CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker/David Walsh - Why the FT's ad chief has broadened his horizons. David Walsh will focus on the global stage to bolster the FT

David Walsh admits that he will be clocking up a few Air Miles in his new role as the Financial Times' worldwide ad director. "But in these cash conscious times, he adds, "I'll probably be flying economy."

It's hard to tell whether Walsh is joking or not but, in the light of Marjorie Scardino's comments last week, it's probable that he isn't. The chief executive of the FT's parent, Pearson, said that the newspaper group's first-half advertising revenues would be "significantly lower" than this time last year when the group's revenues as a whole had already dropped to £132 million from £211 million in 2000.

The bottom has fallen out of the FT's ad sales performance - and to what extent this leaves a shadow over Walsh's four-year reign as the paper's UK ad director is an open question. For many, it's simply a question of unfortunate timing. They see the shortfall as wholly linked to the economic convulsions gripping the FT's key corporate markets and, as such, the missing millions are no reflection on the paper's management.

Walsh, unsurprisingly, is of this mindset. "I can't think of any other reason, he comments. "The fact that all media have experienced what we've experienced in the last few months is indicative of this rather depressed part in the cycle and business publications have been harder hit than those media that derive more from the consumer sectors."

However, ascribing the FT's problems wholly to an economic "act of god" could well be letting Walsh off the hook too lightly.

According to UK press buyers, his conduct of FT sales policy over the past few years has not been designed to soften the paper's fall.

"Certainly an element of the problems should be laid against the fact that the FT has such a low profile, one says, adding that Walsh is unwilling to enter into the negotiations necessary to pull in ads during a slowdown.

It's true that criticism of Walsh's invisibility tends to come from the mainstream press buying community rather than the financial specialists, chief executives and international media departments that make up much of his contact book.

However, there remains a feeling the FT has not worked hard enough to broaden its advertising base on the back of innovations such as its weekend package, and consequently hasn't brought in the consumer ads that could offset its corporate losses.

"The profile of our business is certainly different, Walsh says. "We have a considerable dependence on corporate finance, technology and business to business. We've broadened our base but the core contributors to our revenues are what we might determine as those corporate categories."

And, to be fair, there's plenty of incentive for Walsh to keep it that way, stick to his guns and refuse to compromise his premium media positioning.

With a full-page international ad for Knight Trading Group selling for £72,500 (Live Issue, p16) it's clear that there are those prepared to pay for the paper's unique offering.

"It's a pure readership paper, MindShare's press director, Paul Thomas, comments. "There's very little wastage when you actually advertise in it."

Despite the frills, it seems, the FT remains a trade paper for the international community and its ad department's priorities and performance continue to reflect that positioning.

"If there are advertisers who want to use the FT to reach a village or community then that, to me, is a sign of power, Walsh says.

"Over recent years we have broadened the content in a sensible way without diluting the core benefits and properties that we offer readers and advertisers."

Walsh's new worldwide role, with responsibility for all ad revenues through print and online, is evidence of a strategy to apply that power more resolutely abroad rather than compromise on trading at home. Like a trawler captain facing strict quotas in home waters, Walsh's remit seems designed to open up as yet under-exploited fishing grounds. One look at the FT's circulation figures shows the logic in this, with 64 per cent of its copies distributed overseas.

"The FT's net has been cast beyond the UK for many years, Walsh says. "We are at different stages of development in each of the markets. The fact that a lot of business is booked from London is more to do with the concentration of buyers there and that balance could shift in years to come."

The work already put in by Walsh to integrate the ad sales for with those of the paper brand could well pave the way for opening up international ad markets.

"You could almost regard as an extra edition of the newspaper which just happens to be channelled by the internet rather than newsprint, Walsh says. "We will develop our advertising business as much by attracting new users to as by opening up new markets."

However, it's likely that Walsh will also require a more hands-on approach overseas than he has pursued with local press buyers in the UK. The separation of his role from that of UK ad director, which now falls to the former commercial director, Claire Payne, should pave the way for that - and Walsh seems keen, describing the chance to be hands on "in a greater number of directions". The proof of the pudding, though, will be in those Air Miles.


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