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Washington Leadership Readership Case Study

The Situation

By the mid-1970s, newspaper readership, particularly print readership and particularly among the young, was on a downward slide; and, by the mid-1990s, this downward slide was obvious to everyone involved in media, particularly advertisers. 


However, Washington Post management understood that while the downward slide was affecting its readership among the general public, The Post remained a vital source of information to Washington’s leadership in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. It also understood that there was a large market for advertising that reached Washington’s leadership, and that its continued appeal to this market could make a significant contribution to the financial health of the newspaper. 


Its problem was that many of these advertisers were convinced that the newspaper was not a good vehicle for reaching this important market. Washington Post management decided that – in order to break down this misperception – they would need to sponsor an independent study by a respected researcher that would become a standard resource for understanding the use of all types of media use among the Washington leadership. 

The Process

The Washington Post commissioned Becky Quarles to conduct the first Washington Leadership Studyin 1993, and then continued to commission follow-up studies over a 15-year period. This was a very challenging venture. First, the potential respondents were high-level and, thus, hard-to-reach Congressional aides and federal executives. This problem was exacerbated by when there was a military crisis (e.g., the Iraq War) or during times when there was attenuated political discord. Second, the study had to be demonstrably unbiased, so we could not divulge sponsorship. Despite these hurdles, the study, which was presented as a comprehensive media use survey, generated interest among the target respondents and generated more-than-respectable response rates. 



Advertisers, academics, and others with a stake in their image among the Washington leadership adopted the study as an authoritative source on media use among those who shape and administer national policy. National advertisers used these studies to guide their advertising buys. At the conclusion of each study, Becky Quarles made multiple presentations of the results to corporate and advertising agency executives in cities across the nation. These presentations were always well attended and, because the results were positive, generated advertising revenues for The Post. 


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