The top man at Bennet Coleman (BCL) must be a worried man after going through the latest National Readership Survey (NRS). The Times of India Bombay, which is the milch cow for the BCL group of weekdays is fine and growing, but the real shocking revelation is that The Times of India on a Sunday has almost one-third the readership it has on a weekday. Also, on the presumption is simply choked with advertisements. Seems unlikely, but then this is just one of the many "highlights" of the latest NRS. The Times of India on a weekday has 9,78,000 readers whereas on a Sunday it has only 3,41,000 readers. The trend is the same for Mid-Day which has a circulation of 6,00,000 on weekdays and 3,60,000 on Sundays.
The readership survey, which covers 345 towns in urban India, is sacred to the advertising agency, and for media planners, there is no life without it. For a media planner, there are two terms which mean everything – Reach and Frequency. Reach is the unduplicated readership a publication or a set of publications can provide, and by Frequency we mean the number of exposures required by the campaign to get a desired result. All media models using the twin tools of Reach and Frequency are based on the raw data provided by the survey. While media models may differ from agency to agency, the base is always the NRS.
Now, how does the NRS make sense to the advertiser? The Indian advertising industry is growing at the rate of over 30 per cent per annum. Out of this mammoth spend, 85 per cent is actually spent on the media. So the crucial questions advertisers ask agencies are: What is the threshold level for television? What budgets would I need to get an increase in sales by 25 per cent? How can I dominate share of Voice in my category? How long can I afford to stay out of the media? And so on. All these questions have made the media planner a rare and indispensable commodity much to the irritation of Account Management. But the real ammunition for the answers to these questions is provided by the NRS-V which the media planner uses as a tactical weapon for bargaining and negotiations. Since 'buying' has assumed amazing significance over the years, the planner strategically uses the figures to unsell the concerned publications to get a better deal. The unfortunate part is that most of the time he is successful as publications do not spend adequate time and energy in reading between the lines.
Regarding the NRS-V, there are some pleasant surprises in this current research:
All this has made it worth the wait, as the NRS-V has come years after the NRS-IV. Shocking isn't it? In the West, this kind of a survey is almost always an annual feature. But then the size and the diversity of this country makes it impossible to do it in less than five years.
One thing that always happens after an NRS is published is angry reactions from publications. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh it is either the Dainik Bhaskar or Navbharat which would be vying for the top position. In West Bengal, the fight between The Telegraph and The Statesman is part of folklore. In Uttar Pradesh it is the threesome, Aaj, Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran. There are often statements, press conferences, and other tactics used to issue explanations mainly because the power of the NRS seals a publication's fate till the next one comes along and has something better to offer.
(The author is media director at Chaitra Leo Burnett.)