Wrong circulation figures: magazines to return awards?
Members of the Periodical Publishers' Association of Ireland (PPAI) are considering calling for the resignation of its chairwoman, Norah Casey, after Smurfit Communications Ltd admitted last week that it had been overstating circulation figures for Woman's Way, Irish Tatler and U magazine by as much as 30 per cent over the past three years
Casey is also the chief executive of Smurfit Communications.
A sister company prints Smurfit Communications' publications and industry insiders said they were surprised that the situation had gone undetected for so long.
Casey says she discovered the overstatement in February and began an internal investigation.
Casey assumed the chair of the PPAI two years ago. The organisation represents the interests of publishers of about 70 consumer, business and professional magazines in Ireland.
Leading PPAI figures believe the latest revelation could damage the entire magazine sector.
The PPAI held its first awards ceremony last December and Smurfit Communications scooped three of the seven awards. Vanessa Harris of Irish Tatler won editor of the year and Woman's Way won consumer magazine of the year.
The chairman of the judges, Jack Lemmon, applauded Woman's Way's circulation increase.
It is understood that Smurfit Communications may be asked by the PPAI to return the awards. "It makes a mockery of the industry awards," one source said .
But Mary Finan, spokeswoman for Smurfit Communications, said there was no question of Casey resigning over the revelations. "That is definitely not on the cards," said Finan. "She discovered it."
Finan claimed advertisers had reacted "very positively" to the news. "They have been very understanding. The amounts involved are small. It really only affected advertisers who placed inserts in the magazines."
Advertisers contacted by The Sunday Business Post, however, were not as forgiving. "I have never seen anything like it," said a source in one of Ireland's leading advertising agencies. "It undermines the entire magazine industry and leaves serious doubts in the minds of media buyers and advertisers. Clients are bound to become a lot more cautious. Many of them are outraged."
The sources said the revelations could force publications to subscribe to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the recognised industry standard for independent auditing.
Smurfit Communications has not subscribed to the ABC for more than four years and advertisers have had to rely on the company's own sales figures. Only three PPAI members subscribe to the ABC -- Image, Business Plus and Gardener's World.
"I have always had a problem with publications that refuse to be ABC audited," said Richard Law, managing director of Mediavest. "Certain media owners don't seem to feel accountable to anyone.
"We need a robust industry standard and, while the ABC figures may need subtle changes, they are the accepted currency. When there is no transparency, there is bound to be a lack of trust, particularly in light of what has now happened."
Jane McDonnell, managing director of Image, is keen to see more magazines signing up for audited circulation statistics. "Magazines ought to subscribe to ABC," said McDonnell. "It's an industry standard. We're competing on a very un-level playing field. It really isn't enough to have a publisher's statement announcing your circulation any more."
Madison Dearborn, the sixth-largest buyout fund in the US, is driving a bid for the acquisition of the Smurfit Group. It is shaping up to be the largest takeover in Irish corporate history. Smurfit Communications is widely recognised as non-core to Smurfit's paper and packaging business. There has been speculation that Casey could be considering a management buyout, but Finan said Casey declined to comment on this.