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Sun 19 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Now’s the time to ‘get serious’ about auditing

Marketing bosses and media agencies must push to make auditing the norm rather than the exception

Now’s the time to ‘get serious’ about auditing|~|David200.jpg|~|Sheridan… why are un-audited circulation figures being accepted?|~|When the chairman of BPA Worldwide, the world’s biggest publishing audit company, warns the Middle East’s media to get serious about auditing magazines and newspapers, the standard retort may well be: “Well he would say that wouldn’t he.”

But increasingly advertisers are making the same demands, tired of giving away their limited ad budget to titles that have little or no readers, yet claim outlandish or grossly inflated circulation numbers.

While John Kahan, the newly elected head at BPA Worldwide, has an obvious vested interest in promoting the importance of auditing (page 3), calls are growing louder by the day for publications in the Middle East to accurately account for how many copies it distributes each month or week.

Dubai-based publishing group Motivate has announced its intention to audit all of its consumer titles. ITP Consumer and ITP Business, publisher of Campaign Middle East, has sought audits for many of its titles and there are perhaps a handful of others, but these companies are very much the exception and not the norm.

“If you purchased a bulk order of 100 new PCs for your company, would you shrug off a complaint from your IT manager that only 10 had actually been delivered, citing as evidence the dealer’s written promise that he had indeed delivered 100 PCs? Of course you wouldn’t,” says David Sheridan, regional director at media agency MindShare.

“So why are marketing directors and VPs all over the Middle East accepting un-audited circulation figures from magazines and newspaper publishers at face value despite widespread recognition among their advertising/media buyers that the circulation claims of all but a few publications are entirely bogus?”

Ratios as bad as 1:10 (actual vs claimed) are believed to be common, particularly among magazines, he adds.
Publishing houses know they have to stand up and be counted, but most are reluctant to do so, knowing full well that the carefully-crafted aura advertising sales managers have created around a title’s circulation numbers would be blown away in an instant once audit figures come back.

“With new magazines appearing on news stands in virtually every month in the last two years, and advertisers spending over $800m in advertising in newspapers and magazines across the GCC each year (around $200m in the UAE alone), it is time for the market to insist on accountable and credible media measurement,” says Sheridan.

Some major multi-nationals are now talking tough on auditing, claiming they will withhold ad spend from unaudited media. But, once again, these are few are far between.

Industry groups such as the International Advertising Association (IAA), which is holding a summit for media stakeholders on auditing, and the recently-formed GCC Advertisers’ Association, have placed the issue high on their agendas but must now deliver on their promises to finally hold the media to account.

“Today, marketers and their agencies are more focused than ever on ensuring accountability for their advertising investments,” says Stuart Wilkinson from BPA Worldwide. They need and require objective assurances of a publication’s circulation size and audience vitality.

“Media owners have their circulation and audience claims verified by a trusted, independent media auditor for one critical reason — to provide its advertisers, exhibitors and sponsors with that assurance, thereby enhancing their media properties’ credibility.”

Auditing is now firmly on the radar of advertisers, media agencies and even some publishers, but it is moving at a snail’s pace in the Middle East. Advertisers need to get tougher and publishers need to stand up and be counted.||**||

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