Telegraph readership survey could help break NRS impasse

Keeping track of who reads which sections can help newspapers sell more advertising. But it also has its problems, says Torin Douglas.

That was quick. No sooner had I urged newspapers and magazines to seek a new initiative in the National Readership Survey (NRS) stalemate (MW July 29), than a document landed on my desk spelling out just how many – and what sort of – people read the various sections of a newspaper. Or rather, two newspapers – the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

Impatient with the NRS impasse, the Telegraph Group has invested in a survey of its own readers to give media agencies the type of planning data they have long been seeking. It shows, for example, that 84 per cent of those Daily Telegraph readers who are company chairmen, chief executives, and managing and other directors had read the business section at least once in the previous week. (The question of why the others hadn’t went unanswered.)

The Telegraph survey reveals that just over half of its readers dip into the sports pages, rising to 61 per cent on Mondays, when it publishes its bumper results section. And – crucially for certain advertisers – the Monday sports section reaches 79 per cent of male Telegraph readers under the age of 45.

At the other end of the scale, only 18 per cent of Telegraph readers use the appointments section and 33 per cent read Connected, the specialist IT section. Whether these figures are good or bad depends on your viewpoint. Connected’s readership rises to 57 per cent among Telegraph readers who use the Internet (one wonders again why the others don’t).

The Telegraph is to be congratulated on its initiative, which should help the NRS staff as they labour to bring their survey into the 21st century – not least because it used a different research technique. Instead of the face-to-face interview favoured by the NRS, the Telegraph used a postal questionnaire which it mailed to 10,000 people who buy the daily or Sunday paper at least three times a week (randomly selected from its extensive database).

Over 41 per cent responded, giving a sample of more than 4,000 readers, a higher response rate than the NRS. This may be because, unlike the NRS, the Telegraph used the incentive of a £250 prize draw.

A crucial point not covered by the Telegraph’s published summary of its findings, as far as I could tell, is how many of its readers take other newspapers.

A reader who buys both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail on Saturdays is likely to read the Telegraph less assiduously than one who takes it alone. And though both of them may read the Saturday magazine, Travel section, Business News, Money-Go-Round, Arts & Books and Motoring sections, the reader who also takes the Mail probably devotes less time to them.

If I were working in Telegraph ad sales, I would wish to trumpet my solus readership – assuming it were a substantial proportion of the total – because my readers would not be seeing advertisements in rival titles. It would also reduce the chance of confusion between rival newspapers’ sections.

The Telegraph’s Saturday Property section does not appear in the research, presumably because it had not been launched when the survey was done. This is another difficulty with section readership research: many of them don’t stay the same from one month to the next. The Times, for example, has just launched its Times 3 section. How long will it be before it can assume its readers are able to give reliable information about which parts of the paper they read?

All of which brings me to developments at the Independent on Sunday (or “Sindy”). It once put all its cultural articles in its colour Review section (the equivalent of some other titles’ magazines). They were then transferred to a new Culture section, and now Janet Street-Porter has arrived to rethink the paper all over again.

Despite the chorus of disapproval at Street-Porter’s appointment, the choice of a celebrity to run a national newspaper may not be so daft.

The Sindy, with its circulation of just 242,000 in June, is in desperate straits, trailing in fourth place in its market – a long way behind The Sunday Times (1.34m), The Sunday Telegraph (822,00), and The Observer (399,000). Its readership is small, without the compensatory benefit of being perfectly formed. How on earth is it to attract new readers?

These days, producing a decent paper is simply not enough, as Roger Alton has discovered after a year trying to turn around The Observer. In an interview last week with the former Independent editor Ian Hargreaves, Alton spoke of the frustration of trying to boost circulation in the overcrowded, over-sectionalised Sunday broadsheet market. “The other evening I was having a drink with someone and I told him we’d gone up by 37. ‘That’s fantastic, Roger,’ he said. ‘37,000, brilliant.’ ‘No, not 37,000,’ I told him. ‘Exactly 37,'” he said.

Street-Porter has got to put on a good deal more than 37,000 if she’s going to get within spitting distance of The Observer, which for all Alton’s frustration is 150,000 copies ahead.

Given that this is unlikely in the short term, she must increase the Sindy’s “share of voice” by getting the paper talked about. It can then start to attract more than its fair share of advertising.

In this media-saturated age, “stand-out” is all-important, as

DJ Chris Evans has demonstrated. He has never reached a mass audience on TV or radio (except on the Radio 1 breakfast show); yet tabloids and broadsheets regard him as a big star because of his youth following. Advertisers queue up to get into his programmes on Channel 4 and Virgin.

Street-Porter has a similar ability to grab headlines. It’s a high-risk strategy but the Sindy has few options.

Torin Douglas is media correspondent for BBC News

see {storyLink (“MW199907290065″,”Telegraph survey will guide section planning”)} From Marketing Week 29th July 1999

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