Circulators search for solutions

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Attending the Audit Bureau of Circulations' 92nd conference and annual meeting last week in Las Vegas put a face on the tremendous issues confronting newspapers and magazines in this digital-enamored world.

The nation's leading circulators raised issues like accountability to readers, advertisers and media buyers and planners; the appropriate metrics for measuring circulation and reach; the integrity of quality content to meet reader needs first and then the advertiser; and branding versus direct response ads versus inserts versus Web promotions.

Mostly focused on consumer media, the somber lot also discussed the role creativity plays in a print and Web campaign's success; the Internet, embraced as an opportunity or a threat; the value of public-place distribution versus paid circulation; and the future of newspapers and magazines in a world desiring more performance from the editorial and ad messages as well as the medium.

Above all, and unique to the print world, was the recurring theme of trust. Here they were on the defensive, eager to prove that all checks and balances were now in place to avoid recent faked-circulation issues that led to reader and advertiser distrust.

But, as many at the ABC show muttered, print media is being held to a higher standard. After all, search engine marketing has click fraud - 25 percent, per some estimates - and yet that industry continues to receive wads of money.

"It does feel like a bit of a double standard, with somewhat of a feeling that online media are doing a better job," David Verklin, CEO of media services giant Carat Americas, told his peers.

To the search optimization and marketing industry's defense, even if the 25 percent figure is correct,, search is still better than most marketing channels in terms of return on investment and immediacy of results.

Where the ABC and rival BPA Worldwide need to take a lead is the interactive world - in auditing online media's delivery and reach and offering a standard like they do in print media. One speaker at the ABC show said all media would be digital in a few years. For newspapers and magazines not to have an interactive strategy complementary to their print vehicles is suicidal.

Television was mentioned several times at the show, again to prove a point about the impact of print versus other media. Judy Vogel, director of communication insights at media services firm OMD, said research shows a 70 percent to 75 percent drop-off in viewership of ads with shows recorded by TiVo. That tells you something about consumer attitudes toward advertising.

Marketing budgets have shrunk, and even branding ads are expected to generate more ROI. Print media advertising risks disaster if newspapers and magazines don't embrace online sooner. American Airlines, for instance, today has half the ad dollars it did in 2000, according to Rob Britton, the carrier's managing director for brand development and advertising.

"Where we tend to be going," he told the ABC show delegates, "is that brand advertising is starting to migrate to television and the tactical world is moving exclusively to online media."

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