In the National Press Building in Washington a mailing campaign specialist offered a frank opinion to an Aramco World editor on the subject of a proposed survey of Aramco World readers. "We're sending out 15,000 questionaires," he said, "but if we get 1,500 back—10%—we'll be lucky. Readers of industrial magazines just don't have the kind of interest you need to get the big, valid response."
That was last August. Two months later, Public Relations executives in Saudi Arabia received a cablegram from the same mailing campaign specialist. "EARLY RETURNS SHOW STRONG READER INTEREST," the cablegram read. The next day they got another one: "PHENOMENAL RESPONSE ... CONTINUES ... TOTAL THROUGH MORNING OF OCTOBER 18, 7,456 ... " Two days later a third cable arrived and a week later a forth. When the cables finally stopped coming nearly 20,000 readers—about 20%, not merely of the sampling, but of the entire readership—had either sent in a questionaire or asked to be sent one so they could fill it in. "Your readers," the specialist admitted cheerfully, "obviously have more interest than we thought."
It was not, to be candid, entirely accidental. As a result of the specialist's anxiety, the editors had approved a proposal that we send sets of color photographs to each reader who returned a questionaire. We also decided to insert in Aramco World a reminder that questionaires should be returned. Last, in hopes of intersting perhaps 500 or so particularly devoted readers, we included a post card for those who had not been selected to participate in the survey but who might want to do so.
Even so the results were suprising. Instead of getting back the expected 1,500 questionaires from the original mailing, we received close to 6,000—a response rate of nearly 38% on just one mailing. Instead of the approximately 500 or so requests, we got about 14,000, more than 14% of our entire U.S. readership. To the specialist, James Marshall, president of Public Affairs Director for the Citizens Committee for Postal Reform, which spearheaded the nationwide effort to improve the U.S. mails, and as Press Secretary for the Republican Governor's Association, Marshall had developed a taste for direct mail campaigns. They're not only much cheaper, he told us, but when the response rate is high, more valid. "But these returns," he said, "are not only valid, they're fantastic!"
For that response, we, on behalf of our pleased selves and Aramco's management, would like to thank you—for showing an interest that readers of individual magazines aren't supposed to have. —The Editors
Statistics are notoriously dull, but to Aramco World editors the tabulations received from a Washington pollster this spring were electrifying. The tabulations were the results of an extensive survey of Aramco World readers and they showed that reader enthusiasm for the magazine exceeded the editors’ most optimistic expectations.
Being modest souls, the editors were hesitant about publishing reviews that can only be called glowing. Believing, however, that the readers who participated in the survey might like to know the results, and not being entirely devoid of ego, the editors decided to print at least the highlights.
The point of the survey, of course, was to see what readers thought of the magazine’s two major themes—oil and Arabs—and what role, if any, the magazine plays in affecting opinions. The answers were conclusive: enthusiasm for the magazine, general endorsement of American foreign investment, specific approval of the Arabian American Oil Company, and an acknowledgment that the Arab East is considerably more advanced than readers used to believe.
For example, on the often sensitive subject of oil companies’ foreign involvement, a surprising 85% of all readers saw Aramco’s role in the Middle East as either "important" or "vital." Even the most skeptical readers replying—editors and editorial writers—thought investment abroad was "usually beneficial."
With regard to the Middle East, responses were also positive. About 55% saw the Middle East as an area "with great potential which is undergoing marked modernization," and 26% saw it as an area "with great potential" and at least "slowly developing nations." Only 1% saw it in terms of "desert" and "Biblical" levels of life.
But the most gratifying of these findings is that readers like Aramco World. More than 97% rated it "excellent" or "good"—12,920 out of 13,213—with only 14 readers saying "poor." Furthermore, more than 80% think "photography and layout" and "writing" are as attractive as National Geographic and Life. And more than 1,000 readers voluntarily added that in some respects Aramco World was "better" than either of those publications. To editors who admire and imitate both those publications, that is heady wine indeed.
Some readers like it so much that they keep the magazine for years (nearly 8,000 readers say they keep it for more than six months) and almost everyone who gets it reads it. More than 97% read it "regularly" or "fairly often," and only 16 said they "never" read it.
It is not only subscribers who read it either. Additional readers—friends or relatives of those who returned questionnaires and who read the magazine at least occasionally—total 75,748. This extra readership, added to library readership (more than 70 readers per copy in some reading rooms), means that a whopping 500,000 readers see some issues.
It also seems that Aramco World is more than entertainment. Out of 13,264 readers, 13,150—better than 99% the magazine has helped give them "a better understanding of the Middle East."
This apparently was achieved by simply presenting more information of a kind that was either not previously available or had gone unnoticed. For example, more than 9,600 readers out of 13,140, said that before receiving Aramco World they would have been surprised, skeptical or downright disbelieving if told they could "ski in Lebanon," that "Saudi Arabia has floods" or that "there are 21 universities in the Arab world." Now, it seems, they know such statements are true.
And statistics were only a part of the picture. In addition to the tabulations, the pollster also received more than 4,800 voluntary comments that, he reported, drove the statisticians wild and added six weeks to tabulation schedules. These comments ranged from the scribbled "thank-you’s" to a 17-page manuscript on what the magazine was doing right. But they also included this letter from a mother in Niagara Falls, New York, whose son first began to receive Aramco World in the sixth grade but never will again. It is the kind of a letter one doesn’t forget and for which the editors and the management of Aramco are touched and grateful.
I have answered your survey to the best of my ability instead of my son. My son, Lt. Dennis F. Grace, was killed in Viet-Nam March 11, 1970, but I still accepted your Aramco World Magazine. We have been receiving the magazine since my son wrote your company when he was in tile sixth grade; he had to write a paper on Saudi Arabia. Your company came through beautifully for all the information he needed at the time. As a matter of fact, my daughter, who is married, found the magazine so interesting that she personally wrote you years ago to send her a copy. She still receives it, enjoying it immensely.
We wish to thank you sincerely for enlightening us on Arabia and bringing us enjoyment in the magazine’s readings. I hope I did not do anything wrong in accepting the magazine in my son’s name. Since he is dead now, would you still send me the magazine my name? When the magazine arrives and I see his name on the cover, tears come to my eyes. He was a history major, graduating from the University of Niagara here in Niagara Falls. After teaching one year and one summer school session, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in a first year program. He was trained in Quantico, Virginia, then went on to Pensacola, Florida, and Camp Pendleton, Calif. for helicopter training. He left for Viet-Nam September 1969 and was stationed at Marble Mt. DaNang. He was killed March 11, 1970, fighting the enemy, and became just another dead hero fighting for this country and what he believed in. I thank you sincerely for the enjoyable reading.
Mrs. Edward F. Grace.