INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: FORBES GLOBAL - ONE YEAR ON. The magazine’s international approach and a gung-ho editorial stance are starting to pay off, Alasdair Reid writes

When Forbes Global launched in April 1998, there were some wry comments to the effect that the initiative was all very well, but it was basically 20 years too late. Rival magazines such as Fortune and Business Week both launched outside the US in the early 80s, and though they now have international circulations of 130,000 and 160,000 respectively, they both struggled in the early days to find a readership and the right editorial voice.

When Forbes Global launched in April 1998, there were some wry

comments to the effect that the initiative was all very well, but it was

basically 20 years too late. Rival magazines such as Fortune and

Business Week both launched outside the US in the early 80s, and though

they now have international circulations of 130,000 and 160,000

respectively, they both struggled in the early days to find a readership

and the right editorial voice.



The Economist has taken a similar amount of time to replicate its UK

domestic success in Europe, Asia and the US.



Surely the great age of globalisation, stimulated by free market

governments on both sides of the Atlantic in the 80s, was over. All the

pieces were already in place. The masters of international business and

finance already had enough magazines to choose from.



Why was Forbes doing it? Granted it has a US circulation of 785,000 and

a readership of around five million, and is a massive business

publishing brand - but was its gung-ho editorial stance suitable for an

international audience?



The president of Forbes Global, Robert Forbes, had few doubts. In fact,

this was to be the title’s justification and unique selling

proposition.



The magazine, he said, would unashamedly provide ’the same ethos we

deliver here (in the US), with a hard-hitting, contrarian point of

view’. The theory was also that globalisation 80s-style wasn’t really

globalisation at all, as it didn’t embrace Russia, Eastern Europe and

China. The rise of the internet and e-commerce had also raised the game

to a new level.



Good theory; big gamble - but it looks like paying off. Forbes Global

launched with an initial circulation target of 50,000 - a goal that

rival publishers considered laughably naive. It hit that mark in a

matter of months and achieved a second target, 75,000, in January of

this year. It now claims to be running at more than 80,000 and will

break 100,000 some time next year.



The operative word here, though, is ’claims’ - Forbes Global still

doesn’t have an Audit Bureau of Circulations figure and while that

situation persists, rival publishers, will continue to question the

title’s credibility. But Peter Schoff, the magazine’s vice-president,

says this will soon be remedied: ’We acknowledge we have more

information to provide and we fully intend to do so. We will be applying

for an ABC figure later this year. We didn’t do it immediately because

the circulation figure was growing so rapidly.’



Rival publishers also pounced gleefully on the fact that some early

editions of Forbes Global contained ’irrelevant’ material - like New

York restaurant reviews - but Schoff maintains that the title is very

much on track editorially.



He states: ’We are very pleased with the reaction we’ve had from the

readers and we are very conscious of their needs. They are the whole

point of doing this. There is an ever growing market of people committed

to capitalism internationally, and philosophically, they tend to take

their lead from the US.’



But what of its advertising prospects in this cluttered market? Forbes

Global arguably launched at the worst possible time, with economic

meltdown in Asia threatening to trigger a global recession. It hasn’t

quite happened that way, though. There’s economic growth on both sides

of the Atlantic, there’s merger mania in the air and adspend is

healthy.



Connie Bennett, senior vice-president, international, of Business Week,

is forecasting continued growth. She states: ’The overall market is

getting more healthy. Over the last couple of years we’ve been making

major investment internationally to build the circulation and make the

editorial product even more pertinent.’ Steve Middleton, area sales

director for Fortune, agrees that the market is growing: he reports that

revenues out of France, Germany and the UK are up 50 per cent on last

year.



Alan Dunachie, the UK ad director of The Economist, adds that, for the

first time in living memory, advertising revenue growth is growing (and

growing rapidly) at the same rate on both sides of the Atlantic.



He states: ’An unprecedented number of companies worldwide are making

English their internal language. That’s obviously good news for

English-language business and economics magazines. We welcome another

big name coming into the market - but they have to deliver.’



Schoff reveals that Forbes Global is well on the way to reaching its

advertising target of 600 pages for 1999. According to estimates from

CMR International for January to June this year, it was still near the

bottom of the international publishing table in ad revenue terms, taking

a mere dollars 2.3 million. That’s miles behind the leader, the

Financial Times, with half-year estimated revenues of dollars 141

million or The Economist on dollars 50 million; but it must clearly hope

to rival Fortune’s performance, on dollars 9.7 million, in the near

future.



Last year, agencies were less than impressed by Forbes Global’s sales

efforts. ’They had two people trying to sell it against the awesome

might of the Financial Times and The Economist,’ said one critic. But

John Randall, media manager at the Omnicom-owned financial advertising

agency, Doremus, says that its profile is improving. He adds: ’They are

certainly getting themselves out and about more and are very bullish in

their approach. From our point of view, we will look at anything that

provides an alternative to the advertising clutter you find in things

like the Financial Times. We’re looking for clean air. But I need the

evidence that other opportunities are relevant to my clients.



’I certainly need to know more about Forbes Global readers - who they

are and what jobs they do. I’d have to say that the magazine has to be

more visible like Business Week and The Economist. Perhaps it needs to

be marketed slightly more broadly. That can help to change perceptions

at large.’



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