Since The Times and The Independent went compact, their ABC figures have made happy reading. Bucking the newspaper trend, the dailies boast rising circulation in a declining market, with year-on-year growth in sales of 4.5 and six per cent respectively. Such has been their success that The Guardian is certain to unveil its new 'Berliner-sized' paper later this year.
Behind these figures lies a noticeable change in readership. Now that their initial launch-related sales hikes have settled, both papers have been left with a different demographic of reader than they had while in broadsheet format.
'Times readers are younger, more affluent, AB and more businesslike than those of its large-version rivals,' says ABC director of newspapers and consumer magazines Martyn Gates.
'It is a fundamental change in the product. Reading habits have altered.'
Audience in flux
This change in demographic should not go unnoticed by PROs - it will have a dramatic effect on how PR campaigns are evaluated in terms of identifying exactly who has been reached.
And while newspaper readership was, until recently, assumed to stay fairly constant, The Times and The Independent illustrate that this is no longer the case. Magazines, too, are prone to relaunches, affecting the make-up of their readers. The need for PROs to keep abreast of these changes has never been greater.
Michael Aneto, associate director at media planning agency OMD UK, agrees that PROs should stay up to date: 'Nowadays, you have to be more aware that things change from month to month. Each media touch-point is volatile in terms of its make-up.'
Mark Westaby, founder and director of media evaluation company Metrica, says: 'PR agencies simply aren't doing enough to educate themselves about who reads publications and how their readers change.' He says PROs must keep track of these events because of the evaluation trend to try and measure the effect of media coverage rather than the simple calculation of volume.
However, although there is already a range of sources available to the industry to assess readership, such as ABC and TGI, much of the data can lag behind relaunches.
Back to basics
Aneto admits that analysis can be difficult. 'Guesswork is one phrase for it. Another is educated opinion,' he says. 'Precedence is an important thing, and you can make an educated guess about changes by looking at what has happened previously. To a certain extent, though, it can be a leap of faith.'
Of course, whether publications could offer more help and revise their media packs accordingly is a moot point. Many PROs see media packs as little more than advertisers' documents, devoid of the sort of detail that could be used to inform campaign strategy.
But Clare Newsome, editor of What Hi-Fi? and former editor of gadget magazine Stuff, believes many PROs are not only ignorant of a title's readership or positioning, but trip up at an even more basic hurdle. 'The big problem is that people really don't read the magazines that they are sending releases to,' she says.
What Hi-Fi? is repositioning its content to include more coverage on technology such as MP3s and the trend of downloading music. It is a further move away from pure equipment reviews. This widening of its reader base began last year with home cinema and DVD sections.
'To be in What Hi-Fi? is very different from two years ago,' says Newsome.
'Today there is a new type of reader we want to talk to, those that might never need to buy a CD player because of the rise of the download music market. We have needed to alter our content subtly to appeal to these people too. It means our average age of reader is a younger mid-to-late 30-year-old compared to the mid-40s a few years ago.' Consequently, PROs will need to switch tactics to get their clients into the magazine.
Country Living deputy editor Kitty Corrigan complains: 'Some PROs have done their homework but others have not and ring in obviously unaware of who our readers are.' Its first issue, in 1985, defined its reader as 'those who live in the country and for the dreamers who aspire to do so.' It was squarely aimed at mid-40s readership, who could afford the country lifestyle. Today - and a redesign with more lifestyle content later - 44 per cent of readers are aged 25-44.
One solution is to extend media planning, which - like advertising and marketing - should be focused on reaching specific audiences rather than random coverage.
Westaby says such a solution would be expensive for clients but beneficial: 'Advertisers go into great depth finding out who their targets are. PR agencies don't. If agencies pushed for the money (required for media planning) and made clients realise that they would benefit as a result, then the industry as a whole would benefit.'
Fleishman-Hillard consumer director Louisa Jenkins claims clients should direct more attention - and finance - to evaluation of their campaigns: 'I don't think they have cottoned on to the role of PR. They still focus on media planning and advertising, and PR just isn't a priority, which means PROs should be proactive.'
She says the shifting make-up of readerships means PR has much to offer: 'Magazines are moving away from focusing on age groups - nowadays it is more about attitudes and lifestyles as well as demographics. By pulling out a title, PROs need to quickly rate what the audience is - PR is all about being instinctive, whereas media planning is more based on data.'
Aneto concludes: 'Newspapers depend on advertising to exist and focus their attention on those clients - that isn't going to change. With PR, there is no need for editors to come and talk to you - the onus has to be on PROs.'
DEMOGRAPHIC: TIMES COMPACT V BROADSHEET
Category Compact (% readership) Broadsheet
ABC1, aged 25-44 40 34
AB, aged 30-50 25 22
Business people 38 30
In full-time employment 68 60
25 to 44 years old 46 39
Source: Ipsos - RSL research for The Times, July 2004
CASE STUDY: GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
We asked two PROs to describe the profile of Good Housekeeping magazine. Their views are below, while the true demographic is on the right.
AMANDA WILLIAMS, DIRECTOR, STORM COMMUNICATIONS
'The main audience is probably made up of women aged between 35 and 55, mostly from the ABC1 range (about 75 per cent).
'They are probably slightly older housewives who are really into cooking, gardening and have a real interest in general things around the house.
'They are more affluent readers than average and buy the magazine as a household bible. I'd say the female:male ratio is about 90:10.'
GAVIN SPICER, ACCOUNT DIRECTOR, CHOCOLATE COMMUNICATIONS
'The readership is mainly women - probably a 90:10 ratio - who are aged between 40 and 55, married, live in Surrey, and are housewives with a husband on a good salary. They are not going to be glamorous, but have money, with nearly 100 per cent of readers in the ABC1 category. I know the magazine has been trying to jazz itself up lately with articles about vibrators and the like, proving it is not all about the house.'
THE REAL STATISTICS
Adult readership 1,416,000
Female 1,211,000 (85.5%)
Male 205,000 (14.5%)
Median Age 50 years
Source: NRS (July-December 2004)
Williams was spot on in her ABC1 figures, but underestimated the number of male readers. Spicer underestimated the level of non-ABC1s readership.