Accountability has been a central part of ad sales since audits started early in the 1900s (and probably before that) but the conversation around the topic has changed along with distribution mechanisms.
Namely, media buyers want more of it. That means publishers are going further to prove their value, and in some cases, are even willing to guarantee it.
SouthComm, a collection of consumer and B2B brands including several former Cygnus titles, is emphasizing transparency in an effort to show marketers exactly what type of response they’re getting from their media spend.
The program is built into their B2B brands’ buyer’s guides, a long-running staple of many trade publications that includes product descriptions, contact info, and, on the Web, related content for participating vendors. Clients buying dedicated pages on the digital version of these guides are offered engagement reports that show metrics like visitors and pageviews, along with granular breakdowns of their competitive set and the audience segments that visited the page.
“These guides started off as just an online extension of the print product, but they’ve evolved now to include not just product data, company data, record data, but also any other content that is related to that company,” says Eric Kammerzelt, vice president of technology for SouthComm. “In a lot of cases, we’re seeing better SEO than these companies’ own pages because we’ve written more content than they have on their own products.”
That type of reach makes the engagement numbers more valuable than mere traffic reports. They become holistic statements on brand satisfaction and competitive position in the market. Exactly how the engagement reports get to clients varies by brand, Kammerzelt adds. It’s all rolled into a sales package for some, but for others, the directory alone has become a significant revenue driver. Prices can be up to $5,000 per report, he says.
The sales process is significantly more involved than your typical banner transaction though. It’s an ongoing sale that requires educating the buyer—detailed demographic info isn’t as simple or sexy as clickthrough rate, even though it’s more valuable.
“It’s more of a consultative sale and we can’t do it with everybody,” Kammerzelt says. “Plenty of advertisers still just want the clickthrough rate, but some of our better advertisers are looking for that deeper knowledge. I think there’s been an awakening to stats like clickthrough rates and how it’s not really the most effective metric, especially when talking about brand awareness, but there’s still catching up to do.”
GOING DEEPER WITH PRINT
But as behavioral analysis continues to evolve on the Web, data attached to print—a far larger revenue driver than digital for most consumer publishers—often fails to get past the point of purchase.
Working with research firm GfK MRI, the company is tracking reader engagement in the form of “actions taken”—active behaviors like website visits, coupon clipping and even purchases. If its magazines fail to beat their competitive set by at least 10 percent, the ads run free of charge. Right now, Bauer is starting the program with pharmaceutical buyers in its women’s group.
Engagement and retention are areas print media excels in, says Ian Scott, president of ad sales and publisher for Bauer, and it’s time magazines take advantage of that. Actions taken tend to increase about 15 percent for readers who get their magazines at retail, as well, according to GfK MRI. That’s a big plus for Bauer, which generates 80 to 90 percent of the circulation for its women’s titles on the newsstand, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
“A lot of the time, we’re not the biggest magazine out there, and a lot of advertisers tend to look for size first,” Scott says. “So for us, we’re looking at what we can offer that helps differentiate us in the marketplace—if we can’t be the biggest, then let’s offer performance as a metric. That’s what everyone is looking for these days: performance and accountability in advertising.”
The program is comparable to Meredith’s Sales Guarantee initiative. Partnering with Nielsen Catalina Solutions, which monitors purchasing habits of select households, Meredith promises minimum levels of ROI from the consumers being tracked. Time Inc. offers a similar ROI-measurement service called Pinpoint, though it doesn’t offer any guarantees.
Those programs differ in exactly what’s being monitored though. Where Meredith and Time Inc. look exclusively at conversions, Bauer is taking a broader view of brand engagement with its “actions taken” measurement.
Accountability isn’t going anywhere—it’s been around for more than a century already—but as the circumstances around it evolve, magazines will have to keep finding creative ways to prove their value.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Nielsen Catalina Solutions as a Nielsen Homescan division.