Setting the Record straight
I read with interest the piece from your guest columnist from the Sun. I thought some of the naive comment was insulting to the media buying community. However, from the outset let's be clear about the Daily Record and Sunday Mail's stance with regard to publishing Scottish sales figures. We are totally supportive of this. In fact, we will support any initiative which clarifies for advertisers the newspaper sales market in Scotland. We are very proud of our market-leading position, every day of the week, and will be only too pleased to confirm this by publishing audited sales figures.
However, there are two important issues needing clarification. First, "trade estimates" are of no use. They carry no weight and will be dismissed by many as worthless. The figures must be audited by ABC in line with current monthly audits for full ABC figures so we can release a consistent figure representing Scotland-only, full price newstrade, copies. A case in point is that only 5 of the 25 estimates which the Sun published in The Drum (18 Jan) are within 1 per cent of our own estimates. Whilst a 1 per cent margin of error will be relatively immaterial for the smaller regional titles like the Scotsman and Herald, a 1 per cent "error" for the true Scottish Nationals (Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Sunday Post) is material. Second, all publishers must sign up. The value of this exercise will be undermined if this is not the case.
The Daily Record and Sunday Mail are willing to sign up to this process immediately and encourage all publishers to do the same. We will be pleased to work with the ABC and Scottish Daily Newspaper Society to make this happen.
It is also worth reinforcing the point at this stage that while absolute circulation performance is a key currency used for media planning purposes, as we are all aware it is not the sole criterion for evaluating media effectiveness. The NRS measures average issue readership for Scotland-only and is a fundamental audience measurement and targeting tool. JICREG online shows penetration levels for every locale in Scotland for the Daily Record and a raft of local titles. TGI for Scotland demonstrates product consumption cross-tabbed by media usage. Whilst a vast array of quantitative information is available, media planners also factor in such qualitative factors as quality of environment, time spent reading and editorial positioning amongst a range of enhancing criteria which add value to the media planning process. Speak to any of our media planning colleagues and they will tell you that advertisers and their agencies are seeking to move away from simple cost-per-thousand measures as they strive to quantify cost-per-effective-response. Net return on investment is the key measure of media effectiveness. It is on that basis that media should be judged with circulation figures a key determinant of forecast response rates.
The Daily Record and Sunday Mail will be announcing next month a unique research-based omnibus which will, for the first time, be able to offer media effectiveness measures for ours and other titles across the marketplace. Many thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this "Open Forum".
The Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd.
A hidden agenda?
I'm writing in response to the Editorial Comment column in The Drum (18 January) and the following article by Colin McClatchie.
I am confused that you stated you want a "sensible, serious and open debate" on newspaper circulation, but have opened the debate by giving a platform to a single publisher, allowing them to set the agenda. You state that you "realise that News International has something to gain by doing this" and in the same sentence you state that you have not been railroaded. I suggest that you move aside to avoid the oncoming train!
You may be aware that the NRS publishes readership information that can be analysed regionally. You may also be aware that JICREG publishes data that can be analysed at an even more local level. Both of these tools already allow media buyers to "evaluate penetration on a common basis", which is the stated aim of Colin's article. I'm sure he's aware that they exist. Colin attempts to roll "bulk sales" and "sales outside the UK" into a single issue when they are completely separate. I'm sure most press buyers are and will remain suspicious of attempts to "enhance" circulation with bulk sales. Buyers tend to be suspicious by nature. They can also see when someone is trying to cloud the issue.
Clearly, the Scottish Sun will not be sold outside the UK. Why would the English Sun allow it's tartanised edition to be sold overseas when the real Sun can be made available for sale instead. I'm sure Colin would receive short shrift in Wapping if he mounted a campaign to stop the Sun from publishing overseas. After all, in the last six months of 2001 the Sun sold 469,632 copies overseas and the News of the World sold 514,788 copies overseas (Source: ABC).
If a Scottish holiday-maker chooses to keep in touch with events back home it should be no surprise that they choose a genuinely Scottish newspaper. The fact that some Record readers buy the paper overseas is simply a function of the incredibly strong relationship that it has with its readers.
I will always remain in favour of clarity and accountability when planning and buying media on behalf of my clients. Every competent agency will have access to all of the available data when they plan and buy on behalf of their clients. I would be extremely worried if any agency buying Scottish media was at all surprised by any of the figures that Colin quoted. I am equally worried that The Drum imagines that an objective debate starts by giving one player a free run to set the agenda.
A common goal
I welcome your desire to spark "a sensible, serious and open debate" on the issue of Scottish circulation figures. Answering letters on this subject sent to you might be a starting point.
I wrote to The Drum twice last year indicating SMG's agreement to publish our figures. I suggested some common standards and definitions. Others may have different and better ideas for establishing common standards.
Some of us already provide the Scottish advertising community with "accurate, transparent and meaningful data," to quote Colin McClatchie.
I welcome News International's invitation to provide "exact figures and remove any discrepancies". Perhaps Colin McClatchie can start by explaining what price should be paid to register a full price sale of The Times here in Scotland, 40p or 70p? If we are to have a "grown-up debate" let us look further than self-serving calls for "publication" and agree common standards and measures that will help the Scottish advertising community. I am ready to help and refer you to my letter of 10 August 2001.
I note the reactions to my piece in The Drum on 18 January. I welcome the support for this initiative (no comments, however, from Scotsman Publications!). I'm happy to report the ABC National Newspaper Specialist Committee has agreed a rule change and requested this be put to the ABC Council for ratification - possibly as early as March 2002. The recommendation is "to provide additional circulation detail by separately reporting data for sales in Scotland (meaning sales in Scotland and not merely Scottish editions)".
Now specific points raised: Of course we are aware that absolute circulation performance is not the sole criterion for evaluating media effectiveness. Yes, we are aware of NRS, JICREG, and TGI. All we are asking is to complete the picture by reporting separate sales data for Scotland.
I supplied industry estimates to start the ball rolling. If the ABC rule change is adopted, we will no longer have to rely on estimates. (Interestingly, it would seem that in the absence of any challenge, our estimates must be reasonably accurate)
I am uncertain about the point made by Des Hudson re The Times cover price. The Times ABC circulation data is published under the same set of rules as everyone else, including, I presume, The Herald (with the exception of the national/regional category). When I opened this debate my point was a serious one - my fellow publishers seem to regard it as self-serving, insulting or that I have something to gain by doing so. Maybe they protest too much?
Colin J S McClatchie,
News International Newspapers (Scotland) Ltd.