FT brand will continue to expand

Extending the Financial Times brand into conferences and events and a greater focus on digital subscriptions has helped the Pearson division weather the recession, according to global commercial director Ben Hughes.

Ben Hughes
Ben Hughes

Hughes, also deputy CEO, spoke to Marketing Week after the unveiling of full year financial results yesterday (1 March) by FT parent company Pearson yesterday that beat analysts’ expectations.

Revenues for FT Group, which contains Interactive Data and FT Publishing, fell by 12% in 2009 and profit dropped 47% to £39m.

However, the company says that the Financial Times and FT.com, which sit within FT Publishing, were profitable and outperformed the market, despite double digit revenue declines caused by tough market conditions for financial and corporate advertising.

Hughes (pictured) says he was “delighted” with the print and digital results although it was a “very tough year”.

He adds that the publisher has focused on changing itself over the past three to four years “in a very deliberate way” to meet the structural changes within the industry.

Conference revenues are up 5% year on year and Hughes says: “The conference and events business is going from strength to strength. At a time when print advertising is clearly on the wane we have to be looking for different revenue streams.”

FT.com operates a pay-for-content model and 2009 saw a 15% increase in FT.com’s paying online subscribers to more than 126,000 and 750 direct corporate licences.

Overall, content revenues increased by 15 per cent, with a 43 per cent rise in FT.com subscription revenues

Commenting on ad revenues, Hughes adds: “I think there has been a flight to quality. People are definitely making choices about the media groups they are deciding to work with. For instance, financial services have been through bad times when they did have advertising money to spend they had to make deliberate choices – and they chose to work with us.”

Talking about the migration from print advertising revenues to other streams, Hughes points out that during the last economic drop in 2002, print ads contributed 85% of revenues but this figure was now around 40%. He added that this migration has happened more rapidly than thought, although he says: “I don’t think print is dead and those who suggest that may well be proven wrong.”

Looking ahead, Hughes says that the publisher will continue with its current strategy, including pushing readers to pay for online content. “We believe that if you are charging for content in print, then there is no reason why you should not do that online.”

He adds that the FT would like to examine the concept of online micropayments further but that the necessary technology still has not been developed.

The FT will continue to make online acquisitions that fit with the brand. Hughes said that there is not a large reserve of money to spend but “we do seek opportunities and when we see them we will grasp them with both hands.” A recent example was the acquisition of exec-appointments.com.

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