Cultivating trust: can the Magazine 360 foster self-regulation?

When the Magazine Publishers Association (MPA) finally launched their Magazine 360 metric in June, Kowhai Media director and MPA deputy chair James Frankham told StopPress that it was an opportunity for the industry to “hang all their washing out on the line…Y-fronts and all.”

By this he meant both the successes and failures of magazines would be there for everyone to see, giving the industry not just a useful tool to assess its own performance, but keep track of the performance of everyone else.  

While magazines have been active in the digital sphere for some time now, publishers have generally had a poor record at measuring their audiences and communicating the value of that to the market, with Frankham calling it one of the industry’s “great failures”.

Until the launch of the 360 metric, information on the reach of magazine brands relied on three separate sources of information: ABC for circulation data, Nielsen for readership and various sources for online and web traffic. Now, with the 360 metric, the process of understanding audience reach has streamlined, with the website now functioning as the industry’s closest form of self-regulation.

 “The Magazine 360 site already plays a self-regulating role in the reporting of magazine audiences across channels and, whether we like it or not, is now the defacto platform for visualising those metrics too,” says MPA executive director Pip Elliott.

“Publishers are not only regulating their reporting, but they’re also agreeing on the definitions of the metrics on which they’re measured. Do we measure Facebook reach, or engagement, or likes? What metric matters to their advertisers and audience? These are big questions to consider for any medium, but taking leadership in this definition has been really valuable for the magazine sector. Stepping up and being transparent with our numbers and how we’re collecting them cultivates trust within the industry.”

To aid its objective for transparency, the MPA’s Code of Conduct requires all claims made by publishers to be backed up evidence (eg: screenshots of reports). Once data is submitted to the MPA, not only is the publisher unable to edit their data, but the MPA has the authority to correct publisher data if deemed inappropriate. The MPA will also conduct random monthly audits of 10 percent of participating magazine brands, requiring them to provide screenshots to validate the data on display.

“Stepping up and being transparent with our numbers and how we’re collecting them cultivates trust within the industry.”

The other important aspect of the Magazine 360’s self-regulatory functionality is the built-in challenge process that enables publishers and industry stakeholders to question certain figures through a disputes resolution process. If the process is activated, the publisher being challenged has seven working days to supply documented proof supporting the reported data.

“If advertisers and audiences are going to trust our industry in the same way that readers trust our content, we have to be honest, transparent and responsive,” says Elliott. “The media industry has numerous examples of very successful self-regulation models—such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Press Council—so we have a reputation to maintain.”

When it comes to self-regulation in New Zealand, the ASA often serves as the benchmark for local industries. Comprised of 14 member organisations representing advertisers, agencies and the media, the presence of the ASA encourages the industry to take responsibility to ensure legal, decent and honest advertising communications to consumers.

Hilary Souter, chief executive of the ASA, says that the Magazine 360 metric’s series of checks and balances, such as its Code of Conduct and challenge process, shows that it has the potential to act as a tool for the industry to self-regulate. The ASA itself also has safeguards to ensure trust and transparency as a self-regulatory body, such as the ability to appeal on any decisions made by the board.

“It helps increase transparency. Media buyers can look at the data on the website and make the right decisions for themselves,” Souter says about the Magazine 360. 

While the Magazine 360 has only been in place for a few months, Elliott says publishers have already made use of its transparent system to question the numbers presented on the website, but says the data is becoming increasingly reliable over time.

“The definitions around the metrics are relatively tight, and it has taken some publishers longer than others to align their reporting systems with the requirements,” she says.

“But now, a number of months in, we have a very high degree of confidence in the data. The next task is to continue to evolve the measure in response to feedback from advertisers and agencies who want ever-more granular reporting, particularly around digital metrics and the demographics of print audiences.”

  • This story is part of a content partnership with the Magazine Publishers Association.

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