Fish Wrappings and Pigeons

Media researchers need to have thick skins, not to mention an ability to smile as yet another key stakeholder decides that the lessons of the past mean nothing, and that the time to chuck everything up in the air and recast the entire industry is NOW!

The organisations that exist to deliver the media numbers used to buy and sell space and time are an easy target. There is one key reason for this – they’ve been around for years. Rather than describe such an achievement as standing the test of time, far too many people in our industry merrily take pot shots at every available opportunity. How, they say, in these days of constant change and instant measures can something so old, so traditional be of any value?

Well, maybe we should start by celebrating the fact that we have developed an approach, the JIC (Joint Industry Committee) system that is envied and has been copied throughout the world.

The current UK industry media research contracts are worth somewhere around £50 million per year. That’s a remarkable number – but when you consider that this research is used to underpin about £11 billion in media trading the fact that under 0.5% of ad spend is allocated to measuring audiences in one shape or form represents excellent value for money.

The whole edifice is kept upright by surprisingly few people at our industry bodies, supported by largely unsung individuals in agencies, media owners, and some clients who spend unpaid hours in committees ensuring that the research remains relevant and representative.

This is hardly glamourous work (I speak as someone who spent a large amount of time in my younger days discussing the arcane details of TV audience measurement on behalf of the agencies with people far more qualified than me), but it is essential. Without a JIC the entire industry would spend unproductive hours arguing the merits of one individual vehicle’s research approach over another. Far better surely to set up and agree rules that apply to all from the start.

I started my career in media research, an area of the business populated by people with long memories (thank goodness). A few weeks ago I was invited to sit on a Mediatel panel discussing the future of industry research. One of my fellow panellists, Richard Marks made the excellent point that we need to separate the organisation of the research, from its implementation.

In other words, the way the research is done of course has to evolve to keep pace with the enormous structural changes taking place throughout the industry (something it has been doing); but that does not mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The print industry seems in serious danger of doing just this – as senior managers with little research knowledge impose themselves on those who know very well what they’re doing. ‘Let’s dump the NRS’ might make for good headlines, certainly far better than ‘Let’s very quietly reintroduce the NRS when we discover there’s no better way of reaching our goals’, but newspaper people of all people should know that good headlines are only tomorrow’s fish-wrappings.

It’s all a bit like the famous description used by local managers of their international agency colleagues as pigeons: they fly in, make a lot of noise, shit all over everything, then leave the locals to clear up the mess after they’ve left.

1 Comment
  1. As someone who has toiled numerous hours on the Dutch version of JIC in the past, and spent quite a bit of time on it as part of the WFA – unpaid, as you mentioned – I could not agree more.

    JIC is the envy, and should be the aspiration for many other markets. I wish it were here in the US but it will never happen. If the UK wants to follow a fragmented research market where noone can ever agree on even the most simple, basic measurement data like ratings (yup, I am describing the US) than have at it. But don’t blame smart people like Brian later on when the UK can indeed no longer rely on single source. Good luck with that!

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