New NRS chief speaks out on the survey's future

18 Jul 2014  |  Simon Redican 
New NRS chief speaks out on the survey's future

Newspaper publishers have served notice on the National Readership Survey as they seek a contemporary audience measurement system. Here, following Dominic Mills' analysis of the move, the NRS's newly appointed CEO, Simon Redican, gives his response.

Four weeks into my new role as CEO of NRS and after a good deal of searching I think I may have found the key to unlocking the much talked about "active engagement".

Dominic Mills' piece on the future of print audience research elicited every emotion from this reader, surely proof of why professionally produced journalistic content is such a powerful vehicle for reaching audiences.

Surprisingly my first reaction was vehement agreement. At my first board meeting last week, I outlined three urgent priorities for audience measurement in our sector.

1. Audience research that gives agencies the granularity they need to plan across multiple devices (and platforms)
2. An active engagement metric which is comparable across media sector
3. Transformation of NRS' marketing and communication

It's not just newspapers who want delivery of the first of these priorities. In over a hundred meetings with different stakeholders over the last month, from the most elevated of agency and sales chiefs, to those at the coal face of selling, planning and buying as well as numerous research and insight people, trade bodies and journalists, we all recognise that it is untenable to know that our industry is thrilling millions of readers by the minute with "engaged" content, but that this cannot be planned and bought in any meaningful and joined up way.

The current (lazy) shorthand for engagement is time spent with a medium, but surely factors like concentration and influence are equally important measures. "

A partial picture of just print and PC readership served its purpose of transforming perceptions of terminal readership decline in the press sector, but we must complete the picture with all haste. What does this mean in practice? Our ambition must be to measure every press brand on every platform on which content is consumed.

I have to confess Dominic's phrase the "jam of tomorrow" of mobile measurement stirred my competitive instincts. The amount of work across the industry to source this data and then to undertake a complex fusion cannot be underestimated and in Ipsos MORI, comScore and RSMB, the industry has a really dedicated and intelligent team who understand the balance between providing any old figures, and numbers which bear scrutiny and can be trusted as the best estimate.

We will be launching this data to the market in the Autumn and it will go some way to giving the complete picture we all want. Having been inspired by the interfaces of tech players such as Facebook and Twitter, we are confident that NRS can quickly develop the multi-platform planning capability that the industry rightly demands.

The NRS must lead the debate on producing an "active engagement" metric and this must be comparable across media. The current (lazy) shorthand for engagement is time spent with a medium, but surely factors like concentration and influence are equally important measures.

NRS is already exploring how we produce metrics for this to aid the planning process and provide a more insightful definition of the much abused idea of true "engagement". Hopefully this will challenge the simplistic notion that share of media day equates to share of budget.

Given the NPA's announcement, it is self evident we need to market what we do more effectively, not least to our own stakeholders.

Dominic provides the perfect illustration of this. His bet that TV and radio offer better value for their sector based on money invested vs share of the media market is as wide of the mark as putting your shirt on England to win the World Cup. But that isn't his fault for not knowing the reality behind numbers not in the public domain. It is instructive in this context to know that the sector who invests the least in cross industry research is also the largest sector of the market, namely online.

The best solution for industry audience measurement must work for all three stakeholders in NRS - newspapers, magazines and agencies who represent their clients, the paying customers."

Which leads me onto the fundamental issue in all of this. The concept of "digital" media owners and "traditional" media owners is unhelpful and skews the market to the detriment of all. A more helpful paradigm is content creators and content aggregators.

In this context we need to think about two markets. JICS to measure the coverage and frequency potential of platforms delivering content from trusted brands in a non-interruptive way to aid brand building.

Proprietary research from media owners in all sectors, including press, radio and TV allows for cost efficient brand activation. Rather than going back to the future to measure each sector in isolation, our ambition should be to show our own sectors' reach across all platforms in the wider context of digital consumption across all media.

Within this, it is time to distinguish between different types of online content - when it comes to building brands all impressions are not created equal and context and exchange of brand values have a worth which it is our job to help establish.

Dominic asserts that last week's announcement signals the end of the bi-partisan arrangement for measuring press audiences. You would expect me to disagree and I won't disappoint you. The NPA has announced a process to ensure they achieve the best audience measurement solution for their businesses. I am confident that NRS will help all parties to reach this solution. We have a dedicated team with over 60 years' experience of measuring print audiences, but as a new CEO with experience of using the data as both buyer and seller, I can guarantee that we have no fixed view on how we can achieve what the industry needs, but a very clear vision of what the end game looks like. I should also highlight one fundamental flaw in this analysis.

The NRS is not bi-partisan, it is tripartite. I believe that the best solution for industry audience measurement must work for all three stakeholders in NRS - newspapers, magazines and agencies who represent their clients, the paying customers.

Therein lies the strength of a JIC and it gives me confidence that the NRS is uniquely placed to deliver a solution which works for all parties and is underpinned by that most precious of commodities - trust. I relish the challenge of leading our response.


MediaTel will be hosting a debate on the Future of National Newspapers in September, with panellists including Trinity Mirror's James Wildman, News UK's Abba Newbery and the Independent and Evening Standard's Chris Blackhurst. See our events page for details.

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