The publisher Meredith is putting its money where its mouth is, offering key advertisers guarantees against ROI goals in return for substantial ad investment, Ad Age reports today.

The guarantees going forward will use a similar research design to evaluate sales lift. Meredith is restricting the program, which it’s calling the Meredith Engagement Dividend, to 10 corporate clients that meet certain requirements such as typically spending over $5 million annually with the company’s magazines. Meredith’s three biggest magazine advertisers are Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods, according to Kantar Media.

“We are creating limited inventory because we’re stepping up to risk,” said Richard Porter, president-media sales at the national media group. “We’re asking for No. 1 share of their print spend and an increase in their overall spend.”

Meredith’s statement to top marketers is straightforward:  Make a committment to us and we’ll make a committment to you…you’ll be successful.

The statement demonstrates Meredith’s confidence in three things:  their products, their readers and users, and their ability to gather and organize the information needed to back up their guarantee.

It is the third thing that demonstrates where Meredith is driving value from their media platform:  Confidence in their ability to gather and speak intelligently about the activity they generate for their advertisers.

The biggest gap in traditional media companies is not in the relevance or effectiveness of their platform; it is in their willingness and ability to identify, track and explain the value of the activity they create.

Two things have to happen for a company to make this move.

First, they have to implement tracking and data collection systems.  These are disparate data elements:  phone calls, impressions, web views, click-thru’s, registrations, e-mail inquiries, etc.

Second, they have to have conversations with their customers about what kind of volume to anticipate and how to equate that volume to value.

The second conversation seems scary.  How do you explain the low numbers?  How do you equate them to value?

The reality is that the customers of traditional media — with its limited accountability and limited tracking — are also the customers of digital media.  They are used to talking about results.  If they are still your customer, then they’ve made some kind of decision about the value they get for the money they spend.

The benefit of making a move like Meredith’s isn’t that you are able to handle an objection from someone who is about to drop your business.  It is that you are able to position yourself in the marketing decision mix and make a bid for even more business.  It’s a positive and aggressive move.