NADbank media fest belies size of interested audience

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada's largest media management operations. Friday, Oct. 29 was a very interesting day. I was interviewed by five newspaper...

Rob Young is a founding partner and senior vice-president, planning and research at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, one of Canada’s largest media management operations.

Friday, Oct. 29 was a very interesting day. I was interviewed by five newspaper reporters, two trade magazine reporters, one radio journalist and contacted by two TV producers who wanted to do a videotaping.

Had I discovered a cure for cancer? Nope. Had I won the 1999 Nobel Prize for great media planning? Afraid not. The reality was far less exciting. The NADbank newspaper readership results had been released that morning and I was deemed one of a handful of media buying experts who could make sense of the numbers.

As is generally the case with government reports, royal commmission findings, inquest recommendations and the like, the results of NADbank ’99 had been leaked to the media well in advance of the ‘official’ publication date.

Even so, the newspaper industry in general and the Toronto media in particular, wanted to know what this eagerly awaited report card had to say about the National Post’s performance and its impact on existing daily newspapers across the country.

I say ‘eagerly’ awaited, but the fact is, the readership results had meaning for only a very small number of media professionals. I’m sure most of the population of Canada – excluding these few hundred media elite – could care less about NADbank and its numbers.

With apologies to Winston Churchill, almost never has so much been written by so many about a subject of interest to so few. Not surprisingly, the last time Canadian dailies devoted this much space to a story of interest to almost no one was also a story that affected the reporters and publishers themselves – when Conrad Black’s Hollinger bought Southam.

As I read the Saturday, Oct. 30 papers, I tried to imagine the looks of bewilderment on the faces of Toronto readers as they scanned umpteen articles chock-full of references to average issue readership, EMA coverage, reader profiles and ad revenue share impacts. Even media professionals with a full night’s sleep have to focus their energy in order to stay awake during media presentations. My heart went out to those bleary-eyed subscribers looking for a little interesting reading to accompany their bacon and eggs. How their eyes must have glazed over.

In addition to the spectacle of thousands of words, carried in millions of copies, consumed by dozens of readers, was the bizarre nature of the stories themselves.

In Toronto, we had one set of NADbank numbers, but you’d never have known it after reading the stories printed by four different newspaper reporting organizations. Boy, when newspapers cover themselves, objectivity sure takes a beating.

Take this test and see for yourself.

Here are four excerpts from the Saturday, Oct. 30 issues of Toronto’s Star, Sun, Globe and Post.

Knowing what you know about how the newpapers fared in the NADbank study, try to attribute these quotes to the right paper.

Here’s an excerpt from paper no.1. The publishers of that daily felt the numbers must be wrong.

‘The NADbank Toronto findings do not make sense. National Post executives, however, will cling to this suspect data like a Titanic passenger to a life vest.’

This excerpt from paper no. 2 focuses on the fact that the Star was big before and is still big now.

‘Top spot in the Toronto market – a key battleground for readers and advertisers – went to The Toronto Star, which retained a commanding lead in the long-awaited survey…’

Paper no. 3 sees a neck-and-neck race developing between The Globe and the newcomer.

‘The Globe and Mail has lost 16% of its readership in major Canadian markets, putting it in a virtual tie with the National Post, which was launched a year ago…’

Finally, paper no. 4 offered up an unchanged personality. They claimed to be a true winner.

‘Who’s winning the newspaper war? We are. We were the only newspaper not to undergo a personality transplant in the past year. Our readers know what we’re about…’

If you hadn’t already been able to figure it out, here are the answers:

1) The Globe and Mail

2) The Toronto Star

3) National Post

4) The Toronto Sun

Surprised? No? That’s the crux of the problem.

We witnessed four very different but predictable newspaper stories, from four daily newspapers and four vested interests, reporting upon one set of cold, hard readership data, to only a few hundred interested people out of the millions of readers exposed to the papers.

Like I said, Oct. 29 was a very interesting news day.

Send your comments via e-mail to ryoung@hypn.com.