The Economist Group has brought its sales and circulation divisions back together as its strategy changes direction to solve “joint marketing challenges”.
The new publisher team will be led by the group’s managing director and chief marketing officer of circulation, Michael Brunt, under a new chief operating officer role. Mark Cripps, currently executive vice president, brand and digital marketing, has been promoted to executive vice president, chief marketing officer.
The Economist split its circulation and sales businesses back in 2013 to focus on growing its circulation – which now stands at 1.4m worldwide, 1.25m (or 96%) of which are subscribers – but Brunt says the focus is now on making that circulation profitable for advertisers.
“We’ve just come out of a year of record revenues and both sides of the business are doing really well,” Brunt tells Marketing Week.
“We’ve got a stable print advertising revenue and what we provide for our clients is highly valued. But we’re missing out because it doesn’t enable us to work in partnership as a circulation business and with clients folded together. It doesn’t enable us to work together to solve joint marketing challenges. And we can do where the values of us and our clients are aligned and where our target audiences overlap.”
Brunt says The Economist has increasingly been working with its clients’ marketing teams to come up with mutually beneficial ways in which they can tap into each other’s resources.
“What we’ve started to tap into now is where our clients share our values and our audience and we’re beginning to partner much more now to share both our marketing challenges in partnership,” he explains.
“They benefit from amplification and we benefit from the client support as well. We can’t do that if we operate in siloes or as two separate businesses.”
While there can often be tension in businesses between the sales and marketing teams, Brunt says this isn’t something The Economist has struggled with.
“We have a team that would classically be called sales but they’re not really, they’re marketers. When I meet the clients, we’re all marketers so we’re all working out how we can crack it together. So we don’t really have that tension because the nature of sales now is coming up with marketing solutions.”
Raising brand awareness abroad
Brunt has two immediate objectives as COO: to double the profits of The Economist over the next five years and to increase awareness of the brand outside the UK. The first he plans on doing by growing the number of subscribers to 1.7 million in five years.
“That will double the profits,” he says. “We’ve invested in more editorial this year, we’ve invested the most in circulation marketing, but our subscribers stay with us so cumulatively over time that is a big driver.”
The second, Brunt says, is more of a challenge – and an expensive one.
Brunt has his eyes set on the 30 million people in the US who “ought to be reading The Economist” – those who match the profile of people who read it already. Yet The Economist has single-digit unprompted awareness in America. Similarly, in Australia – which Brunt also sees as a “big opportunity” – brand awareness is less than 10%.
“I’ve got to invest in building the brand and I can do this now because [sales and marketing are] back together. And because we get support from the clients that share our values and by cracking both of our marketing missions together,” Brunt says.
The publisher has been investing in a number of experiential marketing programmes over the last few years to help drive this awareness – including insect ice cream, which Economist brand ambassadors hand out at booths in an effort to get people talking and signing up as new subscribers.
And it is clearly working: since the programme launched in 2015, it has brought in more than 80,000 new subscribers and now operates in 15 cities across the globe.