MEDIA: HEADLINER; Natural born salesman takes the fight to succeed seriously

Ben Hughes is planning to make the FT irresistible to advertisers.

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

right direction.

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


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