How outdated is the NRS?

The National Readership Survey’s (NRS) decision not to publish its first set of figures for the London freesheets because of a lack of respondents (MW last week) has called into question the value of the survey.

London is renowned for being a difficult place to carry out surveys, and the NRS’s introduction of self-completion forms and £25 incentives have gone some way to increasing the sample size. But thelondonpaper general manager Ian Clark says the response rate remains unacceptably low after the NRS managed to interview just 15 of its readers.

He adds: “NRS needs to increase its use of self-completion questionnaires and urgently consider other measures to better reach our audience of ABC1 under-35s – a notoriously difficult audience to research.” NRS managing director Roger Pratt says the survey has always had a low response rate in London: “We have had a problem in the last 25 years with the London response rate, but that is not confined to the NRS. People are reluctant to give their time to a survey.” 

Privacy issues
Pratt believes Londoners’ reluctance is an “attitudinal thing”, because people living in the capital value their privacy more than in other parts of the country. Access is also a problem, with many more people in London living in flats.

Media buyers increasingly believe that the NRS needs to adapt to be relevant in the 21st century. Each year the NRS gathers data from 36,000 people, aged over 15, by conducting 30-minute interviews in their homes on a one-to-one basis.

The methodology has been agreed by publishers, advertisers and their agencies, but has been criticised as being outdated by some commentators, who believe an internet-based system would increase response rates.

Pratt admits it is possible that face-to-face interviews could be phased out and replaced by self-completion forms and web-based questionnaires in the future. He says the NRS is planning to run tests on the internet later this year or the beginning of next year, and is hoping to expand the response rate from self- completion forms.

But moving online could lead to another set of problems, according to one senior media source, who says talk of making the survey web-based has not gone down well with some newspapers, who have a more traditional readership with limited access to the internet. 

“Online research doesn’t have the same quality – a lot of it is rubbish,” adds the source. “There are a lot of titles to get through [on the survey] and quite a lot of people drop surveys halfway through, so you have to provide an incentive for them.” 

Mediaedge/CIA press account director Kevin Ayadassen says the NRS needs to look at new incentives, especially in London, where £25 worth of vouchers may not have the same value as in other parts of the country.

He also believes the NRS needs to turn around its data more quickly. “At times it is very slow,” says Ayadassen. “It would help if the NRS was more frequent. It can be quite out of date.” 

Valuable insight
But, despite growing criticism over the NRS’ ability to deliver effective results, a number of buyers still value the survey.

“The NRS is really important, particularly when you’re looking at the detail of readership,” says one. “You’re going to assume that when someone pays for a newspaper they are going to read it, but when you hand it out in the street that is not always the case,” says Ayadassen.

Its ability to provide information on demographics and primary readership is also considered an advantage, compared to the ABC, which provides circulation figures.

Ayadassen believes that, while the NRS has its weaknesses, it is still common currency. “It’s our primary source of information,” he adds. “It’s still very relevant. Titles that don’t have an NRS figure struggle to get on the schedules.”

Another media source adds: “It has a big old sample and it’s still very useful. The trouble with changing any of it is that people will worry what it is going to be like.” 

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