Ben Hughes is planning to make the FT irresistible to advertisers.
Ask any press buyer what is wrong with the Financial Times as an
advertising vehicle and you can be fairly sure of the answer you’ll get.
The response of Helena Hudson, a media account director at Optimedia, is
typical. ‘The sales team needs to be smarter and more aggressive,’
Hudson says. ‘They’ve got a strong brand that pulls in a steady flow of
bread-and-butter advertising. But, from the outside, they seem to be
happy with that.’
Some go so far as to say the FT doesn’t have a sales team - just a group
of people who can help you out when you want to book some space in the
paper. So the mere fact that Ben Hughes - who replaced the advertisement
director, Tony Blin-Stoyle, last month (Campaign, 27 October) - has
taken on the title of advertisement sales director, is a step in the
This week Hughes, formerly the FT’s sales and marketing director for
continental Europe, unveiled the wholesale structural change that lies
behind the new title. The merger of the client and agency sales groups,
together with the creation of a special sales unit specifically to chase
new business, mark a major shift in strategy at the FT.
With financial advertising in a trough, and with the FT’s reputation
dented, not least by the recent British business survey which indicated
that the paper’s influence on decision-makers in business was declining,
Hughes is spearheading a fight back.
‘We are trying to address the changing world of advertising,’ he
explains. ‘We are operating in extremely competitive conditions both in
the UK and internationally. The emphasis will be very much on the
visibility of our sales people in the marketplace. We have to get out
there and win business.’
The particular business they have to win is corporate advertising. ‘It
is a niche that we need to make our own,’ Hughes declares. The hardest
part, however, will not be persuading companies to advertise in the FT
rather than its Pearson stablemate and head-on rival in this area, the
Economist. It will be persuading them to do any corporate advertising at
‘There’s a mentality we have to sort out first of all,’ Hughes admits.
‘People have to understand that the positioning of their brand is very
important. We think more and more people will want to do this in the
global marketplace and we consider the FT the best place for them to do
This is not an argument everyone agrees with - not least Hughes’ own
wife, who happens to be marketing manager of the Economist. But it is an
increasingly persuasive one as the paper’s international reach grows.
The FT doubled its number of print sites around the world from four to
eight this year and as the expansion continues, Hughes hopes to be able
to offer advertisers geographical opt-outs.
In editorial terms, too, the FT has expanded beyond its heartland,
introducing lifestyle features on Monday and a magazine, How to Spend
It, which goes bi-monthly next year.
Hughes says, ‘there has been a view of the FT as simply a financial
newspaper. That is changing. We’re adapting editorially and we have
conclusive proof that this is attracting new advertisers.’
FT insiders are convinced that Hughes, 40, is the right man to
accelerate this process. Described as ‘a natural salesman,’ he began
selling space while living in France, working on a commission-only basis
for, of all titles, Playboy magazine. He managed to survive in Paris on
the proceeds, which is a fair indication of his abilities.
Yet it is difficult to imagine this urbane former academic doing much
table-thumping. His brand of salesmanship has more to do with business-
like charm than hard-nosed negotiation. But then, negotiation is not
part of the FT’s vocabulary and, to the disappointment of some buyers,
it will remain so under Hughes.
‘As long as I’m here, the FT will continue to have a very firm
ratecard,’ he declares. Some discounts will be available for the first
time next year for advertisers who, for example, buy into a series of FT
Steve Goodman, a director of the Media Business, believes it may not be
long before Hughes is forced to change his mind. ‘If he wants to get
that corporate business, he’ll have to approach negotiations
Hughes, who claims he took up sales because he enjoys meeting people,
will no doubt come across this argument regularly as he does the rounds
of agencies and clients. It will be interesting to see how effectively
he is able to resist it.
The Hughes file
1981 Playboy, European advertising sales executive
1983 Financial Times (Europe), sales and marketing manager
1987 Financial Times (France), publishing director
1991 Financial Times, European advertisement director
1993 Financial Times, advertisement and marketing director
1995 Financial Times, worldwide advertisement sales director