INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: INFLIGHT MAGAZINES GO BUSINESS CLASS - Business travellers trapped in the air are now aggressively targeted by inflight magazines. But do they read them? By Pippa Considine

There’s no doubt that a number of inflight magazines are now moving in the same advertising spheres as traditional consumer glossies and their publishers would like to pitch the likes of Hot Air against stalwarts such as GQ and Vogue. But what about the Economist, Newsweek and Management Today? Over the last year there has been a buzz of activity in the inflight magazine world aimed at improving the offering to businessmen and the business advertiser.

There’s no doubt that a number of inflight magazines are now moving

in the same advertising spheres as traditional consumer glossies and

their publishers would like to pitch the likes of Hot Air against

stalwarts such as GQ and Vogue. But what about the Economist, Newsweek

and Management Today? Over the last year there has been a buzz of

activity in the inflight magazine world aimed at improving the offering

to businessmen and the business advertiser.



Susan Byrne managing partner at BJK&E Media, which buys for the

Financial Times and Merrill Lynch, believes that inflight magazines are

now a credible vehicle. ’In the past 18 months or so they’ve gone from

being what was like a duty-free catalogue to something a business person

would find relevant,’ she says.



But, despite this and the appeal of a package which integrates other

inflight media, she still regards them as supplementary to a media

schedule which includes business travellers: ’I don’t view inflight as

stealing money from other print vehicles.’



Craig Waller, managing director of Premier Magazines, which produces the

British Airways magazines, thinks that despite media buyers’ changing

perceptions, advertisers aren’t likely to be keen enough to add on

inflight as an extra.



’We’re not stupid enough to think people are going to go out and create

extra budgets because we’ve told them so,’ he says. So the British

Airways inflight monthly, Business Life, does pitch itself against

newsstand business media and points to numbers like those in the 1997

British Business Survey showing Business Life more than holding its own

against business magazine rivals such as Management Today, or topping

the Economist’s reach of 43,000 high-profile businessmen by another

21,000.



Waller also knows that numbers aren’t everything; advertisers are

increasingly fussy about environment. The airlines may get that reach,

but their magazines’ content is constrained by what those bums on

airline seats actually feel like reading on board. British Airways’ High

Life magazine keeps the attention of all sorts of travellers, both

business and leisure. Business Life, its spin-off title launched 11

years ago, is free to hit on the businessman.



The only standalone spin-off airline business title that Waller is aware

of, Business Life is specifically aimed at frequent business travellers

making short-haul hops in Europe. Although it has seen its revenue

increase 120 per cent between 1993 and 1995 and then by 30 per cent in

1997, it was relaunched this summer and is still being tweaked for its

exacting readership.



British Midland is focusing on precisely the same readership with its

inflight magazine, Voyager, and, according to its publishing director

Peter Moore, attempting to reflect BM’s new positioning as the airline

for Europe. The magazine is being relaunched this month, increasing its

frequency from bi-monthly to ten times a year, and will have a more

European focus. Moore is clear about rival publications: ’We certainly

see ourselves competing with other magazines like the Economist,

Newsweek and Time.’ Like many of those publications, he’s targeting more

pan-European advertisers with a ratecard set smack in the middle of the

market (a page costs upwards of pounds 4,000). So far Voyager has been

bringing in an average of pounds 120,000 advertising revenue for each

issue.



Voyager’s decision to increase frequency is partly to counter the

inflight magazine Groundhog Day syndrome, suffered particularly by

frequent business travellers. Business Life tries to address this with a

combination of short articles and in-depth features. BA has done

qualitative research into what the business traveller wants to read with

their orange juice or G&T. ’Our starting point is that a business

traveller is also a leisure traveller and they don’t necessarily want to

read about business. Most of the research indicates they definitely

don’t want to read about business on the way back from an appointment,’

Waller says. This varies by nationality: the Brits are happy to relax on

the way back; the French are positively averse to thinking business;

while the Germans are a tad more concerned.



Over at John Brown Publishing, which publishes Virgin’s inflight

magazine, Hot Air, Andrew Hirsch, managing director of customer

magazines, doesn’t think that businessmen care tuppence for

business-related articles. ’Do they want to read articles about Mark

McCormack or what kind of tie to wear with their business suit, or do

they actually want to get away from all that?’ he asks. It’s clear from

Hot Air’s content: the current issue features a nightclub in South

London, a week in the life of a park bench and Sophie Dahl on her career

as a size-14 model. But the issue only carries a couple of handfuls of

ads targeted at the business audience. The editorial, which Hirsch

unsurprisingly believes is streets ahead of other inflight magazines

(and which has won the accolade of World Airline Entertainment

Association best inflight magazine for four years running), aims to

attract a different sort of consumer advertising.



At London City Airport, the customer magazine, City to Cities, takes the

corporate option. Relaunched by River Publishing this summer, the

bi-monthly has changed from an advertising-heavy publication, filled

with reprints of acquired articles, to a tightly targeted glossy with a

distribution which now includes 40,000 copies sent out to names on the

airport’s database.



Its publisher, Sue Stevens-Hoare, explains that it is aimed at a

predominantly male readership, since less than 20 per cent of people

going through the airport are women. City to Cities is full of men and

sport.



Although all this activity is undoubtedly helping airline publications

become an increasingly credible medium for reaching business people,

BJK&E Media’s Byrne is not alone in thinking that many still have that

catalogue feel. And in a climate where the traditional business media

have become adept at marketing themselves to potential advertisers, the

inflight magazines have not landed yet.