Magazines Reach Milestone: Will Report Reach, Frequency Too

As the nation's biggest magazine publishers, advertisers and media buying executives meet this week in Phoenix to discuss the future of the print medium, steps are being taken that give individual magazines the ability to be planned and measured alongside electronic media like TV, radio and the Internet. Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI), the company that provides Madison Avenue with the audience estimates that are the basis for magazine advertising buys, is preparing to introduce a new "issue-specific" measurement service that will enable planners and buyers to understand how magazine audiences build over time.

The new data, which is being planned for a first quarter 2007 release, promises to provide consumer magazines with the same ability as electronic media to calculate the reach and frequency of their audience.

According to Julian Baim, MRI's executive vice president and chief research officer, issue-specific data should allow media buyers and planners to execute dynamic, flexible campaigns on a par with TV, radio, and even the Internet: "There will be a much more immediate return on this kind of information than there has been in the past."

The new measurement is based on data collected in single-source surveys of MRI's national consumer panel, including face-to-face interviews and both mail-in and Web questionnaires. Subjects are asked a battery of questions including how they acquired a particular issue of a magazine, how much they read, and editorial recall.

Together, Baim said, this data should help mag executives and media planners gauge the real utility of the magazine as an ad platform over a number of issues: "We're seeing how an audience for a particular magazine varies from week to week, and relating the variation by issue back to our national numbers." He explained: "The reading level is either higher than the average issue, or lower than the average issue. Ultimately, what we're looking to do here is take the information we gather on the specific issue and overlay those results against our broader national study."

Subjects are also asked how long it took them to finish a particular issue, allowing MRI to determine how long each issue takes to accumulate its total audience. Baim noted: "A magazine doesn't amass it audience in one day--it accumulates over time. You might have the first 30% by the end of the first week, 60% by the end of the second, and then 100% after three weeks." He recalled: "We conducted the first large-scale study of that phenomenon seven years ago," but this is the first time MRI will offer the data as part of a regular service."

According to Baim, "when you're able to measure the performance of specific issues in an advertising campaign, you can assess the results in sales--whether the campaign had an effect or not." It may also help media planners better understand how ad messages in magazines line up with ads delivered via other media. Baim added: "It also helps you understand seasonality. For many years there have been assumptions that certain issues at certain times of the year are not as widely read as others; now we have some data on this." Finally, Baim said, issue-specific data could help mag executives "learn whether covers of a certain type do better than others, what kind of editorial content really pushes the magazine. There are any number of potential applications."

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