Why Trinity needs to get a better grip on its ABCs

Because circulation is at the kernel of ad rates, ABCs, not readership figures, should form the basis of Trinity’s compensation offer, says Mike Mendoza

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Birmingham Post & Mail (BP&M) is intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It started so well with phone calls alerting the relevant people of an impending stock market announcement.

The circulations of the Birmingham Evening Mail, The Sunday Mercury and The Birmingham Post had, according to Trinity Mirror estimates, been significantly overstated for a period of at least the past six years by the previous management. Assurances were given that sensible compensation would be forthcoming and a £20m provision was made. Then it all started to go wrong.

BP&M offered compensation in the form of future rate freezes and an additional extra 10 per cent discount on next year’s bookings. Hardly equitable on titles whose circulations had fallen by about one-sixth.

BP&M wrote to 6,000 advertisers with this solution. Only 80 (of the biggest advertisers) have written back, so BP&M has assumed that 5,920, by default, are happy to accept. Palpable nonsense.

The IPA sounded alarm bells that no retrospective compensation was being discussed and suddenly we were told to expect a response from BP&M’s lawyers.

So what, might you think, is the problem?

The key issue is whether advertising sales are dependent on readership figures or circulation. Our position on behalf of clients is, and always has been, that while we use readership figures to aid our press targeting decisions, the rates we pay to advertise in titles are largely based on circulation. Readership provides profile data based on a sample survey and is, therefore, only a proxy for value. Circulation is (or was supposed to be) the incontrovertible truth. Therefore we require compensation for our clients in line with the overstated circulation. Logical? Apparently not to BP&M.

Despite many awkward agency and media owner negotiations being concluded without third-party intervention, BP&M seems to require the services of a High Court judge and an expert panel to help it decide what to do. We met BP&M to discuss this issue and move towards resolution. But upon hearing the IPA view that a panel would both overcomplicate a simple issue and delay compensation to clients, it wasn’t prepared to discuss any alternatives. The fact that the panel’s views would not be legally binding was apparently irrelevant.

Also irrelevant was the precedent of the MAS TV airtime trading row in 1993, which resulted in the media owner compensating clients through their agencies in the way proposed by the IPA.

Clients have a right to expect the value of the difference between the circulation bought and that received over the past six or more years. This is likely to be a lot of money for a lot of advertisers.

Whether interest on the money, the cost of management time and loss of business is mentioned is up to individual clients.

Mark Mendoza is managing director of Mediapolis and IPA Media Policy Group representative with responsibility for press sales practices

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here