Upscale business executives in the UK are notoriously hard to
reach. But the fact that they have high personal income and control
significant budgets at work makes them a crucial audience for
advertisers. In terms of tracking their reading habits, there is good
and bad news.
The good news, is that business people are voracious consumers of
text-based media. Aside from titles such as the Financial Times, The
Wall Street Journal Europe, the International Herald Tribune, The
Economist, Forbes and Business Week, the UK's national and regional
press have strong business sections. Most industries are also served by
trade publications, web-based products and specialist reports.
The bad news is that this audience's reading habits make it hard for
advertisers to reach them. First, their approach to media can be 'very
focused', Doreen Dignan, the MindShare UK head of research, says. 'We
did research that showed how business audiences operate in two modes:
reductive and expansive. In the reductive mode, they are very busy and
filter out everything except what they are looking for.'
This does not mean ads cannot cut through, Dignan says, but it does
require sensitivity to the audience. Ads that are complex or heavy on
copy are likely to be filtered out by busy people who are reading with a
specific goal in mind.
Reading habits of the business audience can also be highly fragmented,
Georgina Hickey, the media director for Carat International, says,
particularly if they are travelling. 'Most business people have
preferred publications. But they will also turn to any available source
that provides them with up-to-date, credible information. This can make
devising an effective communications strategy complex.'
Agencies can subscribe to a wide range of research surveys in order to
demystify the behaviour of business people. One is Ipsos-RSL's British
Business Survey, which is published every two years.
The latest BBS, published in May 2000, puts the UK business audience at
1.4 million. Not surprisingly, it has the likes of the FT, The Times and
The Daily Telegraph at the top. More surprisingly, Associated
Newspapers' Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard have
seen dramatic growth in business readers since the previous BBS in 1997.
The Daily Mail, for example, reaches 259,000 business readers - twice as
many as The Guardian and 60,000 more than the FT. It also reaches the
upper end of the corporate ladder. For example, 39,000 of the Daily
Mail's readers are chief executives, compared with 23,000 for The Daily
Valuable though the BBS is, these figures need to be handled with care.
Despite The Sun reaching more chief executives than The Guardian, it is
highly unlikely to be the right environment for a business-to-business
Not only would there be huge wastage, there are no guarantees the people
surveyed are reading the business sections of such papers (as opposed to
sport or news).
Another survey that deals specifically with senior business
decision-makers is the European Business Readership Survey (EBRS) -
which reckons there are 87,000 senior business people in the UK. This
group (defined as the top 1 per cent of earners) is 90 per cent male, 46
years old (on average) and earns pounds 72,000 pa.
Typically, the FT tops the six-monthly EBRS by numbers of senior
management reached. The FT's advertising director, David Walsh, says:
'We've topped the EBRS for a long time. With the paper's (global)
circulation up 12 per cent year on year to 475,000 (182,000 in the UK),
we have also managed to grow copy sales without diluting the quality of
The best UK-specific titles are The Times and The Sunday Times, while
Management Today and The Daily Telegraph perform well. Among the FT's
pan-European rivals, the WSJE offers the purest senior business audience
(although, with a European circulation of around 100,000, its coverage
is one-fifth of the FT's).
The EBRS refines what the BBS says, but it is still just one of many
tools. The European Media & Marketing Survey (EMS) measures TV and print
usage among the top 20 per cent of European earners (39.6 million). A
newer survey (from Ipsos-RSL) is the Europe 2000, which looks at both
frequent flyers and the top 5 per cent of earners (10.8 million). Add to
this the European Opinion Leaders Survey, the TGI-Europa and the
forthcoming Europe 2001, and there is plenty for planners to chew
The European focus of these surveys reflects the fact that most of the
major media owners targeting businessfolk are pan-European in
Ross Melzer, the senior director of circulation and marketing at the
WSJE, says his title's 17 per cent increase in readership year on year
underlines 'a growing interest in cross-border activity. More senior
business executives are aware of how overseas issues affect their own
Although the choice of business titles might seem self-evident, there is
an argument that says busy executives are more receptive when they have
time on their hands - maybe at the weekend as they leaf through Sunday
papers or favourite reads such as What Car?, National Geographic or FHM
(which all show up strongly in the BBS).
Melzer acknowledges there might be a temptation for agencies to pursue
such routes, but insists that titles such as the WSJE cannot be
'For clients in banking, airlines and automotive there is no better way
to target senior business decision-makers,' he says.
Hickey accepts the strength of the business newspapers, but says 'it
would be dangerous to assume the FT or the WSJE are the only way to
reach this group'. Even if these papers are the right choice, Hickey
stresses the need for clients to stand out. 'Interesting shaped ads,
gatefolds and the use of specialist sections are all options to
consider. Most media owners offer numerous routes to the consumer. If
the budget allows, they're worth exploring.'
Pearson, which owns the FT, and Dow Jones, which owns The Wall Street
Journal, are best-resourced to offer a variety of options. Walsh claims
the FT 'is adapting to the differing needs of readers. We've integrated
online and print media sales and can act as a gateway to the other parts
of the Pearson portfolio.' At the same time, the 'major business
advertisers are more aware of the creative solutions available'.
Currently, the prevailing view is that online is not replacing print
usage, but complementing it. Melzer says the business executives turn to
papers for depth of analysis and to online for immediacy. This appears
to be confirmed by the work that MindShare has done with IBM and The
Daily Telegraph's Electronic Telegraph.
Nevertheless, it is an area that needs close attention. 'It is one of
those subjects where the media owners and the clients need to conduct
bespoke research to support the other surveys on the table,' Walsh
None of the above addresses the role of inflight magazines such as
British Airway's High Life, or the business-to-business specialist
press. As a rule, display ads in the business-to-business press are
sector-specific and aimed at the executives making purchasing decisions.
There is reasonable data from the publishers, though perhaps nothing as
comprehensive and objective as the Banner Survey which measures IT and
There have been efforts by the business-to-business magazine publishers
to use the combined muscle of their magazine portfolios to target the
advertisers in sectors such as travel, automotive and luxury goods.
However, Hickey is cautious about this approach. 'Targeting business
people in this way will only work if you are convinced you are in the
right editorial environment for the brand.'
This is an argument Melzer and Walsh both promote. 'Although there are
an ever-increasing amount of business information sources, there is
still a limited amount of time in a day,' Walsh says. 'In that context,
the business people will return to the strong and trusted brands.'