The Economist stands on firm foundations

The Economist Group’s investment in marketing, developing digital products and creating quality content is paying off with the media company’s latest half year results showing operating profit jumping 6% to £26.2m.

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There have been more than three million downloads of the Economist app to tablets and smartphones, demonstrating the company’s digital savvy.

The publisher carried off the MW Engage Award for Media this year thanks to its “Where do you stand” outdoor campaign based on presenting reading The Economist as a “more playful” experience than expected. Caroline Marrows, brand communications manager, explains what the win meant for the team and how The Economist is moving forward to meet the challenges of a tough marketplace.

MW: How has the marketing strategy moved on since it was implemented in 2010?

CM: “Where do you stand?” was first conceived as a UK poster campaign, but it quickly translated into materials which operated through the line. It was the success of this holistic approach that was particularly exciting for us, because it allowed us to trace very direct links, from what was essentially a brand campaign, all the way through to purchase, in addition to positively changing perceptions.

MW: How did the team react to winning the award in 2011?

CM: Genuine engagement was always such a core principle behind the strategy so this was a special award to win. We knew our greatest challenge was an emotional one, we needed to demonstrate the “zing” our readers tell us they get from reading The Economist. The award came as we were also starting to see positive shifts on all other metrics so it was a thrilling time.

MW: How has the marketing team met the challenges of a tough economic climate in 2011?

CM: It is a difficult time for almost everyone, however, we believe in this campaign, and investment in any brand campaign shows that you believe in your product. We ran further bursts of “Where do you stand?” brand activity in 2011 and plan to continue to invest in marketing in the future. You just have to be smarter. Every element of the mix, every point on the spectrum, comes under scrutiny but isn’t that a good thing? The Economist has always been very comfortable getting into the details anyway.

MW: Have you switched budget across media channels this year – and from where to where if so?

CM: We have a fantastic opportunity with the digital editions of The Economist, the oldest of these is only a year old and yet our apps have already been downloaded over three million times and we now have more than 100,000 digital-only subscribers. This isn’t necessarily a budget switch but we are certainly investing in the “lean back, relax and enjoy” experience of tablet reading. The Economist is well-suited to this kind of reading experience.

MW: What consumer trends has the team noticed in its sector (of business magazines) this year?

CM: The biggest trend for us is the shift in reading behaviours prompted by the birth of tablets. It’s hard to remember life before the iPad but we now see clear differences in how readers consume our content, depending on their medium, and what kind of content best suits each. The Economist online is a destination for intelligent debate and discussion, what we call a lean-forward experience, while our apps are read in a more similar way to the print magazine: lean-back experiences.

MW: What’s the challenge for 2012 from a marketing point of view?

CM: The brand challenge in the UK remains the same: demonstrating the how reading The Economist fuels your own thinking with fresh perspectives rooted in facts. The posters bring this to life and we are keen to build on that thought using other channels.

MW: What’s the best advice you can give to anyone entering the awards in terms of crafting a winning entry?

CM: It may be fairly obvious, but make sure you spend plenty of time building up clear and concrete evidence of the Return On Investment. Then, once you have written the entry, get someone in the company who has nothing to do with marketing or the campaign to read it, their feedback can prove incredibly useful, and help you strip out some of the marketing-speak.

MW: What’s the best way of enjoying the night?

CM: Make sure as many of the team who worked so hard to pull the campaign together – our agencies AMV BBDO and PHD were brilliant – are there with you, and then get yourself onto the dance floor as quickly as possible after the meal…

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