The right market data drives the Chicago Reader



Editor and Publisher


Audience data has been critical for ad media sales for decades. The digital age, however, has introduced technologies to generate even more data, often available in real time. To maximize ad sales, media outlets and their reps must be able to analyze it accurately and present the correct data set to each advertiser. This is particularly challenging for the Chicago Reader, a legendary altweekly for 50 years and recognized as America’s first free weekly newspaper. Having recently completed its transition to a nonprofit publication, the Reader must promote itself to advertisers, most of which are entertainment, dining and arts venues and the city’s many events, and to potential funding sources. “We have always been incredibly dependent on advertising revenue. Tracy Baim, our publisher from 2018 to 2023, started us on the path to becoming a nonprofit publication because she understood the importance of developing a more sustainable model. As a nonprofit, there are more opportunities for development funds from foundations, grants and individual supporters,” Amber Nettles, senior vice president of growth and strategy, said. The Reader appeals to a unique audience and must also compete against Chicago’s well-known major media outlets. Nettles said it’s essential to correct any inconsistencies and misperceptions about the publication’s readers so advertisers and the philanthropic community understand how the Reader penetrates its unique demographic in the market. “When I joined the Reader in 2020, Tracy was already partnering with The Media Audit, and I’m so glad she did. Tracy found, and we continue to find, our relationship with The Media Audit to be very valuable. We have access to the data that shows we reach the audience our advertisers want to reach and the people the funding sources expect us to influence,” Nettles said. For more than 45 years, The Media Audit has conducted online interviews and periodic cellphone and landline interviews in some market surveys to provide its marketing, advertising and media partners with actionable data. Like the Reader, many of The Media Audit partners consider the ability to cross-reference key demographic and lifestyle characteristics against a wide array of targets crucial to making the right decisions about where they should place their ad dollars. “If we conducted an audience survey, we would be drowning in data we would have to group and analyze. The Media Audit makes it much easier to identify the target audience and the story I want to tell about how the Reader reaches that audience. For example, I can ask about Chicago homeowners and how we reach them versus our competitors. I need a partner like The Media Audit to show me the opportunities and walk me through all the data. I couldn’t do it myself,” Nettles added. Nettles cited a recent presentation to a new marketing manager at a Chicago financial institution who was also new to Chicago and needed to understand the city’s demographics and the Reader’s unique audience. She said it’s a general win for the publication when she can show proof of audience from The Media Audit data for someone unfamiliar with the Reader. “I recommend The Media Audit not just because of its extensive data but also because my account manager and Phillip Beswick, the owner, are very responsive to our needs and listen to us. The Media Audit data helps us provide specific data sets for our advertisers and to support our development goals with funding sources,” Nettles said. In May 2023, the ownership of the Chicago Reader was transferred to the Reader Institute for Community Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.