In-flight magazines have certainly caught something of an updraft
over the past few years. A boost in editorial quality across the board
has led to confident comparisons with mainstream consumer titles. As
Dean Fitzpatrick, the managing director of John Brown Publishing, which
produces Virgin Atlantic's Hot Air, puts it: "We want to put out
something as good, if not better, than anything our customers put on
A merry-go-round of revamps began last October, when British Airways
poached the Hot Air editor, Alex Finer, to lead a redesign of its
15-year-old business class title, Business Life.Virgin responded by
signing up the former Arena editor, Ekow Eshun, to lead Hot Air's own,
Not to be left out, British Midland, now known as bmi, has redesigned
Voyager magazine under its own award-winning editor, Howard
None of these changes, though, is as significant as the pitch for BA's
publishing contract that preceded Finer's arrival. Among the
undertakings said to have been made by the successful incumbent, Premier
Media Partners, was one to increase significantly the income brought in
through advertising in BA's in-flight media - recognition of in-flight's
new status as a revenue driver rather than a customer care cost.
Other airlines seem equally keen to drive their titles' profitability
through ad sales. "Airlines are increasingly open to having an
integrated presence on board and doing such things as sponsorship,"
Starcom Motive's international deputy business director, Ian Clarke,
says. "They realise it's an alternative advertising medium and an
opportunity for them to draw in revenue."
Significant steps have been made towards changing the image of
in-flight, but it would be misleading to talk about all titles
developing in the same direction and at the same rate. BA and Virgin, in
particular, show the different strategies developed by publishers and
sales houses when pitching to media agencies.
Richard Wharton, who joined PMP from The Mirror Group earlier this year,
says that BA holds the advantage in terms of numbers and diplomatic
"The audience is phenomenal whether in UK, pan-European or worldwide
terms," he says. "We're more cost effective on most upscale audiences
than The Economist, the Financial Times or GQ."
As a result, PMP clearly sees leveraging the top end of its customer
base as the best means of persuading advertisers to get on board. "The
profile of our readership is a more attractive proposition than the
passenger base as a whole," Wharton says. "They tend to be businessmen,
better off and more educated. Neither ourselves nor our advertisers are
really targeting leisure readers."
Virgin, on the other hand, seems intent on diving into a more
mainstream, lifestyle market, with a title designed to be more instantly
accessible to the economy, as well as business class, traveller.
"It comes down to brand at the end of the day," Gareth Davies of River
Publishing, which sells Hot Air, says. "The magazine reflects the
off-the-wall nature of Virgin. Most of the other in-flight magazines are
boring. It's no good them having a captive audience if that audience is
used to reading Glamour."
They may leverage a different demographic but both airlines have made
use of cross-media deals combining magazines with TV and radio
BA and Virgin are not alone here, with Cathay Pacific and Singapore
Airlines also offering hi-tech multimedia packages. Virgin's Stella
Artois deal shows the current advertising potential of longhaul flights,
but opportunity could be stretched still further as airlines prepare to
introduce internet to the skies. Air Canada has already tested an
in-flight web system, with Virgin set to follow suit in the next
As far as exciting advertising deals are concerned, it's the longhaul
trips, with their multimedia environment and length of customer
exposure, that have been capturing the headlines for inflight. Indeed
there are several who believe that the industry's development has so far
been restricted to this area.
"The shorthaul offering comes down to print and there are still great
divisions of quality," Carat International's account director, Nick
Gees, says. "The mindset of the audience isn't ideal on shorthaul
business trips. The main opportunities for branding are on
BA, in particular, would dispute this assertion. Business Life is
distributed exclusively on pan-European flights, designed to cater to
the continent's hard-to-reach corporate elite. Both BA and bmi have
developed the use of ambient media, such as meal-tray cards, on their
shorthaul flights and the quality of both airlines' paper products is
indisputably high. However, the lower grade appearance and inconsistent
distribution of magazines from airlines such as Alitalia and KLM fuels
the impression that regional titles remain in the "in-flight brochure"
In addition to the drag effect of regional on in-flight's image, there
are other problems which the medium must overcome before it can be said
to have truly taken off.
More detailed research is needed to demonstrate just how closely
in-flight titles are read. BA's High Life currently appears in the QRS
readership data but its results were not conclusive on this issue. This
information is crucial, since the in-flight audience may not be as
captured as it first appears. Newspapers such as the FT have increased
their bulks on international flights - providing flyers with another
There's also the prickly issue of where the budget comes from for
campaigns run across in-flight titles. Both Clarke and Gees argue that
the medium is left with a limited pot as local and international
marketing departments dispute the schedule on which they should
Wharton, for one, is confident of overcoming this problem. "We're really
benefiting from targeting UK magazine ad budgets," he says. "That money
is coming to us."
BA and its top competitors may indeed be making some headway here. But
whether the in-flight industry as a whole can follow remains to be
STELLA AND VIRGIN JOIN THE MILE HIGH CLUB
Virgin Atlantic's cross-media deal with Stella Artois is a prime example
of the potential offered by the in-flight environment. The brand
sponsors all of the films shown on Virgin flights with a 60-second ad
appearing before and after each screening. In addition, one page of
advertising appears in each quarterly issue of Hot Air, highlighting the
An additional 30-second Stella spot appears during the in-flight
screening of Sky News, which is shown to every passenger and Stella
idents flash up onscreen whenever a passenger flicks between onboard TV
The deal was not restricted to simple advertising, however. The
agreement also resulted in Stella Artois being newly listed as part of
the in-flight bar on Virgin Atlantic. The entire arrangement was
conditional on this being successfully negotiated at a price acceptable
to both Virgin and Interbrew.
"Virgin will allow us to participate in the business side, if it gives
someone the opportunity to come on board and results in a win for
everybody," River Publishing's Gareth Davies says. "It's one of the
reasons the airline has the advertisers it does."