ABC UK pulls out of the Middle East

The future of auditing in the region has been thrown into turmoil after the Audit Bureau of Circulation UK announced it was quitting the Middle East.

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By  Tim Addington Published  April 9, 2006

The future of auditing in the region has been thrown into turmoil after the Audit Bureau of Circulation UK announced it was quitting the Middle East. The ABC’s decision not to issue any more audit certificates after June this year leaves the US-based BPA Worldwide as the only provider of circulation audits currently active in the region. Publishers received a letter from Martyn Gates, director of newspapers and consumer magazines at ABC, on 30 March informing them that it would be stopping audits in three months’ time. The ABC’s move came on the same day that the Circulation Audit Steering Organisation (Castor) — which was established to drive auditing in the region — sent both the ABC and BPA its list of requirements of what audits should include in order to be recognised by the group. A statement issued by the ABC last week said that in light of the increasing number of titles applying for audit and the demand from advertisers for greater levels of accountability, it could no longer commit resources to the region. “Against this evolving market and the subsequent need for greater local resources from ABC UK, it has been necessary to review our strategy for providing circulation audits in the Middle East. ABC UK has decided not to continue providing a direct auditing service for the regional publishing industry,” the statement said. The company said it was “very willing” to help establish a Gulf-based ABC. There are 35 countries that have ABCs, but all are separately owned and independent companies that use the ABC name. ABC Electronic, which is part of ABC UK and provides audits for websites, is not affected by the decision and will continue to operate in the Middle East. A statement from Castor said: “The logistical requirements of providing such specialist auditing services in the region are such that a remote operation, as previously offered by ABC UK from London, is no longer acceptable.” Castor spokesman David Sheridan, who is regional director at Mindshare, added: “In the short term it is going to cause some problems, in the longer term it’s for the right reason. If ABC can’t provide audits to the standard required, they are right to pull out. But we would like to see competition and choice come back to the market.” The ABC UK currently audits, or has applications for audits, for 10 titles in the region, including UAE English daily the Khaleej Times, Hello! Middle East, Business Traveller and Dubai Voyager from Motivate Publishing, and Time Out Dubai and Abu Dhabi from ITP Consumer. Industry observers said the Khaleej Times will be hardest hit by the decision. ABC has audited the paper for several years and its decision to withdraw from the region comes just two weeks after its rival Gulf News applied to be audited by both ABC and BPA. Burjor Patel, vice president of marketing at Khaleej Times, said he was “disappointed” by ABC’s decision and called for a Middle East ABC audit body to be created. He said: “We support establishing a regional ABC. They exist all over the world, and it is high time we have one here. “For the time being, we may have to talk with the BPA and see what they say. Castor needs to come together and see how best we tackle this problem. The ABC has more credibility worldwide compared to BPA. If there is no other alternative, maybe we will have to jump on the BPA bandwagon,” he added. Other publishers have told Campaign that they will now resign existing audits or applications with ABC and switch them to the BPA. Ian Fairservice, group editor and managing partner at Motivate Publishing, said that while he favoured the BPA, it was not in the industry’s best interest to have a single auditing body. He said: “I don’t think that having a single player in any field is healthy. The company that we favoured and were using more was the BPA, but by the same token choice is a very powerful thing. “The publications that were previously being audited with ABC will now be audited with BPA. It doesn’t make any difference to our commitment to get every publication audited in the coming year.” Walid Akawi, CEO at ITP Publishing, which also produces Campaign, said ABC’s decision was “astonishing”. “The withdrawal of the ABC is damaging for the entire industry and we think their decision is wrong, particularly in current market conditions where we believe that increasing openness and competition is making a level playing field of strong, audited titles possible,” he said. “The ABC’s announcement is astonishing at a time when the market is moving so quickly towards embracing the concept of media auditing. However, ITP has audited titles with the BPA for several years and has the utmost confidence in BPA’s ability to produce reliable and trusted media audits and titles currently audited by the ABC —including Time Out Dubai — or which have applied to join the ABC will now switch to BPA.” Natalie Shahrokni, marketing manager at Connector Publishing, publisher of tourist magazine Discover Dubai which recently received its first ABC audit, said: “We are extremely disappointed. We are looking at breaking our relationship with them with immediate effect. We will be applying with the BPA.” The BPA said it could manage the increase in business from publishers wanting to switch their business from ABC. It has previously announced plans to establish a direct presence in Dubai. Stuart Wilkinson, director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “If we take on the audits from ABC’s present clients it is not going to represent a huge increase in work for us. We have found office space we like and we are in discussions with an individual we would like to hire so we can move forward to the next level.”

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