2.3. The consequences arising from non-accountable figures

2.3.1. For the advertisers

Without credible media information, advertisers put their media investments at risk. During the planning of an advertising campaign, there is not necessarily enough past information to make fully informed decisions.

2.3.2. For the media agencies

Media agencies are generally less accountable to their advertiser clients. Their media plans can be based on incorrect assumptions, and are subject to mistrust. Since media agencies cannot plan properly, they focus more so and rely upon media prices only.

2.3.3. For the media

The publishers’ (media) figures are continuously challenged. The more the mistrust (risk faced by advertisers and/or media agencies), the higher the discounts they will have to agree upon, to get a chunk of the media budgets.

The real losers of the lack of credible circulation figures are those publishers who do not use highly inflated figures (see the CPM example), in contrast to their competitors. The absence of an ABC (audited, credible media figures) is an open invitation for publishers to inflate circulation.

2.3.2.4. It is the publishers who pay the price

It is very clear that data which is not credible is a business risk. This risk is priced into the business actions of the market players. Eventually, the price is paid by the publishers, by accepting, or being forced to give, higher discounts.

3. Why would you need an ABC in your country?

Have you, as an advertiser, had enough of the fairy tales told by publishers about their circulation? How many times have you asked for better media data from you suppliers (media agencies, publishers)? How many times have you actually received better data?

As a media agency, can you sincerely say that your agency is able to and actually providing good media plans? Do you have any idea about the basis of these plans? Are you sure the advertising money that you are proposing is being properly spent?

Have you, as a media agency, had enough of advertisers asking you for better media planning, and more accountability? Do you really trust the publishers’ figures?

As a publisher, have you ever been furious about the inflated figures used by your competitor(s)? How many times have you experienced the mistrust of your clients (advertisers, media agencies) toward your circulation figures? How many times have you accepted a higher discount only because there are no credible media figures on the market?

Have you all had enough? Is your market ready to move ahead and build a system that will provide fairer competition in the media marketplace of advertising?

If you have faced these questions repeatedly in recent years, you should consider developing an ABC.

4. Is the time right?

Perhaps there is enough momentum to create an ABC in your country?

Nonetheless, while your intuition may suggest it, certain conditions in the marketplace will ensure your ABC’s successful development.

Here is a practical checklist:

• Level of market competition: the greater the number of players (advertisers, media agencies, publishers), the higher the probability that an ABC is needed.
• Size of the advertising market: the larger the market, the more resources that are available to form and finance an ABC. More advanced countries have a ratio of advertising expenditure related to GDP over one percent.
• Ratio of print advertising expenditure to other media: the greater the print advertising expenditures, the better the conditions for an ABC to be established.
• Level of unhappiness with the existing status: how many of your industry associates and competitors complain about the lack of credible information? Is the media covering the issue of inflated media “circulation” numbers?
• Level of foreign investors presence: the greater the foreign (international) investor presence, the greater the pressure on the market for credible media data. The international companies are accustomed to have this type of infrastructure, they have seen already an ABC. It is a part of their business climate and free market culture.

Make sure you are scrutinizing the data from a dynamic perspective that is conscious of the free market’s fluidity:

• Is the market growing?
• Did the level of foreign investment grow lately?
• Have multinational companies continued to enter your country’s market?

5. Values and principles governing an ABC

An ABC stands for trust. The trust of an ABC is driven by the following values and principles:

• Transparency
• Industry ownership
• The industry standard
• Self-regulation
• Non-for-profit organization
• Equidistance from the market players
• Professionalism

The fundamental product of an ABC is its credible data. It acts as the foundation for building and maintaining trust. All of an ABC’s structures, decisions, operations, services, and communications must be derived from this foundation.

It is essential to understand that trust must be at the core of an ABC from the very beginning of its construction. There is no way one can build a trustworthy organization “later on.”

This trust acts as the catalyst for all other aspects of an ABC. Trust builds synergy.

5.1. Transparency

An ABC must be an open process. It must be built on a volunteering membership, where each member submits to the bylaws of the ABC for the greater goal of providing credible circulation information to foster more advertising sales and a stronger footing in financial viability.

This submission must be taken into consideration when writing and discussing the bylaws of an ABC.

Another feature of transparency is its open communications, both within the membership and to its public – information seekers to advertisers to media agencies. Many ABCs make public their membership list, the audited titles list, the audited figures, and all rules and regulations.

The internal work of the ABC must be verifiable by the members. As long as trust is an ABC’s foundation, it is counterproductive to be secretive, or to create the impression of hiding information.

5.2. Industry-ownership

Another feature of an ABC is its industry membership. Regardless of the legal frame of your country, it should be possible to create an organization where members (owners) are representative of the industry. This basis of membership creates the sense of ownership for the success of the ABC.

The most diverse structure of an ABC can be seen in countries where its members are advertisers, advertising agencies, as well as media owners. In some cases, there is an imbalance when an ABC is owned and operated only by advertisers or only by media owners. The key principle to consider is whether an ABC’s membership and ownership is representative of the media industry.

A representative ABC makes it possible for all sectors of the advertising industry to have a say in the creation and operating of an ABC. This quality will empower the audit service to become the standard for its market. It will early on and for the long term enhance the market’s acceptance and trust in the ABC and its services. This is another way of building trust.

An ABC with a diverse, representative membership will become the common denominator in working among its three key publics of media, advertisers, and advertising agenices.