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Dec 18, 2002
Case Study

How FT.com Kept Ad Sales Strong in 2002

SUMMARY: When FT.com's COO Zach Leonard said "Yes" to a MarketingSherpa interview, he did not know we were going to grill him for 75 solid minutes about every aspect of their business. He was very good natured, and forthcoming.

In this first part of our two-part Case Study on FT.com, you will discover how the site's ad sales team have been able to keep sales high despite the economy, and which of the new units offered are most popular with media buyers
CHALLENGE

It is the largest (and pinkest) business information website in the world.

Launched in 1995, FT.com has used its massive brand, content, and audience to support strong revenues based on advertising and content syndication deals.

Heading toward 2002, with sponsors cutting online ad budgets and competitors cutting rates and agreeing of off-rate deals, COO Zach Leonard needed to find ways of keeping ad revenues strong.

CAMPAIGN

On May 18, 2002, FT.com launched a revamped website, aimed at improving the look, feel and navigation of the site. The revamp also enabled more sophisticated ad-targeting. Precision targeting was just one of a raft of six tactics developed to support advertising revenues.

-> Tactic #1: Building closer advertiser relationships

Rather than assigning accounts simply by region, FT.com divided its ad sales reps into teams focusing on relationships:

- The client team works direct with advertisers on key accounts

- The agency team works with agencies to help them work better with their clients

- Vertical specialist teams focus in one market area, such as "technology" or "finance"

- The classified group handles both FT.com and the print paper, and includes recruitment ads

The client team is the most critical. Leonard saw the future in building more direct relationships with the advertisers themselves. Recent award-winning ad campaigns on the site have seen the sales team work together with the actual advertiser to plan the campaign around the latter's stated objectives and budget.

Leonard adds, "In many areas the agency component is really critical, certainly on the creative side, but when it really comes down to flexibility, negotiations and speed, you have to make as few stops as possible."

"In our major relationships we increasingly get told, 'here's our marketing problem or here's our new product; help us to market it through your interactive space'."


-> Tactic #2: Offering a wide range of formats

The site offers a huge array of possible ad formats, which sales reps combine into customized packages.

These include 468 x 60 banners, 120 x 600 skyscrapers, 240 x 400 in-article banners, 125 x 125 cubes, 240 x 30 buttons, 445 x 25 ribbon units, 120 x 60 sidebars, 88 x 31 navigation tiles, e-newsletter ads, sponsorships, games and special promotions, and numerous novel formats (see below for media kit link).

A sample package, for example, might be road blocking, where an advertiser surrounds the content on a page with a standard banner ad above the text, a skyscraper ad down one side, and a button ad down the other.


-> Tactic #3: Developing sophisticated targeting capacity

The revamped site can target ads according to six main criteria, including:

Targeting criteria a. Site selection, meaning advertisements served only to, for example, the US site version. Leonard: "That ability is quite important to a financial services company that can only speak to a given population based on legal constraints."

Targeting criteria b. User profile. The site uses cookie-based data to split users by typical behavior - ads can then be shown only to those users who tend to visit just the technology areas, for example. User registration data (see below) also allows targeting by position, interest, company size, etc.

Targeting criteria c. Geographical visitor origin, based on their ISP.

Targeting criteria d. Visiting frequency. Integrated with user profiling, advertisements can be targeted to infrequent visitors, who browse particular vertical markets, for example.

Targeting criteria e. Time of day, thus allowing Day Part programming.

Targeting criteria f. Content targeting, matching ads to particular content topics or editorial.


-> Tactic #4: Offering cutting edge ad units

FT.com policy is to be at the forefront of ad technologies and approaches, both as a strategy to keep CPMs high, and to position the site as a current and creative advertising environment.

There is full support for rich media, and among the new advertising formats introduced recently are:

- Surround sessions
- In-article ads
- Watermarks; background images sold primarily on the tearsheets (quotes) pages
- Interstitials
- Freeze-screen banners
- Mobile on-screen animations

Leonard has not seen any negative user reactions to some of the more "intrusive" ad units, though he admits the site is more careful in this regard than it was 18 months ago. "Back then there was the exuberance of 'let's try this technology because it's there' - we're more discerning now."

Nevertheless, he is actively reducing the use of pop-ups and pop-under formats, "our commitment to creativity means going about new ways of doing things."

Those pop-up campaigns still run are carefully designed to be more creative or high-brow than on most sites. "We try to make them exciting and interactive, as opposed to just a big large banner kind of thing."

Recent examples included a pop-up campaign to help launch a new Mercedes, which invited people to qualify for a holiday, and a campaign for ING Direct which provided an insight into the accounts' setup at this online banking services provider.


-> Tactic #5: Integration with print Financial Times ads

FT.com works with advertisers to build print and online campaigns which are genuinely integrated. A recent campaign for BT, for example, involved sponsorship of special print magazine supplements, such as one on "Understanding CRM."

As well as gaining value from pass-alongs and reprints, BT benefited from an online extension of the campaign at a dedicated "Understanding CRM" microsite appended to the main FT.com site. This microsite included different and more current information, updated regularly.

Exploiting the online dimension adds new life to sponsorships of one-off print reports and publications. Leonard: "It gives the sponsor the feeling that their money is going a lot further."


-> Tactic #6: HTML e-newsletters

FT.com's email newsletters have been designed to look a lot like the website, and the ad formats available are thus similar.

"It's much more efficient for the client to provide us with just one or two sets of materials."

All these ad sales tactics work synergistically. For example, it is easier for the FT.com ad sales teams to introduce experimental or cutting-edge advertising technologies, because they have already built established relationships with big brand "cutting-edge" advertisers.




RESULTS

Despite the global downturn, FT.com's ad revenues have *not* fallen in 2002. Plus, even with revamp costs, the site is expected to break even in Q4, 2002.

"We've had very significant growth in total revenues from ads, content and subscriptions. Although the percentage contribution of advertising has fallen, actual advertising revenues haven't dropped - the change is neutral to positive. That's extraordinary in this market," says Leonard.

In the past, advertising accounted for as much as 90% of revenues, but by the end of the year, it is expected to account for around 50%. Content syndication contributes just over 40%, with the remaining 5-10% coming from subscription revenues. "Bang, on target" says Leonard.

He puts robust advertising revenues down to the tactics used, which have kept CPMs high and attracted new advertisers.

Specifically, "...precision targeting has been a significant driver in maintaining that premium CPM and has brought us several, maybe double digits worth, of new advertisers."

It is too early to say how much impact the new advertising formats are having, but Leonard revealed a couple of early insights.

- In-article advertisements are popular, "because in some cases they remind companies of what they might do in print magazines or in the newspaper."

- Road-blocking is also proving popular in association with particular events, such as a results day or AGM. "Advertisers like the idea of being able to road block a section of the site. So they get a sense of scale or bigness on that day. We like that, because there's practically one day for everybody."

- The site has some 2 million registered (free) users and just over 3 million unique visitors each month.

- Around 70% of current e-newsletter subscribers take the HTML versions. This disguises the fact that new subscribers are even more likely to choose HTML (a year ago, it was a 50:50 text/HTML split).

Sample of FT.com's media kit
http://ftcompete.ft.com/ftmediakit
See Also:

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