In-flight magazines take off for b-to-b

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When Teresa Poggenpohl, executive director-global advertising and brand management at Accenture, flies first class, she makes sure to check out what her fellow executives do to pass the time.

She is not trying to pry. Rather, she is reassuring herself about the increasing clout of in-flight magazines as b-to-b marketing vehicles.

"They're looking at these magazines as much as you can do on a plane," she said. "Outbound, they're working on their laptops, but on the way home they feel they're entitled to a bit of leisure. They put all the business materials away and take out that particular airline's in-flight magazine."

But Poggenpohl hardly goes by observation alone. She said that proprietary research conducted by Accenture has found that C- level executives these days are paying much closer attention to in-flight magazines. "They may not be a must-read but they correlate with executives' business travel."

Since 2003, Accenture has consistently run ads in both American Airlines' American Way and United Airlines' Hemispheres.

executive-focused editorial

Hemispheres makes a point to "preach to business travelers" through regular features such as "Executive Secrets," "Innerviews" and "FirstPerson," said John Masters, the magazine's publisher. "The whole mobile executive's traveling habits are changing in that traditional media doesn't cater to their needs," he said. "They're more into opt-in media as opposed to opt-out." Among Hemispheres' biggest advertisers are 3M Corp., Canon Inc. and Dell Inc.

Craig Waller, chief marketing and sales officer at custom publisher Pace Communications, which publishes Hemispheres, Delta Air Lines' Sky, US Airways and Southwest Airlines' Spirit, attributed the advertising strength among in-flight books in recent years to a more sophisticated sales approach. "We've gotten better at selling the medium," he said. "We've started to sell people what they want to buy rather than what we want to sell them."

The conventional wisdom for buying ad space in in-flight magazines has been that they cater to a captive audience. But in an increasingly wireless world, that is debatable.

Captive audience or not, in-flight magazines have generally been bucking the downward trend in print media. And with airlines starting to rebound from the financial doldrums of the first half of the decade, in-flight books may present an even more appealing buy for b-to-b advertisers.

Several in-flight titles attract an affluent audience. For example, the median household income for adults reading both American Way and Hemispheres is $147,800, according to Mendelsohn Media Research.

"Advertisers primarily look for one thing when determining where to spend their ad dollars and that is the audience," said James Ricks, publisher of American Way (350,900 circ.), which is produced by American Airlines Publishing. "The average American Way reader is a 45-year-old, highly educated businessperson with an average household income of $100,000," he said. "That person is very desirable to advertisers."

American Way's ad mix is heavy in the travel, technology and real estate categories. Hilton Hotels Corp. and Marriott Corp. have recently increased their ad buys in the magazine, Ricks said.

While it's true that executives bring myriad gadgets on board, "when they're on a flight for a few hours, there's a strong possibility they will pick up American Way at some time during their flight," Ricks said. "Another big reason for the success of American Way is that the content rivals any general-interest magazine published today. That hasn't always been the case in years past."

Jack Hanrahan, print director at ad agency OMD, whose clients include GE, FedEx and ING, agreed the content of in-flight magazines has improved markedly, making them better venues for b-to-b advertisers. "Several of these magazines have invested in editorial, and they run the kinds of features on business and technology that can make work life easier to manage," he said.

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