Media: Behind the Hype - Does the Telegraph Business Club go far enough?

Can The Telegraph find new revenues with its business club, Rachel Gardner asks

Amid a general decline in national newspaper circulation, broadsheets and tabloids alike face a complicated challenge to attract readers.

Part of The Daily Telegraph's response is to launch The Telegraph Business Club in order to build its business readership.

Tuesday 11 May saw a double-page spread in the paper's business section and the arrival of a website, www.telegraphbusinessclub.co.uk. Edited by Richard Tyler, the editor of The Daily Telegraph's Business2 + jobs section, the club claims to offer an "unprecedented" opportunity for its sponsors and readers alike.

However, many of The Telegraph's rivals already offer comment, feedback and discussions on business solutions for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

For instance, The Sunday Times, which boasts a strong body of business readers, operates Enterprise Network. Offering what it bills as "the UK's premier membership organisation for senior managers". And The Times is the first-choice daily broadsheet among business people, according to the 2003 British Business Survey.

The paper pulls in an additional 70,000 business readers, compared with The Telegraph, which picked up second spot with a circulation of 233,000 among business readers.

But Sarah Newton, the head of commercial development for Telegraph Group, believes that could be about to change, as the title aims to take business support one step further.

She says: "The Business Club will be a slightly more interactive point, where business readers can go and feel part of The Telegraph, in terms of advice and expert opinion. Every issue will be a shop window into the business club itself, which will run mainly online."

The new fortnightly editorial space will highlight the daily challenges of running medium-sized businesses - defined as those with more than 25 employees - while drawing on experts to offer impartial advice on the issues that confront the owners and managers of growing businesses in the UK.

Its launch issue broached the topic of Europe and was supported by case studies and a specialist opinion panel. In addition, there will be an "issue of the week" section, covering everything from tax to European legislation.

Supporting the editorial content, a network of Business Club members will also be available online to discuss different tricks of the trade.

Sponsors (HSBC, Demon, Sage and the Department of Trade and Industry) have put their weight behind the £750,000 programme, in return for a platform on which to endorse their services and access to the database of members.

Nigel Stevens, the product director for Demon, believes the club will help medium-sized businesses to bring their systems up to date while increasing performance levels, thus enabling them to stay one step ahead of the competition.

And with no registration fee, Newton hopes the club's numbers will swell into tens of thousands.

Adrian Pike, the head of press buying at Starcom Motive, approves of the initiative. He says: "Not withstanding the bigger picture, it's another bow to The Telegraph's armoury. Anything that is aimed at attracting readers should be applauded and there is definitely a market there."

Some cynics question whether two pages of editorial and a website will be enough to entice business readers away from their regular titles.

If The Telegraph can deliver a message that proves consistently central to readers' concerns, it could see a boost to its readership, but it seems unlikely that a major switchover is on the agenda.

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