EUROPE'S MOST WANTED: FLYING HIGH? - In-flight titles are growing in sophistication and providing more ad potential

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,

award-winning redesign.

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

free option.

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



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."

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