The No.1 fizz
Who is the biggest of them all? Well, where “the client is the king”, every paper has an edge.
AJITH PILLAI calls them figures that none would readily approve of.
Sunday, Jun 24 12:38:29, 2012
Dipped in Witriol
It is a ritual that newspaper owners/ managers/ editors love to indulge in. As soon as readership surveys are released they go through them to see if any of the figures can be used to prove they have the edge over their competition. So, on June 20, unsuspecting readers (the more skeptical ones either chose to watch news on TV or did not read the papers hoping this act will bring down readership) were informed by The Hindustan Times and the Times of India (others later followed suit) that each of them was No.1. And surprisingly both were right! Reason: going by the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) the former sells more than any other Angrezi paper in Delhi and the national capital region, while the latter is the frontrunner when it comes to nationwide figures. In fact, for both newspapers it was a win-win survey, or as a wag put it—heads you win, tails you win situation. Which is why marketing executives of both newspapers had a blast consuming copious amounts of McDowell’s “No1 soda” (please don’t miss the symbolism). In fact, at least two senior management big wigs of both publications exhorted their execs to drink up the No.1s. “Soda so good,” said one of the younger blokes struggling to keep all that aerated water under his belt.
Understandably, those publications which failed to divine any statistics to show they are better off than others felt let down by the NRS. But, the good news is that there are bright figures waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. A group of professionals calling themselves “Surveillance.con” are in the market. These new kids on the block, with the house slogan “The client is the king of all we survey”, promise to provide data which can give every publication some kind of an edge. Says its CEO Count Amitabh Frank Figures (ex IIT --Indian Institute of Tapping-- and diploma in surviving, eating your own words from Lucky “Have-v Heard” University, Tamil Nadu): “ Our plan is to broad-base the entire process of collecting information so that data can be of use to a wider range of clients. It will also go beyond readership to help brand building, muscle flexing and blowing your own trumpet.” When asked if his final results will be authentic, the ebullient CEO replied rather cryptically: “All I can say is, it figures when there is a Count involved. I trust my data as much as America has faith in Obama and Indian industry in the Finance Ministry’s growth projections.”
Well, what has Surveillance.con gathered over the last few months? Count Figures (he’s from Kochi, although he pretends to be from Kentucky since he swears by fried chicken) has been collating data which could provide new and intriguing insights. Here are some of the research agency‘s preliminary findings:
- Newspaper “A” is No.1 in a place located at Latitude 21.9 East and Longitude 79.6 West. But paper “B” has top readership in 35.5 North Latitude and 74.48 East Longitude. (Platitude data yet to come in).
- Publication “C” is tops in kitchens across the country. But “D” has the eyeballs in kitchen cabinets where lentils (pretending to be lame duck mantris) are trying to get over “dal” mornings even if it means reading old newspapers.
- “E” is the winner in clichés and meaningless expressions (one more day goes by as the sun goes down, a straight road does not turn, eke out a precarious existence, fit as a fiddle and wax poetic was found in one edit alone). “F” on the other hand, scored in semicolons and dashes—in one instance eight in a twisted python-like opening sentence of 150 words.
- “G” is a favorite with Readers and junior staff at universities (for its coverage of Bollywood cleavage and muscle) while professors and deans prefer “H” for its situations vacant classifieds and ads on mega deals at Big Bazaar.
However, far more interesting was the information gleaned by Surveillance.con on letters sent to clients by marketing departments, soliciting paid (some may say staid) news. As many as 666 letters, 366 e-mails, and hundreds of text messages were sent in the last fiscal, 70 per cent from leading papers and magazines which profess to be fearless, frank, and free (another one of those clichés!). The most unusual pitch was this one penned with much poetic zeal: “Twelve news stories we guarantee/ whether editorial or reporters disagree/ Good space is there for you, you’ll see/ Our battery of execs are Ever-ready to please. (Sent on Blueberry messenger, this was apparently inspired by the verses of Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal who keys in his poetry on his mobile).
Finally, Mr. Figures and his team conducted another survey which he knew none of his clients would approve of. But as a professional who spent many of his formative years at the Delhi Press Club pretending to be a reporter (they never had McDowell’s No.1 soda those days so he had to make do with rum and Thums Up) he prepared a questionnaire to gauge the response of journalists to readership surveys. In a nutshell this was their feedback:
- Such surveys don’t mean much since they do not guarantee us a raise.
- How authentic are they? For example, won’t readership show a sharp increase if families of subscribers are enticed to pretend to read a publication (on the day the survey is conducted) by being offered freebies like chocolate and chips ?
- Isn’t it possible that computer geeks will lie they read a particular paper if they are gifted micro chips?
- Will journos be given a paid holiday to Estonia or Spain with the marketing blokes because a survey says there is a sizeable increase in readership?
- Why can’t managements at least buy us a few drinks to celebrate? As things stand now, impressive readership figures don’t even get us a free drop (back home from the club).
Needless to say, this study will never make it to the desk of any marketing honcho. But as Mr. Franks told journalists, the day is not far when reporters will migrate to marketing because that’s where the No.1 soda bashes happen. Incidentally, after the dinner to celebrate the NRS survey results many execs were spotted driving out to the sand dunes of Rajasthan for a dessert of cake and ice cream...