“ABC Rules Process Achieved Its Goals”

It has occurred to me that change always brings with it an uneasy anticipation of adjustments and upheaval encountered as new challenges force us to adopt new behaviors.

That certainly sums up the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ recent rule and reporting changes concerning paid circulation, the end result of more than 18 months of intensive consideration by publishers, agencies and advertisers. I can’t help but revisit this point after reading Chip Block’s article (“The New Audit Rules: Opportunities Come with Limitations,” September, page 59), in which he contends that “circulators, publishers and ad salespeople are going to be pretty busy sorting this all out over the next few years.

Well, yes, especially with measurement and reporting changes of this magnitude. I think any experienced media professional recognizes that a certain degree of additional effort and uncertainty is unavoidable in the short term, and that it might take time for both sides to reap the rewards of these latest rule changes.

But there’s a reason both sides worked so diligently to reach consensus, and there’s a reason ABC’s rule package differs in some regards from that of BPA: To provide a greater degree of marketing flexibility to publishers, while delivering data that will continue to be of value to buyers.

Over time, this will become evident in many areas. Partnership rules, for instance, have been developed to give marketers greater leverage. ABC’s report formats have been streamlined and enhanced to help buyers make more accurate comparisons. Long term, the new 35 percent threshold allows marketers a greater degree of promotional flexibility than in the past. In exchange, buyers have a new reporting format to facilitate the evaluation of this data.

But perhaps the strongest example is the reporting of net average price. There’s no denying that arriving at a “net” figure will require some extra work on the part of publishers, some extra diligence on the part of ABC auditors, and extra time for advertisers striving to see the big picture. But netting this critical figure strips away extraneous elements like premium values, credit cancels and public place/sponsored copies. Buyers can’t hope to obtain an accurate pricing picture if these items are included in the total; and sellers gain added credibility for presenting more precise data. This sounds like a win/win that, in my opinion, greatly improves comparability across publications and more than makes up for the extra time and effort involved.

I agree that in many respects, this indeed represents uncharted territory for the industry. And while it creates new opportunities, it has also created new complexities. A true picture of how these rules will manifest themselves may not be seen until we are well into 2003. In fact, it might feel like we’re destroying the very foundations upon which the industry was built.

But what we’re really doing is addressing a groundswell of change in a fragmented media environment, where it’s increasingly difficult to reach the elusive consumer. And maintaining a competitive edge for many is necessary for growth. Thus, the industry is in agreement that circulation strategies by sellers need to evolve in new directions that also address buyers’ need for relevant data. Accordingly, we must prepare ourselves for a transformation that requires diligence and effort.

One thing that won’t change, however, is ABC’s continuing role as a source of education and a central industry forum. Working together, we can ensure that the lines of communication remain wide open as we explore these intriguing new frontiers.

Bobbie Asano

Director of Corporate and Business Media


New York, NY

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