Business Trends Survey: Q3 an “Up Quarter”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” reports AAN financial consultant Seija Goldstein in the third-quarter Business Trends Survey that was e-mailed today to participants. “It was a strong up quarter, with all regions and revenue categories posting positive numbers.”

Today’s report marked the first anniversary of the quarterly Business Trends Survey, which has provided about 50 member newspapers with valuable information on revenue and advertising trends.

The quarterly snapshot compiles averages on revenue and advertising pages, sorts them by paper size and region, and compares the results with the same period a year earlier. In addition, the survey provides “gut feel” numbers on the best and worst ad categories each quarter.

Like the annual Financial Standards survey, the data submitted by participating papers is seen only by Goldstein and the results are shared only with those papers that complete the survey.

The results are issued as a spreadsheet containing revenue averages and quarterly comparisons expressed in percentages; the spreadsheet is accompanied by a two-page summary prepared by Goldstein.

Craig Thornton, business manager of Worcester Magazine, says the survey takes only about 20 minutes to complete and provides a “reality check” for management.

“It is a great tool that provides valuable data to our publication with very little effort on our part,” Thornton says. Having the survey’s analysis and data sheets each quarter “dispels myths and rumors.”

The survey analysis “allows us to align our sales efforts to markets where other publications have had success,” he says. “This way, our top management is not the only judge of performance and their statements are reinforced by the quarterly reporting.”

Kenneth Neill, publisher of the Memphis Flyer, agrees that the survey, which takes his paper about an hour to complete, is a “nice way of keeping up with trends, like collections.”

“Sure would be even more valuable if more papers participated,” he says. “Every little bit of information helps in these ‘interesting’ times.”

Here’s how the survey process works:

— In the middle of the month following the end of each quarter, AAN sends the survey questionnaire in the form of a spreadsheet to all AAN publishers (and many controllers and business managers) by e-mail.

— Participating papers return their completed survey to Goldstein. The data submitted by each paper is kept in strict confidence.

— Participating papers receive their copy of the report via e-mail about a month after the end of each quarter.

The next questionnaire will be e-mailed to publishers in early January for the fourth quarter of 2002.