Let’s get real about reach

31 Jan 2018  |  Vanessa Clifford 
Let’s get real about reach

We need to start making better use of our critical faculties and properly interrogate the data behind headlines, writes Vanessa Clifford

In his Mediatel column this week, Dominic Mills draws attention to the excellence of the Financial Times’ report on the Presidents Club dinner and considers whether journalism such as this will be enough to turn the heads of ‘news rejecters’ - as evidenced by Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer, which claims that a third of the population are consuming less news and 19% of Brits are avoiding it altogether.

I couldn’t agree more that the FT’s exposé is a brave, searing and much-needed investigation which demonstrates the ongoing power of the press to shine a light on the murky, hold powerful players to account and instigate change. My problem lies with the unquestioning acceptance that people are avoiding news, or as Edelman goes so far as to put it: “The great switch off”.

Apart from the fact that Edelman’s survey is based on one-off claimed questions rather than ongoing measurement of consumption, the results are also completely at odds with data from industry sources. BARB, NRS PADD and RAJAR all report a healthy news sector where reach isn’t an issue.

Rather than a “continuing struggle to maintain reach” as Edelman puts it, official NRS PADD figures - based on measurement of over 34,000 people - show that 47 million people read newsbrands in Britain every month; more than ever before.

In print, over 13 million adults read a newspaper daily. Meanwhile, IPA TouchPoints data shows that 67% of the population usually watch TV news - whether that be national, local, international, politics or current affairs - while Radiocentre’s research shows that 88% of commercial radio listeners are interested/very interested in keeping up with the latest news.

In addition to industry measurement, Newsworks’ own work with d.ffrento/ogy gives some insight into how the current news eco-system is affecting people’s news habits. According to the study, 6 in 10 of us are relying more on established newspaper brands because of the rise of fake news, with 65% of under 35s and 75% of Londoners doing so.

Edelman’s analysis of their barometer concludes that social media remains crucial to delivering the reach that traditional media apparently lack. After this last year, aren’t we as an industry starting to realise the risks of reach at any cost?

Encouraging brands to chase reach at the expense of a trusted environment doesn’t feel like a step in the right direction. Reaching potential customers is one thing, but the context in which they are targeted has to be taken into account.

Added to this is the fact that some social media platforms don’t seem quite sure what their reach actually is. Last spring Mediatel reported the scale of Facebook’s number fudging, with Dominic Mills writing “Facebook looks to be over-claiming reach in a few key basic demographics by 10-15%”.

Just this past weekend, a Sunday Times inquiry found that the social network offers a per-ad ‘potential reach’ of 17 million 20-34 year olds in the UK - 4.7 million more than were reported by the last census.

I know that I won’t be alone in thinking that it’s this sort of ambiguity around claimed reach which we as an industry need to call time on. Facebook responded to the controversy by saying that their reach numbers are not designed to match population or census estimates. But what is reach if not people? Reach should equate to the number of people that are exposed to an ad at least once. Anything else is just misleading.

Proof of how reach translates into overall effectiveness for advertisers is also paramount. This is something that established media’s industry bodies have been doing for a while now.

Here at Newsworks, exploring the effectiveness of newbrands in delivering ROI (watch this space, we’ll be releasing more insight with Benchmarketing this spring), market share growth and customer acquisition has been our mission for the past couple of years.

And we’re not alone; Thinkbox, Magnetic, Radiocentre and Rapport have all released work into the effectiveness of their respective mediums in generating both short and long-term gains.

What shines through from this cohort of work is that established media’s effectiveness translates through to their digital platforms. Last year’s IPA report, in association with Thinkbox and Google - ‘Media in focus’ - concludes that “the digital revolution seems to have made most of these traditional media more effective, not less. TV, press and radio are working better than ever”.

When it comes to newsbrands in particular, Newsworks’ IPA databank work with Peter Field shows that online newsbrand advertising is significantly more effective than standard online display, while Lumen’s analysis of user-habits show that digital ads are 80% more likely to be seen on newsbrand sites thanks to the context of reader engagement.

From delivering properly verified reach to generating ROI, this is just a tiny portion of the strong body of evidence that proves the effectiveness of established media, in all its forms.

Yet as my colleague Denise Turner wrote last year: “People have been so conditioned to talking about the death of newspapers, that they don’t think anyone reads them anymore”. This applies to traditional media across the board. As an industry we have become too accepting of headlines that assert the view that established media is struggling.

We need to start making better use of our critical faculties and properly interrogate the data behind headlines.

Edelman’s highlights include the finding that social media is rapidly losing the trust of the Great British public. Yet it claims that social media is still crucial for advertisers due to its reach. So it’s OK to advertise in untrustworthy environments as long as you get reach? Quite apart from the questions about what that reach constitutes, that seems like a big contradiction to me.

Vanessa Clifford is CEO of Newsworks


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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 31 Jan 2018
“You make several very salient points that reach far beyond the discussion of print vs TV vs online, not least that "We need to start making better use of our critical faculties and properly interrogate the data behind headlines". Sadly this is a challenge across the industry, that helps explain the focus on reach over any kind of quality metric in advertising, and why nobody can tell you the actual impact of a PR campaign. While data are increasingly regarded as essential for any assertion, news story or strategy wrap-up, what you generally see is the use of data as a substitute for thinking. "As you can see, the numbers say x, the end" is the usual pitch, with an emperor's new clothes effect of vendor and client or agency/ journalist nodding sagely, both knowing that the numbers aren't the full story, and each too unsure of what they really mean to question the data. My theory, fwiw, is that there's a difference between "knowing" and "understanding" data - the former means knowing that bigger numbers are better; the latter means being able to point out why the numbers are BS. It's something I've been trying to push for a long time in the marketing/ comms and research space.

The corollary of this, of course, is that because few people will take the time to pick apart data, the key for getting headlines with data is to make them as easily quoteable and narratively-led as possible. "News rejectors" has gained traction because it sounds insightful, fits with what certain people want to believe, and the number can be easily quoted without having to understand it. Those aren't negative attributes, and don't mean the findings are wrong, just that nobody checks them because they sound good.
Sadly AIR figures are not quite so sexy, so they don't get the same interest. They're not as easily quoteable (more fear of quoting them wrong), they don't fit a desirable narrative, and they sound 'boring' rather than 'catchy and insightful'. Sad but true!”


17 Jan 2019 

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