Number is up for those counting media value

Numbers are not the be all and end all when it comes to evaluating an advertising medium. The public’s response to the material is what yields the coveted results, according to Terry Mansfield. Terry Mansfield is managing director of NatMags.

I was asked to contribute 650 words about media value.Too many people in this business try to measure things without valuing them.

The media business is essentially qualitative. People read, view and respond on the basis of evaluation not enumeration. You can try to measure what happened afterwards, and you can try to model what will happen beforehand – you should. But what actually happens has more to do with psychology than physics.

Media value is the response it achieves and that response is instinctive, intuitive, emotional, often mysterious, sometimes rational, but not arithmetical.

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to counting copies, estimating readerships, measuring redemptions and so on. I do want to assert, however, that the horse is qualitative and the cart is quantitative. Cosmopolitan has a high circulation because people – individually – respond to it. Coronation Street has high viewing figures because people – individually (and sometimes in groups) – respond to it. The numbers are an effect, not a cause.

If that’s true, are we focusing on the right numbers? I stand behind the need for “Gold Standard” circulation numbers so I am an unequivocal supporter of the Audit Bureau of Circulations – if it didn’t exist, it would need to be invented.

However, it is people who respond to ads, not the copies in which they appear that count. Here, I believe, The National Readership Survey (NRS) should be supplying us with some numbers that we do not yet seem to have.

We have been talking for years about “quality of reading” questions on the NRS and yet little seems to have happened as a result. “Quality of reading” will go further towards explaining what creates media value than any ABC certificate.

On July 31 spoke at a conference organised by Amco entitled “What Value Media Value”, and I was asked to talk about circulation figures. What I was requested to “defend” was that not all magazines are bought at full price from newsstands. Many are subscriptions, and some get to their readers having been paid for by somebody else. Does it follow that these copies have no value? – No.

A copy sold at less than full price isn’t the issue: it’s what the reader does having seen it.

If the Sultan of Brunei was to buy a few hundred copies of Harpers & Queen and give them to his friends in order for them to admire the range of goods on offer at Asprey, would they have no value? I doubt it.

Media value is created in people’s heads. Media which are free to the reader – or viewer – can produce value, media sold to the wrong people won’t.

I like people to pay the right price for things, especially ads in my magazines. But I recognise that I operate in a market where value can be cheap and waste is always expensive.

Commercial terrestrial TV is free to the viewer, but I doubt that ITV’s new chief executive Richard Eyre would argue that it is valueless.

Indeed, it is so valuable that we poor publishers are effectively denied access to it. Current ITC rulings prevent the media value inherent in magazines being translated onto terrestrial television. But the media values of excellent BBC programmes are translated into magazines – funny, that.

But returning to the main point: Oscar Wilde said that a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Media value is response and the response results in numbers, it isn’t caused by them.

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