper advertising that goes beyond indicating that men like to read sports pages.

Some observers still want more on the research side (work that goes toward showing how many people read each page and section of a particular paper, for instance) and this may be needed in light of this week's prediction from Initiative that the cost of buying space in newspapers and magazines will rise by 9.2 per cent next year, well above inflation.

If this materialises, it will be of far more pressing concern to advertisers and their agencies than the NMA's figures.