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Ad Sales Workshop, Amsterdam, November 2003

‘Successful selling through powerful research’
A personal review

Guy Consterdine
Programme Chairman of the Workshop, and FIPP Research Consultant


FIPP’s first Ad Sales Workshop, held at the offices of publisher Sanoma Uitgevers in Amsterdam in November, was a resounding success, in terms of both content and attendance. FIPP aimed for about 40 delegates but a maximum capacity 80 people attended, and many others had to be put on a waiting list.

FIPP had perceived a latent demand for a workshop which examines how research from around the world can be used to sell magazines as an advertising medium. The two-day event in Amsterdam proved to be so effective that FIPP is considering organising another in 2004.

A striking feature was the number and range of countries represented by delegates. They came from 21 countries, and while there were many from Western Europe, there was also a high proportion from Central and Eastern Europe, and several people from other continents (Asia, and North, Central and South America). Another feature was that the great majority of delegates came from magazine publishers and a large proportion were at director level (mainly ad sales/marketing functions, as expected).

The conference facilities were superb, thanks to our generous host Sanoma.

Exchanging experiences

One of the chief benefits of the Workshop was exchanging experiences of what happens in other countries than one’s own. Many people commented during the discussion groups and in informal conversations how useful it was to learn what is done in other countries, and to think how it might be adapted to one’s own country. It enables people to perceive their own situation in a wider context, if they understand the extent to which people in other countries have the same problems, and see how they are tackling them. As one delegate wrote on his or her feedback questionnaire distributed towards the end of the Workshop, “It was a good idea to meet with workers from other firms and different countries and exchange experiences. It is a good way to learn something new, and compare if they have the same problems as we have in our company, and how they solve these problems.”

The Workshop highlighted that different countries may be at different stages of development of the media market. In some ways this leads to different countries having different problems. In other respects there may be the same problems but a lack of research evidence to tackle those problems. In either case the less developed markets can learn from the countries whose media market is more developed.

Breakout groups

An unusual aspect of the Workshop was the breakout discussion groups. After each set of three presentations, all delegates broke up into smaller groups in order to discuss the topics which had been presented. Then the highlights of each group’s discussion were reported back to all delegates in plenary session.

The breakout groups helped delegates to identify the key issues, discuss them in greater depth, compare personal experiences from different countries, and obtain a wider view of the topics.

These discussion groups worked well, as the feedback questionnaires confirmed. Some delegates proposed that in any future Workshop even more time should be spent in breakout groups than the 30% devoted to them in Amsterdam (excluding the reporting back). The view was expressed that one hour is not quite long enough for a discussion group.

Another useful suggestion for making a future Workshop even better was to arrange the breakout groups by theme, so that delegates could choose prior to the Workshop which themes they want to attend. Examples of possible themes were education, key research studies, research methodologies, research requirements, and strategies for the less developed markets.

A further suggestion was to make the breakout groups smaller. In Amsterdam, with 80 people split into five groups it meant an average of 16 per group, which is rather large. So the ideal would be smaller groups and therefore more rooms for the groups.

Selling the medium, not individual titles

The focus of the Workshop was on ways of selling the medium of magazines, not on how to sell individual titles against each other. Eija Ailasmaa of Sanoma Magazines in Amsterdam set the tone in her opening keynote speech. Agency and advertiser perceptions of magazines form the reality we have to live with. How we can influence those perceptions through the research evidence we can offer? Clients need us to focus on solving their problems, rather than simply us selling against other magazines.

Agencies are interested in all channels of communication

Two advertising agency speakers presented their views on how magazines are perceived as an advertising medium on their side of the buying/selling fence, namely Tim Pemberton of Carat in London and John Faasse of Kobalt Media Services in Amsterdam. One of their central points was that agencies and advertisers are interested in all channels which can reach consumers, including non-conventional media. Magazines are only one channel, and they have to show what their unique contribution is in this mix. The key research issues are how consumers relate to magazines as a whole, and to all the other channels of communication, and how these channels work together.

Magazine publishers as partners of clients

Both agency speakers suggested that the best role for magazine publishers was to become ‘partners of clients’. Publishers should focus on the specific goals of the clients, and what magazines can do to achieve those goals – rather than focusing on the medium of print.

In the discussion groups it was widely felt that this was good in theory but there are problems about it. One is how publishers can learn the best way of approaching clients in this manner, and developing the vision to sell the medium rather than their own titles. Part of the answer is training.

A more difficult problem is how publishers can learn enough about the situation surrounding a given advertiser’s brand for them to become effective partners. To do this thoroughly, publishers need to understand the advertiser’s objectives, their market position (in detail), threats and opportunities, how to evaluate success, the progress of sales figures, and so on. Yet clients are naturally reluctant to reveal the relevant information, which they fear could find its way to competitors. Agencies are not keen to spend the time briefing magazine publishers, since agency executives are paid to service their clients but not to help a specific medium. Moreover agencies are very wary of being monitored by a third party.

Another question is how magazine publishers can sell multi-media packages, in which magazines play a part. Co-operative action with television contractors, radio station owners and other media in order to jointly present a solution is not very likely. Some of the big magazine publishers are themselves involved in many forms of media – some big magazine brands have their own radio stations, TV channels, websites, and so on. But these are generally not on a sufficiently large scale to be a viable multi-media proposition in their own right. This is an issue which the Workshop did not resolve.

Aspects of magazine readership

Two speakers, Kathi Love of MRI in the USA and Ville Rekula of Aller Julaisut of Finland, gave presentations centred on measures of magazine readership, the quality and intensity of reading, and the relationship between readers, magazines and the advertisements.

While most countries have a national readership survey of some kind, they vary considerably in what is measured by them, beyond the basic measure of the readership of an average issue. Some, such as NOM in The Netherlands, include detailed product purchase data, often known colloquially as ‘TGI’ data – even when it is not carried out as an official TGI (Target Group Index) contract. Some others include extensive ‘quality of reading’ information about magazines, including attitudes, usage, preferences, measures of involvement, and page exposure (e.g. PEX). An example is Finland, cited by Ville Rekula. In a few countries where the national readership survey doesn’t include such quality of reading data, there is a separate survey specifically designed to complement the basic readership study, such as the QRS (Quality of Reading Survey) in the UK.

Quality of reading studies covering many different magazines can show the advantages of the medium, such as a long time spent reading, repeated exposure to the ads, intense involvement, and so on. However the discussion groups concluded that there seem to be fewer such surveys than one might expect. It was felt that a plausible reason was competition between different publishing houses, with some publishers concerned that their titles might be shown in a poor light compared with rival magazines, hence limited willingness to mount a joint study.

Readership accumulation

One key topic was the way readership of magazines accumulates across time. As Kathi Love described, major studies of this have only been done in the USA and UK. However they produce very similar conclusions – the curves illustrating the build-up of readership day by day are very similar in the two countries. Readership builds up quickly at first as the primary readers acquire their copies, then the speed with which a given issue acquires further readers slows down as copies reach pass-on readers.

In the discussion groups it was widely accepted that similar patterns will be found in other countries, simply because of the way magazines everywhere are read and passed on. So all other countries could use the US and UK data with reasonable confidence. The exception might be where there is a known special feature of the distribution of magazines which is materially different (such as an organised form of pass-on readership, like a ‘reader circle’), which could modify the accumulation curves to a limited extent, while still preserving most of the original basic shape. Yet even some major differences in distribution of magazines may affect the curves very little. The USA is a market in which the great majority of magazine sales are through subscriptions; in contrast the UK is a market where subscriptions represent a low proportion of sales (typically 10% or less); yet the accumulation curves are much the same in the two countries.

One of the important features of accumulation data is that they permit magazine advertising to be planned in a manner that is more like that of television. Magazines are normally planned in terms of insertions, and it is insertions which are plotted against the horizontal time axis of the client’s media schedule document. The accumulation study translates this into exposures per week (or other unit of time). Thus it is possible to plan magazines on the basis of a target exposure per week – just like television is planned. This makes it easier for media planners to make the best use of magazines, and integrate them into mixed-media schedules.


There was discussion of the desirability of pre-testing magazine advertisements if possible, to ensure that they are communicating what the client intends them to communicate. As Eija Ailasmaa remarked, if the magazine ad doesn’t work the client thinks it’s the fault of the medium, rather than the agency’s creative work.

There are many reasons why little pre-testing is done. A prime factor is the unwillingness of agencies to have their work assessed by a third party, yet the co-operation of advertiser and agency is necessary to supply the ad before there is a commitment to run it, and to indicate the objectives against which the ad should be assessed. Devising an inexpensive way of testing an ad is another (probably smaller) obstacle. In one of the discussion groups we heard that a Belgian publisher has an internet panel of readers of some its magazines, totalling 10,000 people. It is a tool which ad agencies can use to test ads at an early stage, and there is no charge for the first few questions. Since the panel is already set up, for a variety of purposes, it is very cheap to use it to show ads to respondents and ask them to give scores for various factors. Some other publishers elsewhere also have internet panels which could be used for this purpose.

More sophisticated methods of pre-testing magazine ads exist, but are more expensive.

Distracted exposure to media

A number of surveys were quoted which measured the amount of distracting activities which went on while people are exposed to each medium. Radio and television suffer the most distraction form other activities while people are listening or viewing, and magazines and newspapers suffer the least, among major media. However it was generally agreed in the discussion groups that the way to change advertisers’ minds about magazines is not by criticising the other media that advertisers use, but by highlighting the strengths of magazines, and showing how magazines fit into the way that people absorb media, and what magazines add uniquely. Publishers should fight primarily from magazines’ strengths rather than television’s weaknesses.

TV: cheaper or dearer than magazines?

The Workshop highlighted a factor that divides countries into two groups. In some countries magazines are cheaper than television in delivering a given number of exposures (say 100 rating points). This is true for example of Belgium, USA and UK. But in many other countries, including Greece, The Netherlands, Poland and most of the central European states, television is cheaper than magazines. Consequently the argument that switching money from TV to magazines boosts the gross exposures of a campaign – an argument used in countries which have expensive television – does not work where it is magazines which look expensive.

In any case, discounts can make a mockery of the published rates. The example was quoted of Russia, where very large discounts on television time are sometimes offered, even discounts of 90% on occasion. In several other countries discounts of up to 75% are experienced. As a result many advertisers find they can afford to use television (which for emotional reasons they wish to do) even though according to the ratecard they cannot.

Campaign tracking studies

The discussion groups talked about differences between countries in terms of campaign tracking facilities. In addition to continuous purchasing panels, this includes research (with which Millward Brown has become strongly associated) which measures awareness, propensity to purchase, and/or other criteria, for a series of advertising campaigns every week, week after week. Usually this is done by telephone interviews. Such research is capable of showing that magazine advertising sells products; it does so by proving a causal relationship between exposure to the ads and subsequent growth in awareness, propensity to buy, or actual purchase.

In the larger European and North American countries there are already sophisticated tracking services of this type, and the task here is to use such services more often for return-on-investment analyses, and to add further refinements to enhance the way we can prove magazines’ contribution to the media mix – refinements such as analysing results among readers grouped according to their frequency of reading the magazines in the campaign; or measuring the readership of specific issues of the magazines used. By contrast, in the less well developed markets such as Russia there are usually no tracking studies at all. Here the problem is to find the resources to set up a basic facility, which measures exposure to magazines, newspapers and television, and purchasing of products, so that the ability of magazines to sell products can be forcibly demonstrated.

Analysing tracking studies is expensive if only one publisher is doing it, but it may become affordable if several publishers are working together – for instance, through their national association.

Proof of magazines’ ability to sell products

Adrian Weser of Bauer Media in Hamburg and Gilbert Saint Joanis of Emap France in Paris reviewed a series of published studies which proved that magazine campaigns sell products – whether it is magazines used on their own or magazines used in combination with television. FIPP’s own research compilations, ‘Take A Fresh Look At Print’ (first and second editions) were also cited; they can be downloaded from FIPP’s website at

There is evidence that magazine advertising produces long-term effects on sales, as well as immediate and short-term effects, and that magazines’ long-term effects may sometimes be longer-lasting than television’s. Adrian Weser cited the Lefax case study in Germany, and Gilbert Saint Joanis quoted the Charal meat campaign in France. The discussion groups felt that this is a very important conclusion, but that there is not yet enough evidence of it. It should be an objective for future research.

Gilbert Saint Joanis also gave a useful review of methods of collecting information (qualitative, ad hoc quantitative, panels, and econometric analysis) and some of the criteria of success for a campaign (awareness of the advertising, knowledge of product claims, propensity to buy, sales, and so on).

I gave a presentation which described classic research studies into the way the communication delivered to the target audience is enhanced by adding magazines to a TV campaign. Magazines not only contribute new information and ideas to people, they also make the TV commercial work harder. The page and the screen nourish each other.

Emotional arguments for magazines

Research results address the rational aspects of the media decision. There was considerable discussion about the need to use emotional arguments too, since there is a lot of emotion invested in advertisers’ strong belief in the appeal of television. Rational evidence based on research is a necessary part of the armoury but it is not necessarily sufficient on its own to change attitudes.

The emotional arguments centre around the editorial values of individual magazines.
Advertisers and agencies need to have a real feeling of the concept of a magazine and its effect on the consumer - at an emotional level. Ideally, editorial people should be involved more in selling magazine advertising. Editors can be excellent ad sales ambassadors – but of course they have magazines to produce!

One of the Workshop presenters, Tim Lucas of White Lodge Media in Colchester (UK), expressed it in the following way. First, stimulate the wish for it to be true that magazines are effective. Once the client has that wish, then the research can be very helpful. The research on its own will not change clients’ minds but what will change their minds is a change in the way they perceive the medium emotionally (the research being only one part of that, though a vital one). It is necessary to give clients the ability to sleep at night, knowing they have made a sound decision if they decide to use magazines. Thus an important role of research is to support what decision-makers already know or believe. It can give them the courage of their convictions.

Realistically, we can’t change ingrained attitudes quickly. It is necessary to keep making the points, year after year, and in the end the attitude shift will be achieved.

How transferable between countries is research?

The conclusions from an effective piece of research produced in one country would probably apply equally to other countries. Most of the conclusions about the characteristics of magazines are universal. Therefore in theory in one’s own country use research that was done in another country, if there’s a gap in the local research – such as the way readership of magazines accumulates across time.

But the counter view was that those other countries would need their own version of that research, for local research is thought to be much more convincing than if produced in another country. “Italy is different!” as one participant expressed it in my own breakout group.

On balance, my impression is that the best policy for an emerging country with little existing research is to learn from other countries, identifying which are the key research studies that cover the main points, and then replicate them in the home country. Temporarily, use the evidence from other countries, but only till local studies can be created.

Don Kummerfeld, President of FIPP, reminded delegates that one role for FIPP is to facilitate the spread of research knowledge and the replication of good research in other countries (as the Workshop itself was doing). FIPP intends to be an international clearing house of research about magazines and their effectiveness. The FIPP website at already features many research studies around the world, but it will be expanded in the coming months.

‘Old’ research: compile it or ignore it?

A huge body of valuable research was published prior to the late 1990s but by 2003 it is known to relatively few people. The view was expressed that it needs to be brought out again and given new currency instead of allowing classic work to be forgotten. The characteristics of magazines, and the way readers use them, don’t change much over a period of several years. Some studies are so complex or expensive to mount that once a basic point is demonstrated (such as the way magazines enhance the communication delivered by television commercials) there is much less incentive for publishers to pay to repeat them very often.

An alternative view was that if research is several years old it’s not very persuasive and needs updating. New is good, old is bad (where ‘old’ means more than about four or five years). In today’s world there is increasing pressure to focus only on the new, reinforced by a belief that the internet and other new technologies are changing everything. Television constantly publishes new case histories of successful campaigns, and it doesn’t look good if magazines are using a lot of old case histories.

It did not prove possible to fully resolve this debate.

Problems not addressable by research

It was recognised that some obstacles are not directly addressable by research – for instance, financial bonus systems in use in certain countries which give media buyers a personal incentive to place business with television rather than magazines or newspapers.

Educating sellers and buyers

Tim Lucas of White Lodge Media gave two presentations. One dealt with ‘magazine advocacy’ – how to make the case for magazine advertising by packaging the different arguments together. The other presentation described the strategy being developed by the national association in one country – the PPA in the UK – to sell the magazine medium to agencies and advertisers. It involves a full marketing strategy, setting up an online information resource, knowledge audits for magazine sales executives, and training of publishers’ and agencies’ staff. This aroused a great deal of interest and debate, and it was widely felt that this programme was a useful model from which other countries could learn and adapt.

Other countries mentioned which were offering educational programmes for the industry as a whole (as distinct from individual publishers training their own staff) included the USA, where the MPA (Magazine Publishers of America) run educational courses for agency media planners two or three times a year. It tends to be the newer, younger ones who attend, and it is regarded by MPA as a good investment. In addition MPA run many training sessions each year for publishers, which discuss how to sell magazine advertising. Another example is Germany, where VDZ runs courses for agencies and advertisers, and again it is regarded as a good investment. In Denmark there are plans to set up in 2004 a Magazine Academy, with courses aimed at training publishers and agencies. These courses will stress the cumulative effect of having many case studies of successful advertising. A key feature will be to discuss this material in depth, and not merely present it to course members. Only through discussion can sales people fully appreciate the methods of answering objections from clients and agencies.

It was suggested that one role for FIPP could be to collect summaries of the steps being taken in each country to train publishers’ own sales staff, agency media people, and advertisers. This would be a reference source which could stimulate ideas in other countries about what training they could mount.

Our thanks

FIPP wishes to thank Sanoma Magazines and Sanoma Uitgevers, led by Koos de Boer and his team, for their generosity and hard work in hosting the Workshop.

FIPP also thanks the speakers for their invaluable contributions. Their PowerPoint presentations can be downloaded from FIPP’s website at



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