Auditing has become one of the main issues on the print media scene in the Gulf region. While advertisers demand greater clarity about circulation numbers, newspapers have not yet started taking the necessary steps. One exception is 7Days, a free tabloid published in the United Arab Emirates.
APN spoke to the newspaper’s publisher Shezan Amiji, and marketing director Gemma McKeown.
As 7Days is a freely distributed paper, advertising is the only source of revenues. Therefore, gaining confidence with advertisers is a must. The newspaper carried out its first audit between January and March 2005. “We ran the audit so that we could be accountable for what the advertisers spend with us. We consider it to be a hygiene factor for any publication. The local market is just waking up to the need for auditing,” says McKeown.
Auditing is an extended practice among media in many western countries as a way to gain confidence with advertisers and attract expenditures. Advertisers like to know who is watching their ads and how big their audience is in order to measure the impact of their campaigns. Trusted figures in audience research are therefore a must to attract international advertisers, specially when it is recognized among those in the sector that exaggerated circulation numbers are widespread in the region although the extent is unknown.
After the audit undertaken by 7Days the reactions from the advertisers were immediate. “They applauded us for taking this step towards transparency. We have had very positive reactions. However, we cannot yet give exact numbers about changes in advertising expenditure after having carried out the audit,” says Amiji.
The audit did not focus on any specific reader groups but only on the number of copies distributed and places of distribution. “It was the fastest audit to do and we wanted quick results to show to advertisers. We will undertake a new research next year that will deal with readership habits”. 7Days plans to undertake an audit once a year.
The audience research was carried out by BPA Worldwide, an independent not-for-profit media auditing organization with a worldwide structure. BPA has also recently started to audit the free weekly paper The Week in the Sultanate of Oman and works with a considerable number of magazines in the UAE like Campaign Middle East, What’s on!, Gulf Business or Construction Week.
Other publications in the Gulf region that have undertaken audience research studies are the UAE newspaper Khaleej Times, and those of the Saudi Research and Marketing Company, both of them with the UK-based Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). However, The Saudi group decided to drop ABC due to what they called the lack of interest from advertisers, according to reports from Campaign Middle East.
Nevertheless, advertisers seemed concerned about the issue when the GCC Advertising Association (GCCAA) warned printed media on July this year about the possibility of imposing “sanctions” to those who fail to apply for an audit. The GCC Advertisers Association (GCCAA), created in June this year, represents 20% of the total ad spend in the region. Some of the initial members of the GCCAA, who together spend 300 US$ millions a year on advertising, are Nestle, Pepsi, Gillette, GlaxoSmithKline, Citibank, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Eros Electricals, Nissan and Dubai Tourism.
7Days was launched in April 2003 as a weekly and became a daily (Sunday to Friday) in December 2004. It presents itself as the first urban newspaper for the UAE and the Middle East and is distributed in residential areas, hotels, commercial locations, office lobbies, petrol stations and shopping centers.
The paper increased its distribution from 65,000 to 75,000 on 1 October, due to an increase in demand. “The demand is not only for us to increase the number of copies delivered to each location already on our distribution map, but also to deliver to new areas. Demand in Dubai is particularly high given the incredible pace at which the city is growing,” says McKeown. “We are set to move into profit in October this year.”
“What makes us different from other newspapers is our content, our brand, the fact that the paper is free and our distribution system,” says Amiji. “We cover local and international news that relevant to our readers. Our format provides the reader with an easy 15-20 minutes of reading. We try to entertain and stimulate conversation between our readers on every page of the paper. Due to our distribution system, we reach readers where they live, where they work and where they have fun. In addition, the fact that it is free makes it accessible to every one”.