Feature

The New Demographics: Business high-fliers

Advertisers crave the attention of business high-fliers, who continue to spend in the face of recession. But identifying and engaging this audience is now not so easy. Kunal Dutta reports.

Long before the term was even invented, social-demographic clustering was practised all over Britain. But rather than coming out of TGI data or careful observations behind one-way glass, all it needed were three questions. The answers told their own story.

The questions related to family, occupation and education. Each was a class marker that defined where you stood in the social pecking order. By the late 19th century, they would even provide an insight into your political allegiances, the type of company you kept and your taste and interests.

Today, that has all changed. The shift from a manufacturing to a service economy has made occupation a far less insightful indicator of your class or wealth. In terms of education, the gap between a public- and state-school education no longer screams social difference. Family background is increasingly irrelevant: many of the UK's most wealthy businessmen are either from overseas or entirely self-made.

The UK is less homogenised in its outlook. Yet, for advertisers, there is still a powerful group of leaders and decision-makers, many of whom are fuelling the economy with the jobs they do. These are the business high-fliers. Their spending habits are less reactive to the threat of recession and many are likely to be debt- free, with their mortgage paid off and a high level of disposable income to spend.

With today's economic uncertainty, it is brands touting luxury goods, business products, five-star holidays, houses or sports cars that are desperately vying for their attention. Rolex, Jaguar, Fairmont Hotels and Ritz Fine Jewellery - all of which display their wares in aspirational full- colour page ads in a recent issue of How to Spend It, the Financial Times' monthly supplement designed to catch business high-fliers during their downtime.

But even during working hours, this market is of immense value to advertisers. Much of this audience are senior business leaders with buying power and boardroom clout to influence a company's investment decisions. Look through The Economist or on websites such as CNBC Europe and brands such as Shell, Accenture and IBM frequently appear, desperate to catch business high-fliers with their management hats on.

Yet while the channels are plentiful, reaching this audience is harder than ever. "There is a high index of media available to this audience, but many are very time-poor and selective with what they consume," James Jennings, the joint managing director of the media agency BJK&E, says. "The challenge isn't about reaching them, but rather engaging them in something meaningful or leaving a lasting impression."

Part of this challenge is down to how the world of business has changed. It was once the preserve of a select few, such as stakeholders, regulators and management. Now, globalisation and the growth of Britain's service economy have combined to open business up to the masses.

The result of this is that business has become mainstream, with different tiers of audiences and wealth levels. Newspapers, by and large, have responded by increasing the size and coverage of their business sections, while titles such as the FT (see box) and The Economist, once synonymous solely with the business community, have revamped their products to appeal to broader audiences.

Yvonne Ossman, The Economist's UK circulation and marketing director, puts this down to a new thirst for ideas that transcend traditional business circles: "The industrial economy gave way to the service economy. But now you're seeing the knowledge economy and a whole profile of people linked together by their interest in ideas as well as a wider curiosity about the world."

Ossman believes these are the people not narrowly restricted to one occupation, but "influencers across all types of business and spanning chair people, stakeholders, entrepreneurs or future thought leaders".

There is certainly no shortage of media to keep them informed. TV channels such as Bloomberg, CNBC and BBC World keep a constant watch on the global markets and provide advertisers with opportunities deeper than just media sales. CNBC, for instance, creates bespoke programming for advertisers. It has recently worked for Shell on a series of televised debates on energy aimed at chief executives and captains of industry. The programmes are supported by online debates, live events and TV spots.

After hours, this audience's leisure time is covered by the likes of high-end fashion and style magazines including GQ, Esquire and Wallpaper*, as well as specialist titles catering for individual hobbies and interests. Known traditionally for their print products, many are now ramping up their web presence and offering multiple advertising opportunities. "The biggest in recent times is the growth of online media integrated within advertising campaigns," Gord Ray, the publishing director of Wallpaper*, says. "There was a time when it was considered an add-on, but luxury brands are increasingly aware of the opportunity to target different audiences that interact with the Wallpaper* brand through different media."

Meanwhile, the business press is larger than ever, with trade, current affairs and business titles - all with online subsidiaries - keeping people up to date with their industries and their effects on the wider world. Those wanting to get right into the heart of Canary Wharf or London's Square Mile, for example, can look at specialist sites or flaunt their products in City A.M.

Since its launch in 2005, this London freesheet has continued to diversify in its markets. It's not all number-crunching, either - an expanded lifestyle section caters to leisure time, with plenty of scope for other sectors. "We realised that our readers had shared interests, so we have looked to focus weekly supplements on these topics of interest such as wealth management, spread betting and property," Jens Torpe, the paper's chief executive, says.

But for some advertisers, the City audience, with its high disposable income, is not as attractive a target as the long- term wealth of so-called "ultra net worth" individuals, those that make up the richest echelons of the British population.

It is this audience the FT is hoping to tap into with its quarterly magazine, Wealth. "These are people who are tremendously influential, wealthy and hard for advertisers to target," Dominic Good, the EMEA advertising sales director of FT Wealth, says.

Individual tastes and interests are likely to vary at this higher wealth level, too. Raoul Shah, the chief executive of the communications agency Exposure, says: "Many City people have assumed the trappings of wealth quickly, but they don't have an industry or empire behind them. They are not going to appear in The Sunday Times Rich List for the next 20 years. Those who have captured long-term wealth will usually be seeking more crafted and tailored products and be more likely to reject generic brands."

He adds: "A page in Wallpaper* isn't going to be as powerful as something you're told across a table in an upmarket restaurant with boardroom clients."

Targeting the business community is tough, but the rewards are plentiful. For advertisers, the toughest challenge is deciding which part of the market to talk to and then engaging it in a way that is meaningful, relevant and exclusive. Miss the mark and you risk engaging a mainstream audience with plenty of interest in business, but little in your actual brand.

MR BIZ

Ah, Mr Business High-Flier, the narrowest, and most predictable, of all our stereotypes. There's scarcely any point in describing him because we all know exactly what he is like. Choice of brands: utterly mainstream totems of the pushy careerist. He doesn't use them to express his individuality, only to trumpet his success. Drives: BMW 6 Series. Reads: Financial Times, The Economist. Watches: CNBC. Wears: Ralph Lauren and Armani. Writes with: Montblanc pen.

Yawn. So much money, so little imagination.

It may be that you are hoping he'll have the smug smile wiped off his face by the credit crunch. And, yes, it's true that the shares of the plc in which he is a director have fallen to a third of their previous value. But he's negotiated a handsome and rather cleverly hedged bonus package of shares and share options, which means he's quids-in, whatever happens. So he really doesn't care. He's cash-rich and, though he'd never admit it to anyone, he wouldn't mind too much if the credit crunch turned into a recession, or, even better, a depression. Then he'll be able to pick up a house in Chelsea and a golf villa in Sotogrande for a fraction of today's prices.

He claims he doesn't like advertising - and it's not hard to see why. He has been immersed in the world of business media for so long, with its sad array of empty cliches that pass for sales messages, that he only responds to ads with the word "solutions" in them. So don't sell him cereal, sell him breakfast solutions.

FINANCIAL TIMES

Readership of the Financial Times had been steadily declining over the past decade. There was a time when City traders would not have dreamt of starting their journey to work without a copy, ensuring they were up to speed on closing prices of stock markets. Now the web provides instant access to trading numbers, while freesheets such as City A.M. offer free alternatives. Over the years, the paper had inherited an image synonymous with the City and "dry" market data.

Coinciding with a relaunch of the publication, the FT presented DDB London with a brief to reach out to a broader audience of business professionals (including IT specialists, architects and media professionals) while challenging old perceptions of the title.

DDB devised a campaign that acknowledged how business is of wider interest, and showcased a range of different content that would surprise readers and give them a new perspective of the paper. The campaign featured controversial and modern images, and was tied together through the endline: "We Live in Financial Times."

A 40-second TV spot was aired across pan-European television channels, including Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, BBC World and euronews, via the media agency BJK&E.

Meanwhile, a print campaign included unconventional imagery such as a sequence of sharks each eating one another (pictured top right), to illustrate mergers and acquisitions, and Sir Richard Branson made to look like Che Guevara (pictured bottom right). Rejecting the standard 48-sheet options, these appeared on high-profile "stature" sites such as the entrance to Heathrow.

To appeal to the wider interests of the business community, print ads ran in a number of current affairs titles including Prospect and The Spectator, and leisure titles such as Esquire. Meanwhile, advertisers were also reached by online advertising on a number of sites including Haymarket's business titles via brandrepublic.com.

Since its relaunch in 2007, the FT is the only broadsheet to have continued to increase circulation. It won Newspaper of the Year at this year's British Press Awards and, by April, its six-month average was up 1.12 per cent year on year to 448,540 copies, despite a rise in its coverprice from £1 to £1.50.

LEADING MEDIA BRANDS
TV: Bloomberg, CNBC, Sky News
Press: Financial Times, City A.M., The Economist
Radio: BBC Radio 4 talkSPORT, LBC News
Web: Brand Republic, CNBC Europe, FTAdviser.com

Topics