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Executive magazine awarded for auditing transparency
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BEIRUT: Executive Magazine has become the first Lebanon-based, pan-Arab member of Business Publications Audit (BPA) Worldwide, the world’s largest media auditing organization, it was announced Thursday at a conference entitled “Transparency and Accountability in the Media Industry.”

The monthly business magazine, considered a top authority on economic and financial matters across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, has been granted BPA membership on the back of its totally transparent circulation and advertising figures.

Its acceptance is being hailed as a big step forward for Lebanese publishers who regularly miss out on advertising revenue as a result of inaccurate magazine and newspaper circulation statistics.

Companies are skeptical about buying advertising space because publishers in the country, and the Middle East as a whole, tend to inflate figures, explains Georges Jabbour, a keynote speaker at the lecture and president of the International Advertising Association.

“What we fear most in Lebanon is official figures,” Jabbour told delegates gathered at Sin el Fil’s Metropolitan Palace Hotel. “There is so much variation and uncertainty. The first question when I want to invest money is – what will be the effectiveness of the money? Without accurate figures that is very hard to know.”

In contrast, preparing a publication for a BPA audit ensures that the recipient of every published copy of the newspaper or magazine is recorded. These findings are made freely available online and can be accessed by companies wishing to buy tailor-made and more cost-effective advertising space.

“This is the age of transparency where only a high sense of ethics will guarantee the evolution of the industry,” Yasser Akkaoui, managing director of NewsMedia SAL and editor in chief of Executive, said at the conference. “We hope that by leading the way we will encourage other publications to benefit from our experiences.”

A BPA audit is estimated to cost between $4,000 and $10,000 while additional costs are also incurred during the necessary restructuring of a publication’s circulation and distribution divisions.

“It was hard work and it took us a full year to become complicit with BPA standards,” explains Akkaoui. “We had to  send out questionnaires with each copy and received replies which allowed us to know why, and where, this person was reading our magazine.

“Before we used to estimate our circulation but now we are totally transparent with our figures and the advertisers know they can trust us fully,” Akkaoui said.

“This comes at a time when the whole industry is facing a big shake up,” he continued. “We have to adapt to these changes and BPA will help us to do that.”

“What we have achieved is a standard that we hope that the industry will follow but I am not sure that the structure is there yet.”

With the Middle East currently only representing one percent of the global advertising outlay and advertising expenditure expected to reach $2.34 billion by 2011, the potential for media auditing is huge.

Auditing has already helped to increase advertising to the UAE where in spite of a traditionally weak auditing structure demand for the service has soared in recent years.

“Advertisers have been blamed for the last 20 years for not helping to grow industry in the Arab world,” said Louis Hakim, chairman of Advertising Business Group a regional pro-advertising advocacy organization. “But how can we be expected to buy when we don’t know what we are buying?”

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