In 2020 AAM interviewed several media buyers to learn how they evaluate audited media and prioritize audited publishers in their media plans. Since then, world events have impacted the industry, leading to changing resources for buyers and publishers, greater demand for accountability and shifts in media buying strategy.
We revisited these buyer conversations to gain fresh perspectives on media planning in 2022, the impact of these challenges on the industry and buyers’ reliance on audited media.
The impact of global events on media and advertising
It’s no surprise that the events of the past two years — the pandemic, war in Ukraine and inflation —have led to supply chain issues, reduced resources, and rising costs for paper, production and transportation. The industry adapted in the face of these challenges. Publishers reduced the frequency of print editions and replaced them with digital editions. Advertisers switched from product to branding campaigns when materials for packaging weren’t available. These disruptions also impacted media buyers, who shortened planning windows and shifted tactics quickly when media options were not available.
“We are planning more in real time than we have in the past,” said Brenda White, EVP/group director, Starcom USA. “In today’s environment, buyers must be nimble and move quickly.”
Lead times that were once several months long are sometimes shortened to weeks.
“Planning was once an annual process divided into quarters. Now we are almost planning week by week,” said Gwen Maass, vice president of media services, Quad.
These challenges led to greater scrutiny of how a brand’s money is spent, causing some buyers to be more selective when targeting the best markets and audiences for their message.
“Budgets are continually scrutinized,” Maass added. “Every client wants to make sure their media dollars are spent wisely and as an agency partner, we are accountable to our clients for ensuring those budgets are invested properly and, ultimately, providing the necessary return.”
Buyers increasingly rely upon data they trust, which for many means incorporating verified data into their media plans.
Audited media provides greater accountability
In times of uncertainty, advertisers want proof their money is being invested wisely. This is why many buyers turn to data verified by a third party.
“Audited media is more important than before because of the scrutiny our plans receive,” White added. “When we use audited data, we can hold up the audit and say to our clients, ‘This is real. This is true. We know these copies were where they should be because they were audited.’”
Bridgit Wallace, VP of integrated client strategy at Novus, agreed. She uses verified circulation data to gain a more complete picture of a publisher’s reach.
“We need to understand the details of their circulation so we can translate that value to our clients,” Wallace said. “To me, that’s a critical piece.”
Having a deeper understanding of markets with verified data shows clients their investment in print channels is accounted for – something that also supports future investment. “The more transparency publishers give buyers over time, the easier it is to continue to support the industry,” Wallace added.
Kathy Heatley, VP, director local investment at Starcom USA, mentioned that when it comes to accountability, audited data is valued over data that hasn’t undergone the verification process.
“When geotargeting, we prefer audited to unaudited data. Having realistic numbers is important, especially when they’re changing as quickly as they are in the print space.”
Media that is not audited often must undergo greater scrutiny and testing, putting an added strain on buyers’ and sellers’ resources. Unaudited publications also raise questions about the veracity of the publisher’s data.
“We always say if it’s audited, it’s a more stable property,” said one director of advertising at a major brand. “Anything that’s controlled we second guess because it’s hard to know who’s reading it.”
Audits as a standard currency
Since all AAM-audited publishers adhere to the same industry standards and best practices, audits are a standard currency by which buyers can measure and assess media properties in a market. Audits allow marketers to differentiate audited media from all other advertising options because an audited publisher’s data has met established industry criteria — something even more valuable in times of change.
“It’s important to make sure that media is evaluated in the proper way and that there is a level playing field with how we’re looking at the channel,” said Maass. “To us, the value of an audit is still as high as it always was, and maybe even more so because of all the changes taking place in the industry.”
Audited data improves media buying efficiency
One of the most common reasons buyers turn to audited media was that accessing audited data reduced the amount of legwork needed to vet publishers. Media that has successfully completed a third-party audit demonstrates its commitment to following industry standards and best practices, which eliminates some of the questions buyers might have about the veracity of the data.
“Having trusted data we can access in a turnkey way means we can spend more of our time and energy where it matters most — on client strategy,” said Wallace. AAM does this by providing data in several easy-to-use formats:
- AAM’s Media Intelligence Center. This online resource houses data for nearly 1,500 of North America’s top publishers. Media buyers can search by publisher, market or other classifications and download data via PDF reports and Excel spreadsheets.
- Industry Reports. AAM also releases publisher data via reports such as Magazine Media 360°, which provides a comprehensive view of magazine media brands across multiple platforms and formats. The AAM Audited Domain List features all publishers that have completed AAM’s Digital Publisher Audit. This resource can be used to prioritize audited digital publishers in DSPs and build inclusion lists.
- Direct Data Feeds. AAM also distributes data to several media buying organizations to integrate directly into their systems.
“It’s highly valuable for us to have AAM data at our fingertips, so we don’t have to be out obtaining publisher data ourselves,” said Heatley. “AAM makes our process more efficient.”
Steps publishers can take to stand out to advertisers
During our discussions, our panel of buyers also shared steps publishers can take to stand out and become more visible in the marketplace.
Participate in an audit
Several buyers stated that the most important step a publisher can take is to participate in an audit, which guarantees inclusion in AAM’s vast data distribution network. Because of the size of AAM’s network, it is often buyers’ first stop to find media partners and verified data. Having data from many publishers in one location reduces fragmentation and makes it easier for buyers to plan media in various markets.
“We want publishers in AAM’s database because it’s the first place we look when we’re doing any type of publication selection or starting our recommendations,” said Heatley.
AAM recently made the audit process easier by streamlining reporting for news and magazine media. AAM’s simplification initiatives were developed to save publishers time and resources while continuing to deliver essential data to buyers.
AAM also introduced the Digital Publisher Audit, which helps digital publishers stand out to advertisers and gain recognition for their commitment to industry standards and best practices. The audit is currently a complimentary service to all AAM-audited publishers.
The media buyers we spoke with also agreed it is important for publishers to have third-party verification across all properties.
“Transparency in all media is important across everything, not just in print,” said the director of advertising at a major brand.
Take advantage of complimentary solutions
All AAM-audited publishers can tell their complete brand story with AAM Brand View. This complimentary platform allows publishers to include images, videos, media kit, links, and advertising contacts alongside AAM-verified data. Brand View is a one-stop shop for buyers seeking to learn everything they can about a publisher.
“Having as much information as possible in one place like Brand View makes it easier than having to reach out to the publisher to fill in the gaps,” said Heatley.
Buyers also suggest that publishers take advantage of industry solutions such as Ads.txt and Trust.txt. These tools establish legitimacy by listing authorized sellers and industry memberships on a .txt file that publishers upload to their websites.
Publishers may promote their audit with resources such as the AAM audit activation kit, which includes AAM’s seal for download, social media templates and talking points for sales teams to share their commitment to quality and transparency. AAM also offers complimentary training for publishers to discuss the benefits of audits to advertisers. Contact us to learn more.