BUSINESS: TOP TITLES - The upper echelons of the business world are populated by a lucrative but elusive advertising audience, Andy Fry writes

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

our readership.'

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

computing titles.

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.'