Secrets of ‘The Economist’s’ success

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While many magazines, particularly in the business category, are suffering from flat or declining circulations and advertising revenues, The Economist is bucking the trend. We are enjoying breakneck circulation growth. Since 2000, circulation is up 86.5% in North America, to 639,206. Readership has grown 12.3% in just the past year alone, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. More and more marketers in many categories—both b-to-b and b-to-c—are choosing The Economist to reach its young, smart, educated and influential readers. We saw 29.3% revenue growth in the first quarter, and we saw 13.6% growth in ad pages. And the editorial product is better than ever: This year we garnered a National Magazine Award nomination for General Excellence in our first year of eligibility.

So, how are we doing it?

Editorially, in an age when the importance of the connections between global events is clear, we have a truly unique product that has never been more relevant. First published in 1843 to support the case for free trade, The Economist is a global magazine written and edited for readers who share an uncommon interest in being well and broadly informed. Every weekend our readers sit down to the ritual pleasure of reading the magazine's well-considered analysis of the world's business, political, scientific, technological and cultural affairs, and the connections between them, always tightly edited and never without the dry wit and irreverent style that readers love.

Commercially, in the past 18 months we have fundamentally overhauled the way we market this extraordinary editorial product. We are committed to growing an audience that advertisers want to reach. Starting with new customer insight and a renewed focus on our brand positioning, we've focused on three key areas:

  • First, we have strongly incorporated our unique brand into all our marketing activities. We have tightened up the aesthetics and messaging in our direct marketing materials. At the same time, we have successfully launched brand marketing activities both nationally and in a number of specific target markets, in cities such as Boston, Denver, San Francisco and Washington. These integrated city campaigns have driven brand awareness to new heights, using outdoor, online, radio and print advertising to change perceptions about The Economist. Enhanced event marketing and media relations activity have established The Economist as an icon in the American media landscape. For instance, we are often quoted by American newspapers, have recently been part of a skit on "Saturday Night Live," and we're regularly quoted by commentators on such programs as "Meet the Press."

  • Second, we are focused more on our customers, looking at new channels and segments to drive subscription growth. Rather than just looking for names on lists, we use customer insights to paint a better picture of our target audience—especially where they live, where they work and what they are curious about. We have tested efforts to appeal to women, to various ethnic segments and to other niches such as students. For instance, we know that readers of The Economist are very likely to have lived or worked abroad. We have used this insight to target certain niche audiences. So marketing activities targeting Indian expatriates living in the U.S. have performed quite well. Because we charge a premium for a product that readers value—our average annual subscription price is more than $100—we have a very different revenue model than most other magazines. This allows us to invest in new marketing experiments that help us reach our aggressive growth targets.

  • Third, we have greatly expanded our newsstand and retail initiatives. Traditionally, The Economist sold well in travel hubs such as airports and train stations. We now aggressively seek new points of sale and create new retail partnerships that put us in front of our readers where they live and work. For instance, we're flying off the racks at places like Costco and Whole Foods Markets, as well as Barnes & Noble and Borders. At 62,000 single-copy sales a week, we're one of a very few magazines in the business category that continues to grow on the newsstand, and that's with a 12% price increase in January no less. Each week, we are selling more single copies than BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, The New Yorker and U.S. News & World Report.

With a superior editorial product, a consistent focus on new customer insight and a disciplined approach to brand marketing, The Economist intends to grow dramatically in the U.S. in the years to come.

Paul Rossi is publisher, North America, of The Economist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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