Media Companies Expand and Improve Their Services

Advertising costs are determined by how many people can be reached through the medium. In print media, such costs are based on circulation and readership figures; in broadcast, the basis is ratings. As in any industry, firms compete directly to provide advertisers with these audience numbers. Because so many billions of dollars are spent on advertising each year, the figures the services provide are critical. One would expect that competing firms' information would be valid and consistent. Those in the magazine and newspaper industries believe that it isn't, and they are unhappy about it.

The two primary providers of information on magazine readership are Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) and Simmons Market Research Bureau (SMRB). Because of the importance media buyers place on the figures, they have become crucial to individual publications. As the vice president of one top ad agency noted, "If the readership numbers shift just a hair, there is a big shift in the number of ad pages." Yet MRI's and SMRB's numbers rarely agree, causing many to question their validity.

In the late 1990s both MRI and SMRB came under attack. USA Today and The Wall Street Journal were unhappy with MRI, while Hearst, Times Mirror, and Conde Nast were dissatisfied with SMRB. The issues involved the research methodologies of the two companies. The Magazine Publishers of America research committee noticed what appeared to be illogical numbers in the SMRB research materials. Like MRI, SMRB said it would change its research methods—to those previously employed by MRI.

In 2002, SMRB announced another improvement based on internal research that indicated usage of color logo representations improved reporting accuracy. As a result, color magazine logos replaced black-and-white images in an attempt to improve attention and the ability to differentiate between potentially confusing titles.

MRI also responded and made significant changes of its own. One such change was the addition of diary data to the existing methodology. Borrowing from Nielsen Media Research—the TV audience measurement counterpart—approximately 12,000 respondents were asked to maintain diaries recording their magazine reading habits on a day-to-day basis. MRI claimed that the study would allow magazines to present more coherent and precise quantitative readership measures showing exactly when readership takes place and how magazine audiences grow. The company also added 35 questions from the VALS program to help agencies and publishers identify consumer groups that have the greatest affinity with their products.

MRI also announced a partnership with Nielsen to share data to produce a "share-of-voice" report that combines national TV ratings with magazine readership. The new report allows media planners to compare ad schedules in national TV, cable, and 200 magazines based on audience delivery, expressed in gross rating points and cost-per-thousand figures.

You would figure that this would make everyone happy, right? Well, not exactly. Recently media buyers have criticized MRI's reporting of Sunday magazines that appear in newspapers, arguing that MRI overestimates the readership. The MRI method uses newspaper circulation figures and assumes that everyone who reads the Sunday paper reads the magazine section as well. Magazine competitors contend that this gives Parade and USA Weekend an unfair advantage.

To add validity to the MRI numbers, Parade announced that it was undertaking its own five-month study to ensure the accuracy of the MRI figures. Who's next?

Sources: Tony Case,"By the Numbers," Mediaweek, Feb.4,2002, p. 32; Katy Bach man, "Data Upgrades," Mediaweek, Mar. 25,2002, p.41; "Mediamark Probes Consumer Psyche," Mediaweek, Feb.26, 2001,p. 48; Jon Fine, "MRI Arms Magazines with Diary Data," Advertising Age, Oct. 23,2000,p.4.

Difficulty Measuring Effectiveness Because it is so hard to measure the effectiveness of advertising and promotions in general, it is also difficult to determine the relative effectiveness of various media or media vehicles. While progress is being made in this regard, the media planner may have little more than an estimate of or a good guess at the impact of these alternatives.

Because of these problems, not all media decisions are quantitatively determined. Sometimes managers have to assume the image of a medium in a market with which they are not familiar, anticipate the impact of recent events, or make judgments without full knowledge of all the available alternatives.

While these problems complicate the media decision process, they do not render it an entirely subjective exercise. The remainder of this chapter explores in more detail how media strategies are developed and ways to increase their effectiveness. 305

Figure 10-3 Developing the media plan

Figure 10-3 Developing the media plan

Developing the Media Plan The promotional planning model in Chapter 1 discussed the process of identifying target markets, establishing objectives, and formulating strategies for attaining them. The development of the media plan and strategies follows a similar path, except that the focus is more specifically keyed to determining the best way to deliver the message. The process, shown in Figure 10-3, involves a series of stages: (1) market analysis, (2) establishment of media objectives, (3) media strategy development and implementation, and (4) evaluation and follow-up. Each of these is discussed in turn, with specific examples. Appendix B to this chapter is an actual media plan, which we refer to throughout the remainder of the chapter to exemplify each phase further.

Market Analysis and Target The situation analysis stage of the overall promotional planning process involves a complete review of internal and

M arket Identification external factors, competitive strategies, and the like. In the development of a media strategy, a market analysis is again performed, although this time the focus is on the media and delivering the message. The key questions at this stage are these: To whom shall we advertise (who is the target market)? What internal and external factors may influence the media plan? Where (geographically) and when should we focus our efforts?

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