The Ideas People network is run by a business unit the magazine publisher launched two years ago in the US, called Ideas People Media.
The Economist is now strengthening its UK sales operation from one part-time rep to two full-timers at the end of the month, as the publisher seeks to diverse its offering.
The network was assembled by asking The Economist readers what other online publications they liked and trusted, acting on the insight that their common trait was curiosity.
According to its vice-president Stéphane Pere, the aim is to take advantage of the twin-growth trends in ad networks and online brand-building ads.
He said: "We also felt there was a lack of transparency in the market and that context matters a lot for branded content. It's a way for us to capture more marketing dollars."
Pere backs the context-based approach. "Our algorithm is our publisher list," he said. "To us the editorial proposition is the real filter to qualify the audience."
This list was double-checked against comScore data and filtered down to publications that celebrate long-form journalism, Pere explained.
In the mix of 64 sites is US investigative journalism bi-monthly magazine Mother Jones, Burma and South East Asia news site Irrawaddy.org, and AllAfrica.com, which offers African news and information for a global audience.
More familiar names for UK-based readers might be political magazines The New Statesman and Prospect, literary site The Browser, and, of course, Economist.com.
Pere said: "When you bring together about 60 publications all focusing on stimulating debate and conversation about business, innovation and culture, you attract a very specific kind of audience. That's the kind of content which attracts the ideas people – curious, opinionated and influential readers."
The network claims 44 million global unique users and 2.5 million UK unique users – with UK advertisers able to choose between national, pan-European or global buys.
Advertisers are unable to choose which specific sites they buy, and real-time bidding is not an option. Pere acknowledges the growing popularity of automated buying is making him think, but still rejects the idea of cookie targeting.
He said: "We have a direct sales team. It's a separate sales team from The Economist team, yet we are thinking about how we should approach programmatic buying.
"We know there is a trend for agencies looking for automated buys, so we are currently reviewing the opportunity to offer [this] to our audience, but for the moment, there is nothing like that.
"If some buyers are happy to buy automatically without layering any cookies targeting, I'm happy to explore this; otherwise it's challenging.
"We are selling the power of 60 publications all together and I want to make sure that, through RTB, advertisers cannot pick and choose specific websites. That's where you lose interest in our offering if you do that."
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