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Sun 3 Jul 2005 04:00 AM

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Advertisers warn media: ‘audit or face sanctions’

Advertisers and media agencies should consider imposing “sanctions” against newspapers and magazines that fail to apply for an audit, the secretary of the GCC Advertisers Association has urged.

Advertisers and media agencies should consider imposing “sanctions” against newspapers and magazines that fail to apply for an audit, the secretary of the GCC Advertisers Association has urged.

Speaking on Dubai Eye’s The Editors programme, Mike Gillam, who is also head of media at FMCG giant Unilever issued the strongest warning yet. He said: “In the longer term it is down to the media buying units and to the clients themselves to consider sanctions against publications.

“I am not talking about tomorrow or next month. Publications must be given a reasonable amount of time to go and get audits done themselves,” he said.

“Obviously there will be some exemptions to this — publications that claim very small circulations or highly specialised publications —and nobody, least of all the GCCAA, wants to bully people into doing anything.

“We need audits and accountability and we need it fast. The way we are going to achieve that is by giving strong support to those who supply [audits] and less support to those who don’t,” he added.

Gillam’s comments came after Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of auditor BPA Worldwide, addressed a summit of advertisers, agencies and publishers at the International Advertising Association in Dubai last week.

As a result, an action group is due to hold its first meeting this week to hammer out ways of bringing greater accountability to the region’s publishing industry.

Some critics have claimed the group will encounter resistance from publishers keen on maintaining mythical circulation numbers, but Marwan Rizk, vice-president and area director of the IAA in the Middle East and Africa, insisted a breakthrough would be made.

“I am hoping that by starting something in print we can trigger something across the whole industry,” he said. “There will be some media guys who will continue to put sticks in the wheels but we will break those sticks.”

But the meeting was overshadowed by a row over the value of auditing. Wissam Kabbani, chief marketing officer at the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which publishes Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat said his company had dropped its audit with the UK-based Audit Bureau of Circulation due to a lack of interest from advertisers.

“We didn’t have a single media planner ask us why we dropped ABC. It means nothing to us unless it makes us money. Unless the BPA means something to the advertiser then don’t bother coming to me,” he said.

And Robert Serafin, boss of Campaign Middle East’s parent comapny ITP, which uses both ABC and BPA, said that he had not yet benefited from being an early adopter of audits. He told the meeting: “There is not a single identifiable dollar that we have gained from being audited.” And he claimed that if the BPA dominated, ITP would lose out. He said: “The IAA is going to cause us untold damage by forcing us to go with BPA rather than ABC.”

Elie Khouri, regional managing director of OMD, said this was the first step on a long road to greater transparency among newspapers and magazines.

“We know that circulation claims are largely over-inflated and plan accordingly anyway,” he said. “An audit would simply leave guesswork out of the equation. There’s no alternative and we certainly can’t keep operating in the dark.”

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