How The Financial Times is making marketing services a central part of its ad offering

The Financial Times is betting on its newly assembled marketing-services business to bump up its paid-content revenue by 30 percent per year, according to the publisher.

Over the last six months, it has finalized a commercial offering that integrates the capabilities of its advertising and events departments, along with its branded content production studio Alpha Grid and research and thought-leadership agency Longitude, which was acquired in January.

The concept is that whenever a client requests a combination of research and thought leadership strategy, content creation, ads, events, and distribution, the FT can assemble a marketing services team that includes all the necessary skill sets from each of the existing departments. In total, 250 FT staffers globally have been trained on the new marketing services product offers, 170 of whom are in the U.K., 30 in Asia and 50 in the U.S.

A project can have between 10 and 20 people working on it depending on its size and requirements. The FT sales team is structured around sector verticals such as technology and professional services, financial services and energy. To ensure clients never see any of the complexity that comes with new team integrations, the FT hired an integration director, who has ensured that the various teams are joined up and a unified project management team assigned to each client. Credit Suisse is the first client to take advantage of the new capabilities, with a campaign called “The Value of Knowledge,” which launched earlier this month. However, the FT also caps the number of staff who attend client pitches at three people, to ensure there is no risk of clients being overwhelmed or confused by too many voices.

FT marketing services incorporate the FT’s advertising sales department, along with its events team FT Live, Longitude’s 40 staff and the 25 staff from Alpha Grid. The FT’s branded content studio was formerly known as FT², a name that’s now been retired. Most of the Longitude team are still based in their original office, though they will move to the FT’s new headquarters near St Paul’s Cathedral next spring.

The FT’s chief commercial officer Jon Slade believes the new marketing-service capabilities will help boost its existing content marketing revenue, while offsetting any declines in print ad revenue. The FT’s print ad revenue is down low single-digits, according to Slade. That’s low compared to what others have reported, such as the Mail’s 9 percent drop in print ad revenue reported last week.

“It was 2016 when we last saw a big decline in print ad revenue, but rather like Californian earthquakes you know another is coming, you’re just not sure when,” said Slade. “The longer there is political uncertainty, the longer print ad revenue is likely to suffer. So FT marketing services is an important step to ensuring our revenue streams are diversified, and it moves our conversations with clients away from being transactional advertising revenue partners, to having deeper, sustained partnerships that last years.”

Credit Suisse’s four-month-long campaign explores how to meet the world’s changing knowledge needs, investigating the skills, education and investment strategies that will prove critical to global sustainable growth. The campaign comprises 10 videos, such as one that explores whether skills such as emotional intelligence have been undervalued by school education systems in countries like Singapore. The campaign includes 30 text articles such as “Books and bold decisions: Eradicating childhood illiteracy and gender inequality requires system-level change” and interactive infographics that are the culmination of extensive research on the project conducted by Longitude. The FT will also run ads on its own site, as well as on social platforms.

This project took roughly four months from the ideas phase to campaign launch, according to Longitude CEO Rob Mitchell. “The integration of the different teams was key, because the strength of the idea only works if we work as a single team,” said Mitchell. Credit Suisse wanted to position itself at the forefront of education and having a strong point of view on investment in education. “They want to be known as an institute that supports that,” added Mitchell.

On top of those brand-association metrics, the FT project team will monitor the usual metrics closely such as video view-through rates, and article traffic, according to Alpha Grid managing director Roslyn Shaw. “We’ll ensure we’re doing everything to hit the target, and will tweak things along the way and boost our marketing of the project where necessary,” added Shaw.

Although a higher proportion of the FT’s revenue comes from its 940,000 print and digital subscriptions, advertising remains a core revenue driver and all marketing services revenue will go to the FT’s advertising P&L, according to Slade. The publisher doesn’t break out the exact split between advertising and subscriptions.

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