The Austin American-Statesman's Diverse Verified Strategy
A case study from the NAA/ABC Guide to Verified Circulation
By Susan Kantor
With a portfolio that includes branded editions, a Sunday-Select product and a commercial sampling program, the Austin American-Statesman reaches target audiences through various categories of verified circulation. Debra Joiner, product manager, shared the details of each category and how they prepared for their audit under ABC’s verified circulation rules.
Newspapers can reach readers beyond their core paid circulation audience with verified circulation, and the Statesman has evolved and varied some of its programs to comply with the recent verified circulation rules. Earlier this year, two of its standalone community newspapers — the Cedar Park Citizen and Leander Ledger — combined to make one branded edition that is delivered every Wednesday with the Statesman. Similarly, the Pflugerville Pflag recently transitioned from a standalone community newspaper to a branded edition delivered to certain ZIP codes on Wednesday with the Statesman.
“We look at it as adding value for our current subscribers by including the publications with the Statesman and continuing to have the volume for our advertisers,” Joiner said. “We’re also doing a targeted address-specific product saturation to select ZIP codes in Cedar Park, Leander and Pflugerville. We choose the most desirable ZIP codes to increase our overall penetration and volume of preprints in the areas most important to our advertisers.”
Because this change only happened in the first quarter of this year, the branded editions have not yet been through an audit. For now, these publications will be classified as targeted verified circulation.
One product that has been through an audit is Stat!, the Statesman’s Sunday Select product that delivers coupons and inserts to more than 30,000 households every week.
“We’ve noticed with single-copy sales and Sunday subscriptions that coupons are a big draw. That’s one of the ways we’re able to promote it. It has some news, some comics and additional advertising, and customers like it.”
The verified circulation rules also changed the Statesman’s commercial sampling program, some of which is now classified as retail/business circulation. The Statesman distributes copies to 782 businesses, and twice every year, forms are sent to the businesses to verify the copies were requested and received. The Statesman recently went through the first audit of this circulation.
The audit prep
The Statesman had to adapt some of its processes to comply with the verified circulation rules, such as maintaining opt-in requests for the product. When Stat! was first distributed, staff tried several tactics to secure reader requests for the product.
“We tried going door to door. We tried telemarketing. We tried putting ads in the product. We’ve done social media —Facebook, Twitter— those types of promotions,” Joiner said. “What we found most effective is actually calling people to tell them about the product and opting in that way. That helped our audit because we were able to pull those recorded phone calls instead of keeping up with paper forms. Having fresh data for ABC to verify also helped.”
With the success of getting readers to opt in over the phone and organizing those recordings for the audit, Joiner hopes to qualify all of this circulation as requested for the next audit. The Statesman has already opted in 18,671 readers for the Stat! publication. Joiner also recommends weekly circulation tracking. A staff member is dedicated to tracking requests every week to record how the requests affect total penetration by ZIP code.
“Tracking weekly is really important. Especially with paper opt-ins, we call and verify a certain percentage on our own so we don’t wait until the audit to find if there was a problem. Tracking is time consuming, but it’s worth it.”
The Statesman also adapted to verifying requests for retail/business circulation. When the staff first asked businesses to verify their requests and delivery, they mailed forms, called, faxed — even visited a few businesses in person. The second time around, the process was much easier. Joiner shared several must haves for retail /business circulation: a good tracking system, a simple form, correct contacts at the business and their preferred method of contact.
“Commercial sampling was a huge change. We’ve been doing the program for years, but verifying them was new. That first time, I think you just have to go the extra mile. You also have to warn that they won’t get the papers if they don’t verify. Once you explain it, it’s easier going forward.”
With the ABC rule changes for verified circulation, Joiner stressed how important it is to have a solid tracking system and staff to prepare for the audit. She recapped how the rules for verified circulation have changed their strategies:
“We’re just starting to make the changes for the community newspaper branded editions. Deciding to go with the opt ins for Stat! was something our advertisers really wanted. Our NIE program requires teachers to opt in and verify receiving the papers, but we really haven’t changed how we handle the paperwork. Setting up the systems for tracking the opt-in forms, all of that was new. But it has gone really well. Definitely not as painful as we thought it was going to be.”
Susan Kantor is communications manager at Audit Bureau of Circulations. This article is one in a series of case studies published in the NAA/ABC Circulation Subcommittee's Guide to Verified Circulation.
First Published: July 05, 2012