The quest continues

Newspapers have it, magazines have it, TV has it... flyers don't. It's independent third-party measurement, and in today's competitive media environment, it's a must for any medium that wants to win over buyers.

Newspapers have it, magazines have it, TV has it… flyers don’t. It’s independent third-party measurement, and in today’s competitive media environment, it’s a must for any medium that wants to win over buyers.

Almost exactly two years ago, the Flyer Distribution Standards Association (FDSA) was formed, in part, to rectify this situation, but it’s turning out to be a much more difficult goal to achieve than initially thought.

Following a test study conducted by Toronto-HQ’d researcher NFO CFGroup (formerly Canadian Facts) in May 2001, there are still major questions about how such measurement should be carried out and who should pay for it – issues that may threaten the project’s chances of pleasing all of its stakeholders.

‘It’s a tough time to be asking someone to be spending money on measurement,’ says Guus Sevink, chair of the FDSA, and manager, print media planning for Sears Canada. ‘But the flyer distribution business does not have a measurement system in place. Everyone else does, but they don’t. It’s something they need to address because it’s something the retailers are asking for.’

Right now, some distributors, such as St. Laurent, Que.-based Transcontinental Distribution, already conduct surveys to assess the effectiveness of their own flyer distribution, but retailers say the data gleaned isn’t detailed enough to meet their needs. For instance, Sevink says that such surveys may measure how many flyers arrive at households, but they don’t address whether a specific retailer’s flyer – say, a Sears flyer – crosses the threshold. As well, if Sears drops three different flyers in one week, current methods don’t distinguish between the three versions.

The four-week FDSA pilot, which was conducted in Ottawa and Peterborough, Ont. hoped to glean the detail required by asking household members to fill out a diary noting which flyers arrived from which retailers on what days.

Peter Yung, Canadian Tire’s manager of dealer advertising, flyer distribution and budgets – and chair of the FDSA’s measurement committee – says the pilot results were very instructive, but some problems with the measurement system used surfaced as well.

The first problem is that the pilot didn’t use a high enough density of households to gather accurate data for the smaller drops employed by smaller retailers, says Yung. The method used in the pilot only measured which flyers arrived at select random households in areas defined by the first three letters of the postal code.

Gillian Humphreys, VP of the NFO CFGroup, conducted the pilot and is now looking at expanding the test. She says that to improve the quality of data, future surveys need to consider the entire postal code, or letter delivery unit (LDU), when selecting sample households. Yung says the LDU method will address low or partial flyer penetration as well as newspaper flyer penetration (i.e. flyers inserted in newspapers).

A second problem that surfaced was that – like the testing undertaken by the flyer distributors themselves – the pilot results didn’t always distinguish between different flyers dropped by the same retailer in a given week. Yung says that a new section needs to be added to future diaries that allows consumers to record both the retailer and the theme of each flyer.

Finally, Sevink says that while he was generally pleased with the pilot results, he found they were difficult to read because there is no existing national flyer distribution effectiveness average to compare them to. ‘We don’t have an acceptable national percentage,’ he says. ‘I need to compare my rating against something, and there’s nothing really to compare it against.’

So where does the FDSA go from here?

In a meeting last May, Yung proposed to the board that the project be handed back to the flyer distributors for fine tuning. The diary method was deemed acceptable, as long as the proposed upgrades were implemented. Yung says his mandate has now been accomplished, since the refined model is now workable, and the ball is now in the distributors’ court to propose options: They can either use the FDSA’s measurement model or come up with one of their own, provided it is better or more cost-efficient.

At the moment, it’s still unclear which option the distributors will take. According to Yung, the first step will be to establish a new committee comprised of representatives from distributors such as Metroland, MPM, Van-Net, B.C. Newspaper Group and CanWest. FDSA board member and Geomedia president Peter Martin says that, in fact, there already is such a committee established, called the ‘Ways and Means Committee,’ headed by Maurice Donn, VP, national sales and marketing for distributor B.C. Newspaper Group.

But whatever measurement system the distributors settle on, the question of who will fund a revamped test is threatening to be a critical stumbling block. The relatively modest cost of the initial pilot was covered by the FDSA’s membership fund, but Yung estimates that a full nationwide measurement test, incorporating approximately 30,000 households, would cost about $1 million.

The measurement committee will meet at the end of August to further hammer out the details and a full FDSA membership meeting will be held in October, but already two factions are emerging: Some of the distributors believe that both retailers and distributors should be involved in the funding process, but Sevink counters that ‘every retailer believes at some point this has to be funded by the distribution industry.’

Yung agrees the FDSA still has its work cut out for it. ‘The main issue is that the FDSA is going through a major transition in terms of switching the responsibility back from the advertisers to the distributors,’ he says. ‘So we have to get that structure in place and resolve the financial issues.’