Are You Providing What Media Buyers Need?

Are You Providing What Media Buyers Need?

As the head of an organization that counts both media owners and media buyers as members, I find myself in an interesting position to witness the mind-sets at both ends of the marketplace. For years, media buyers have been clamoring for access to standardized circulation data via an easy-to-use online tool. If the old “customer is always right” adage holds true, why not give customers what they are asking for?

A number of years ago, I wrote in an article that “… advertisers cannot tolerate obstacles to intelligent and efficient media decision-making.” Now with a real spendthrift mentality taking root—in the recent past and for the foreseeable future—I believe more strongly than ever that the print-media industry must focus on providing advertisers with the information and metrics they need, when they need them. Accurate, quality data is print’s best antidote to the migration of ad revenue to interactive and its best bet for capturing elusive ad dollars when pressure to maximize investment is at an all-time high.

Plus, as our industry continues to press forward onto new, more sophisticated marketing platforms, print-media owners have far greater opportunities to reach their target buyers.  However, it seems ironic that some publishers are not taking advantage of the myriad of opportunities by providing the type of data marketers need to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently. Media owners would benefit, as reliable, credible data—which is needed for truly accurate and efficient planning processes—could be what seals the deal for media buyers.

Stepping Out of the Unknown
While media owners have long contemplated the move to standardize circulation reporting, reticence looms.
I understand that clarifying the existing shades of gray with truly comparable data is a scary proposition. But media owners should take it upon themselves to walk in their buyers’ shoes.

It seems there was a missed opportunity to act when the market first signaled a softening of media ad sales. As pressures bore down on the industry, magazine publishers were presented with a vital chance to learn, to sit down with the media planner whose agency had just won an account and attempt to experience the struggle of wading through media choices.

In addition, taking stock of what research data is and is not available, as a media planner deciphers disparate data sets, would inform the reasons for a buyer’s choices.
If print media owners came to a true understanding of the daily challenges faced by media buyers and advertisers, they would be compelled to provide relevant circulation data in a standardized taxonomy through an intuitive online tool.

The Future Is Now
The time to let hard data speak for itself is now; certain basic data should follow a uniform taxonomy so media planners can feed their databases with like-defined information and retrieve useful data sets.

Mind you, I don’t mean that everything must be to a standard; there is still room for color and nuance in a seemingly black-and-white world. For example, that which is unique about a brand’s audience would still need to be conveyed. Peeling back the layers of ambiguity with industrywide, quantitative measurement—what I might call a “democratization of data”—would, in fact, clear the path for a greater focus on qualitative differentiation.  Leveling the playing field will drive competition where it counts: in creating better products. A rising tide truly does lift all boats.

Give Them What They Want
We are not talking about fighting windmills. With industrywide support, creating a tool that aids print-buying decisions is a feasible task and, therefore, should be embraced now. Print publishers can and should take a page from the online marketing arena, where a single set of standardized data already exists. Web traffic is measured using a defined taxonomy that applies universally. Those evaluating online traffic can take a critical look at intelligent data results that are dependable, accurate and done to a single standard. The numbers, therefore, are real, and differences between outlets cannot be hidden by smoke and mirrors of synonyms and hyperbole.

So, why can’t the same be accomplished on the print side?
The roadblock is not that circulation data does not exist. It does. The issue is that its utility is limited without uniform classification, which enables queries for simple publication-by-publication comparisons and analyses.

Likewise, databases for media planners to peruse, drill down and analyze are out there, but it is impossible to make sense of the information without market-sector standard taxonomy. The ideal system would classify print-circulation data by market category for type of business, title and job function.

Media owners should band together on a standard taxonomy and refuse to compromise on their data quality, so we can give media buyers what they want. If the data going into the system is not descriptive, results to queries will be of little use to the media owner who is trying to market his or her brand and to the media buyer who is trying to analyze the data to make the best decision. As the old cliché goes: Garbage in equals garbage out.

An Open Invitation
It would be great to see the entire community rally around helping media evolve from its current, irregular circulation reporting to industry-standard reporting across all touchpoints of the brand, which is currently hindered without matching print data.  Now is the time for us to launch an industrywide initiative to develop a print-circulation taxonomy. The process won’t happen overnight. But with the support of both the publishing and marketing sectors, change can and will happen sooner rather than later. I promise that your media buyers and your sales force will thank you.