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How to best interpret National Readership Survey data

How to best interpret National Readership Survey data

By Mike Ironside, chief executive, the National Readership Survey.

The National Readership Survey (NRS) is Britain’s largest single source of readership information and is used extensively in media planning, buying and selling.

It covers every national daily and Sunday newspaper, plus the key regional newspapers and the leading consumer magazines. An estimated 85% of all press advertising expenditure is covered by the NRS.

The NRS sample offers a large and reliable source to analyse readership developments in detail: 36,000 in-home interviews are conducted each year on a continuous basis.

The survey provides not just the actual estimate of readers but also breaks down readers by demographics and lifestyle classifications.

For example, since January 2009, NRS has included questions on people’s use of technology. The data give an insight into who these people are and how their media consumption is changing.

The NRS sample is drawn from the Royal Mail Small Users Postcode Address File from which addresses are collected randomly, providing a quality advantage over quota samples. Every interview is conducted in the respondent’s own home and lasts on average 27 minutes.

The survey is based on an ever-changing sample of the British population. Therefore, when reviewing year-on-year or 6-month on 6-month changes it is crucial to remember that includes completely different sets of people and therefore the data are subject to variation.

In order to gauge whether period-on-period changes are real, rather than due to different samples, the NRS conducts statistical tests on the changes.

As a result of these tests, the NRS is able to say whether we can be 95% confident that the change is a real one i.e. there is only a one in 20 chance that the change is not a real one.

Any other period-on-period changes are sufficiently small that they may be due to sample variation alone, and do not necessarily mean that there has been a real change.

So, when making any period-on-period comparison, it is important to express it as a difference in the readership estimate, rather than a change in the actual readership.

Average Issue Readership is the most commonly used estimate of a publication’s readership provided by the NRS.

An “average issue reader” is defined as anyone who has read a publication within the interval between one issue and the next, in other words read yesterday for a daily newspaper, read in the last seven days for a weekly newspaper or magazine, read in the past four weeks for a monthly magazine and so on.

The data is released four times a year, for periods ending March, June, September and December. The data is based on six, 12 and 24 month periods depending on the size of the title.

Media planners and buyers use the data to construct press schedules, and it is also a vital tool in discussions with publishers, as the period-on-period changes can be used by media agencies on behalf of advertisers to negotiate over press campaigns. Conversely, it is used by publishers for gap analysis and new product development.

Until recently, a straw poll of media agency attitudes towards the survey data would probably have returned adjectives including ‘slow’, ‘outmoded’ and ‘volatile’, and the accusation of being the poorer cousin of ABC.

But as many stakeholders and users have discovered through one of the many NRS road shows in the last 12 months, there is actually real depth, scale and quality to NRS data that makes it as vital to planners and buyers as ABC, TGI and Touchpoints data. The NRS sample is also used to provide the Establishment Survey data for the UK Online Measurement Company (UKOM).

Meanwhile, the IPA for Touchpoints uses NRS data for its integrated planning database (the NRS and IPA also enjoy the benefits of employing the same technical consultant, Katherine Page).

TGI benchmarks its readership estimates to those provided by NRS, a clear indication of the latter’s clear quality advantages.

Further developments have happened this year to make the NRS data more relevant and easy to use. For the first time, the NRS website features eight-year trend graphs comparing NRS and ABC data, as part of a drive by the two organisations to work closer together to serve the media industry.

Finally, as an acid test of the overall engagement of the survey, the NRS earlier this year appointed a User Advisory Panel (UAP).

The UAP is a collective of stakeholder representatives drawn from the planning and buying areas of the business. It ensures any developments or enhancements meet the needs of the end users, and is not necessarily made up of NRS advocates.

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