It is arguably the biggest scandal in the press advertising market.
It sometimes beggars belief that advertisers and their agencies don’t
make more noise about it - and their almost optimistic belief that a
solution is imminent is probably the ultimate example of the triumph of
hope over experience.
We are talking newspaper section research - and talking about it is all
that the industry has been doing for at least a decade. By and large,
publishers don’t want the advertising industry to know how many people
read the individual supplements, sections and reviews that have become
the newspaper experience these days, because some of the numbers are
bound to be embarrassing. The one exception, it appears, is The
Back in the summer, it produced ’Telegraph Section Planner’, a piece of
research that looked at readership patterns, section by section, across
both The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. It was the first
detailed survey of this sort and the first time that a newspaper
publisher had actively sold itself to agencies on this basis.
A worthwhile initiative. But it took us no closer to the ultimate goal -
a piece of research covering the whole market, possibly under the
auspices of the core press advertising currency, the National Readership
Or so we thought. Last week we seemingly moved a fraction closer to
broader section research, although the initiative still doesn’t involve
In fact, it’s down to The Telegraph once more - it has announced that it
will extend its section planner to include comparable section research
on its rivals, The Times and The Sunday Times.
Chris White-Smith, the display ad director of The Telegraph, maintains
that extending this summer’s research to include the group’s closest
rivals is a consistent and logical next step. He says: ’We are
fulfilling our commitment as market leaders to take the industry forward
by introducing sound sectional readership research data to help agencies
plan more effective campaigns for clients. We could broaden this
research still further. Who knows?’
Who indeed? Just how cheeky is this initiative? Shouldn’t The Times be
doing its own research? We’ll have to try to imagine the reaction down
at Times Newspapers because its managing director, Camilla Rhodes,
declined to comment. But what does the rest of the market think?
The person with perhaps the greatest perspective on this is Peter
Bowman, the research director of Mediapolis.
Back in 1988, Bowman was chairman of the first Jicnars working party to
look at the feasibility of adding newspaper section research to the NRS.
Perhaps surprisingly, he is still optimistic that we’ll see a joint
industry initiative in this area sooner rather than later.
However, he argues that aspects of The Telegraph research earlier this
year were not without their merits.
He says: ’It is not controversial in itself that media owners conduct
research. There is only so much that joint industry research can do.
Meanwhile, there are many areas that need looking at - so I’d rather
have something that is flawed or partial than nothing at all.’
But Bowman is not alone in conceding that the first section planner
survey ’over-egged’ the case for The Telegraph and that the survey’s
methodology was flawed. For instance, it used a far from random sample -
its respondents were regular readers of, or had some sort of affinity
for, The Telegraph.
Bowman adds: ’It wasn’t a true picture of The Telegraph so we are doubly
worried when it covers The Times. The concern is not that one media
owner is looking at the performance of another but that it is being done
in such a predatory manner. I think a lot of publishers are either
surprised or annoyed at this for another reason too - the timing.
Despite all the recent controversy and disagreement, we’re starting to
see sweetness and light breaking out. I believe we are close to having
something covering sections agreed for the NRS.’