Report from the Eighth Worldwide Readership Research Symposium, Vancouver, 19-24 October 1997
by Hilary Birt, Ipsos-RSL
Vancouver, Canada was the venue for the eighth Worldwide Readership Symposium sponsored by BMRB and Ipsos-RSL.
Talking about the significance of the Symposium logo in her opening speech, Dawn Mitchell of Ipsos-RSL spoke of “the big blue sea of endless possibilities, a sea which here on the pacific rim unites east and west, a vast, challenging but liberating landscape” – Vancouver was, indeed, a beautiful and appropriate setting for a symposium attended by 205 delegates from no less than 26 countries, with the challenging theme ‘Print – it works!’
With this theme, the programme committee put more emphasis on the commercial realities of readership research than perhaps was the case previously. There was an overwhelming response to this, with over 100 synopses submitted, and a new look programme emerged with ‘Accountability’ and ‘Media Performance’ sitting alongside the more traditional areas of ‘Methods’ and ‘Response Rates’. New also to the programme was a whole session dedicated to Internet measurement, posing a whole series of questions of what, who and how to measure.
The Symposium programme began with the customary setting of the scene by Erhard Meier of Ipsos-RSL, bringing us up to date with an overview of the different methods used by national readership surveys around the world: from type of survey organisation and interview method to the precise nature of the readership questions. The conclusion was that, whilst recent reading may be the predominant model for print audience measurement, there is still huge diversity in the detailed structures of our national readership surveys. The Summary of Current Readership Research, on which this paper was based contains a detailed matrix of survey practices around the world.
Like it or not, politics plays an important role in the readership research business, evidenced by a whole session dedicated to this topic. Andrew Green of Zenith Media Asia demonstrated the conflict between progress and profit and how economic and political forces can influence methodological change by “delaying”, “boycotting”, encouraging” and “denigrating”. On the other hand, there were more positive accounts of co-operation between parties to achieve real methodological advance and enhanced usefulness of the data. And from Belgium we heard the dramatic story of what happened when just about everything was changed on the CIM Press Survey (Francis van den Haute, CIM).
Is there a right way? – clearly not if we look at Erhard Meier’s conclusion on the diversity of practices around the world! But perhaps there are better ways …
Costa Tchaoussoglou described the transition from FRY (First Read Yesterday) via FRIPI (First Read in Publishing Interval) to recent reading on the Dutch Summo Scanner. Ingemar Lindberg of Sifo Research and Consulting in Sweden advocated self administered questionnaires and frequency of reading as “an optimal combination to measure readership”.
The session on Fusion and Modelling was notably short on formulae and long on the practical applications of such techniques as modelling, ascription and benchmarking. For example, “Just in time data modelling” developed and presented by Dina Raimondi, TMPR and Gilles Santini, IMS/Ipsos in France enables all media to be considered on equal terms and simultaneously, giving a more precise audience evaluation for multimedia strategies.
The session on Technical Issues re-opened the debates on some of the more traditional readership measurement issues – title confusion, measurement error and the effect of variations to the screening question.
Newspaper sections readership, which was only represented by UK submissions at the 1995 Symposium in Berlin, this time attracted papers from the US, The Netherlands and Denmark, as well as the UK: Hilary Birt of Ipsos-RSL described the development of a method to measure newspaper sections readership which is currently under test on the UK NRS; whilst Fred Bronner of Veldkamp/Marktonderzoek in The Netherlands and Kristian Arnaa and Rolf Randrup of Gallup, Denmark approached the subject from the point of view of the integration of newspaper sections readership measurement in media planning.
The Internet session was a new and exciting departure for the Readership Symposium. Denman Maroney, DMB&B Interactive’s CASIE principles defined four units of web measurement: Hit, Page, Visit and User. Paul Donato of Audits and Surveys reviewed the findings of studies to ascertain how people read Web pages and how this may or may not differ from traditional print readership. His conclusion? … Whilst the behavioural process of reading might be the same, the structure of publishing on the web is very different … circulation audits could fulfil the demand for a ‘currency’ which may mean that survey research is likely to focus more on the editorial aspects of reading on the web. ‘Not drowning but waving’ was the title of the paper presented by Peter Highland of the Financial Times in which he reported their experiences of researching visitors to FT.com and the difficulties of coping with a huge volume of data.
The new Symposium sessions on Accountability and Performance of Media were a great success with some excellent submissions. Amongst these were Rolf Speetzen from Axel Springer’s Ad Effect Formula which answers such questions as ‘Can advertising push market shares?’ and ‘Is a mix of media better than a single media campaign?’ (prize winner for Best Technical Paper); Lisa Pollard’s (TNAGB) demonstration of how print advertising can drive sales based on IPC’s Magazine Advertising Sales Effectiveness (MASE) project which uses TN AGB’s Superpanel data; and Erwin Ephron, in a lively presentation (which won prizes for Best Presentation and Best Overall Paper), claimed that response and not readership is print’s main problem, exhorting advertisers to use print more intelligently and inventively to reach consumers with messages.
The familiar symposium territories of Response Rates and of the relationship between Circulation and Readership produced very interesting sessions. Amongst the excellent sets of papers on response rates, Lisa Hidalgo, Simmons and James Peacock, Peacock Research Inc. described the successful implementation of the ‘foot-in-the-door technique’ on telephone interview surveys and Walter McCullough of Mendelsohn Media Research Inc. described the results of their extensive experimental work on the use of incentives, advance letters, reminders and other techniques to improve response to postal surveys. On circulation and readership, Neil Shepherd-Smith described the effective prediction of readership from circulation and census data, as applied to the regional press in the UK; Mike Skrapits of IntelliQuest and Valentine Appel introduced the technique of using a ‘confidence statistic’ to identify those circulation changes which are likely to anticipate measured changes in readership; whilst Ingemar Lindberg presented data which showed some evidence of changes in readership preceding changes in circulation, rather than the reverse. (This paper won the Wally Langschmidt Prize).
Can Machines do it Better? was the question posed by the session on technology, with papers on the next generation of CAPI and beyond. There were reports of experimenting with the ‘double screen CAPI’ in France (Elisabeth de Langhe, IPSOS MEdias/AEPM), the touch screen pen pad in Germany (Media-Micro-Census), Audio Visual Computer Assisted Self Interviewing, or ‘AV-CASI’, in the US (MRI), and Ipsos-RSL reported their comparative investigation of the alternative technologies. To conclude the session Liz McMahon of BMRB and Peter Overy of BBC Worldwide demonstrated the impact of multimedia technology on readership research.
It was a very full programme with a very high standard of papers. Some old and some new readership research issues were debated and I think we will all have learned something new. We may not have found the Holy Grail (if indeed it exists) but we will all have food for thought to take us forward in our search for better ways of doing things.
Of course, it was not all work: there was an equally full programme of social events which enabled us to catch up with old friends, sample the delights of Vancouver and generally enjoy ourselves.
So it’s all over for another two years.