Facing Mounting Criticism, ‘Buy Safe’ Organizers Defend Campaign
Publishers weigh in on BPA, ABC pro-audit initiative.
Buy Safe Media, the BPA and ABC-backed campaign warning marketers against buying ads in non-audited b-to-b publications, has faced unusually harsh criticism since its launch last week.
Industry pundits, including consultant and noted columnist Bob Sacks, were among the first to weigh in on the program, with Sacks calling the initiative “an attack at the heart of the entrepreneurial publishing business.” Sacks wrote: “The new pathology actually disgusts me.”
Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni lamented “how low some folks in our industry are willing to sink in order to make their business flourish.”
And it’s not just pundits who are disturbed. At Access Intelligence, where several prominent titles—including CableFax and MIN—remain un-audited, Sylvia Sierra, SVP, corporate audience development, downplays the need for an audit. “Some of our strongest brands are not audited and take advertising,” Sierra told FOLIO: this week. “It is hard to argue the $1,000-per year subscription value that readers place on the information and advertisers place on reach.”
A ‘Legitimate Beef’
Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media and a supporter of the Buy Safe campaign, is more concerned about the publishers that fly under the radar and push inflated or inaccurate metrics.
“I am spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and maintain the circulation I am claiming, then I spend the money maintaining it in BPA required formats, then I pay BPA between $10,000-$15,000 to audit my books,” Bahr says. “That’s the ethical standard for publishing in this industry. My competitors are therefore able to spend way less than I do, and compete with me by cheating and lying to our mutual customers. My only recourse is to try and educate the advertisers that they need to pressure these outlaws into auditing.”
BPA CEO Glenn Hansen put it this way: “Publishers that have made that investment have a legitimate beef with those that cannot demonstrate from an independent verification that they have made that same investment.”
Ditto for the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which joined the BPA in backing the program. “The campaign site specifically notes that auditing is not a necessity for all publications,” says Neal Lulofs, ABC’s SVP, communications and strategic planning. “I can’t fathom why the promotion of media auditing would ‘disgust’ someone. We are an auditing firm and we are promoting the benefits of auditing—for publishers and buyers alike. We are not ‘forcing’ anyone to become audited. But in competitive environments, buyers usually insist on it. For instance, there isn’t a single paid-circ newspaper above 25,000 in the U.S. that isn’t audited. That’s not because we force them to do that, but because audited newspapers attract more ad dollars.”
A Question of Demand
Yet smaller ad buyers—as BPA confirmed when it was surveying client-side media buyers prior to launching the campaign—may not care or even know about audits. At Hanley Wood, which has several un-audited titles in its stable of more than 30 magazines, auditing is more of a case-by-case consideration. “It depends on the advertiser market,” says Nick Cavnar, VP circulation and database development. “Advertiser markets dominated by small advertisers that don’t work through agencies aren’t that familiar with the statement format. They don’t understand it so there’s not a great demand for it.”
This is precisely why BPA launched the Buy Safe Media campaign, but Cavnar focuses on the practicalities of auditing. “If we don’t have advertisers asking for one, then we may not audit the magazine. We work according to what advertisers are looking for. We run the circulation the same way whether it’s audited or not. It’s a question of whether it’s something that helps in the advertising sales.”
Audit Landscape Getting Complicated
Sacks and Husni took the Buy Safe program to task, in part, because they say it’s magazines attacking magazines, and that energy could be better applied to arguing the print medium’s viability against other media—TV, radio and online. “In a perfect market, where all magazines are audited, I think Bob and Samir are justified in saying, ‘Don’t fight among yourselves, fight against other media,” Hansen says. “But in a market where we’re not all yet at the same level playing field, I think that’s an unfair expectation on their behalf. It’s not the fact that it’s BPA or ABC—it’s the fact that they’ve made the investment in developing quality audience and they can prove that and that gives the advertiser accountability.”
But there is a bigger picture to be focusing on—the mash-up of media platforms. “We are now media companies whose portfolios include print magazines and many other assets,” Sierra says. “Most of the other assets—Web sites, e-letters, trade shows, Webinars—are not audited, and yet, revenue is shifting from print magazine advertising to the other assets. Advertisers want to know ‘Who are these people?’ and the audit bureaus are not showing reach, only numbers. I can’t think of a single reason to pay for the current audit offerings given their shortcomings.”