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ABA CEO Delivers Parting Broadside

25 Aug 2010

In a recent interview with The Australian, Gordon Towell, outgoing Audit Bureaux of Australia, chief executive sends a warning to the print industry stating that the industry will be marginalised if it does not adopt new technologies and audience measurement rules.


The article reported in part that he has also taken advertisers to task for not protecting their commercial interests online and criticised the publisher-centric structure of industry bodies such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which he says have vested interests to protect.


Of necessity, the twinkling but restless Mr Towell has had to be a diplomat over the two years he has steered the print industry's two audit bodies -- the Audit Bureau of Circulations and the Circulations Audit Board -- while pushing to modernise their rules and adding web audits under the new ABA brand. In the process, he has moved the audit body into new media and helped to keep it relevant -- in his view the greatest challenge it faces amid the rise of digital technologies and the shift from sales figures to engagement metrics such as readership.


But he told Media of some of the frustrations that come with the job, which entails balancing the conflicting interests of the publishers, media agencies and advertisers that make up the member base of the tripartite, industry-owned body.


"Print is being marginalised through the simple fact that you can slice and dice and look at the effectiveness of new media in a far more granular way," he said. "Buyers have said to me, 'If (publishers) don't address our concerns and become more relevant, then they will be marginalised'."


He described the current system of quarterly or six-monthly circulation audits and the slow progress in responding to calls from agencies and advertisers for issue-by-issue circulation figures as old-fashioned, and said publishers should be moving quickly to include iPad app sales.


Another source of friction has been the refusal of major internet publishers to have their websites audited after the ABA launched a web auditing service last year, leaving some publishers auto-refreshing pages every few minutes -- thereby inflating key audience metrics -- while others have stopped using the technique.


Mr Towell said if advertisers demanded their agencies used audited sites only, the issue would be quickly resolved.


Pacific Magazines chief Nick Chan said while Mr Towell had come to the audit body with "really fresh ideas", they "weren't always right".


For example, he said, a $5 monthly newspaper app should not be compared with a much more expensive monthly newspaper subscription.


Source: The Australian


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