It’s a small world, but it still needs to be audited

It’s a small world, the Middle East. It’s the sort of place where you can stroll through the Dubai suburb of Garhoud and happen upon the EMEA director of audit body BPA. But more of that in due course. Because it’s a fast moving world too. Less than a year ago the auditing debate had barely begun. Publishers’ claims were a joke; sensible advertisers simply halved or quartered the claimed circulation to get an idea of reality and there seemed little appetite for change.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  April 2, 2006

It’s a small world, but it still needs to be audited|~||~||~|It’s a small world, the Middle East. It’s the sort of place where you can stroll through the Dubai suburb of Garhoud and happen upon the EMEA director of audit body BPA. But more of that in due course. Because it’s a fast moving world too. Less than a year ago the auditing debate had barely begun. Publishers’ claims were a joke; sensible advertisers simply halved or quartered the claimed circulation to get an idea of reality and there seemed little appetite for change. But now the story is radically different. Suddenly, English language titles are racing to be audited. Rarely a week goes by without a UAE-based magazine of some description making an announcement about registering for audit. And the press releases are starting to come in from the rest of the region too. It’s also beginning to happen for newspapers, with the market leading Gulf News moving on the agenda with its own announcement just ahead of the International Advertising Association’s World Congress. Partly the momentum has been self-generating, and partly it has been created by the audit-or-else deadlines from the Circulation Audit Steering Organisation. And now the conversation has moved on again. It’s no longer about if media owners will be made to audit, but when. And the next new subject of conversation is about who should do it. Which takes me back to the small world I was banging on about 250 words ago. Because there are two organisations seriously in the running to become the preferred auditor for the region’s publications — the BPA from the US, and the UK’s ABC. And with the pace growing so swiftly, the two bodies’ actions over the next few months may decide which one gets dominance. The last few months have demonstrated how rapidly things can change. Even six months ago I’d have put ABC in pole position. Dominant in the UK, it probably had slightly the higher profile. But one gets the sense that as an organisation, it has been dithering slightly about just how much resource it should put into the region. Meanwhile, the BPA has charged in. Turn up at the Middle East Publishing Conference and there they were. Walk through the IAA World Congress and there was their stand. Indeed, as I mentioned, stroll through Garhoud, and there’s their EMEA boss Stuart Wilkinson gazing wistfully through the window of Fuddruckers. So if the ABC doesn’t heavily commit itself then it’s in danger of getting left behind. Also in danger of being left behind, and this is the third way in which the debate has moved on so quickly, is the Arabic language press. So far, the move towards auditing has been driven by the English language titles — possibly because more of their publishers are familiar with auditing from other markets they’ve worked in previously. But within the region, compared to the audiences the Arabic language titles deliver, the English titles come a very distant second. It’s something already recognised on the TV side — which is why the Project Illumination ratings drive is giving such attention to Saudi Arabia. But now the spotlight swivels to print. So far, little progress has been made. But with a similar effort to the last few months, that can soon change. A year ago, few anticipated such progress would already have been made. So in another year, who knows where the debate will have moved to? Actually, I do have one idea — the auditors’ eyes will turn to the media agencies. Driven by the procurement departments of international advertisers, they’ll start eyeing buying performance on the part of agencies. To begin with, getting meaningful data will be terrifically difficult, but then the pace will pick up. Before you know it, true transparency will be upon us. The world is changing fast.||**||

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