A sign of the times

What is going on at the Financial Times? Recent stories in the weekend edition have been headlined:

  • “Big knickers are back but this time they’re sexy”
  • “Super grannies: Juggling work and grandchildren”
  • “Don’t get left high and dry: Frequent flying can be a disaster for your skin”.

It’s as if the FT has just decided that the weaker sex isn’t so weak after all.

The real answer of course is a new strategy designed to broaden the pink business newspaper’s traditionally narrow appeal. It seems that 2002 was a bad year for the FT, largely due to the decline in advertising in the UK, but also because the many redundancies and layoffs in the finance industry have resulted in fewer people reading the paper.

The paper’s response to this decline has included a half-hearted new design, some new content (more sports and fashion), a new weekend magazine, and a new direct marketing campaign (see A warmer shade of pink and FT seeks broader appeal).

The latest news about this change suggests that it has had an initial positive effect. Apparently, the readership increased by 5% in the first week after the new “look” was launched (see FT relaunch boosts sales figures ).

However I’d be surprised if these changes really do increase the market for the FT in the long term. For one thing the direct marketing campaign seems like an unmitigated disaster. As Roy Greenslade writing in the Guardian earlier this month pointed out, the campaign has targeted the FT’s current customers:

Pearson, the FT’s owner, may see this revamp as the paper’s last hurrah under its umbrella, and it certainly isn’t skimping on its outlay, having spent some £3m, including £1m on a hit-and-miss direct mail shot to win over new readers. This has resulted in me being the proud recipient of vouchers which are saving me £12 over the next month. I am now able to receive a £1 FT for half the price every day until May 23. As a regular reader, of course, that promotion is irrelevant to me, so Pearson is sacrificing sales income it can ill afford.

I too have received these vouchers, but I received two sets because the FT still thinks I live at my previous address as well as my new one (I moved five months ago). These two offers are staggered so I can now receive the FT at a discount until August 22nd. Nor does the fact that I already subscribe to FT.com seem to have registered with the FT’s marketing department. They seem to believe that I will not only want to read the paper both on-line and in print, but that I am prepared to pay twice for the privilege.

I predict that the FT will go back to the drawing board after the summer.