Hughes offers a global vision of the FT

As a refreshed Financial Times hits the news-stands, Julia Martin talks to the senior executive who is overseeing the brand's growing penetration of the lucrative international content market

Ben Hughes claims he has a rather pathetic CV.

This seems a bit disingenuous, coming from the global commercial director and deputy chief executive of the Financial Times.

True, Hughes could abbreviate his career path to: "1983, joined FT; 2007, still here", but that would be to gloss over his rise through the ranks since joining the famous salmon-pink paper as a keen young sales and marketing manager 24 years ago.

Bearing in mind his previous role was at Playboy, it must have been a fairly mind-boggling culture change to suddenly find himself at such a traditional institution as the FT. Hughes admits that when he joined, he thought it was "a very British place of umbrellas and bowler hats".

The staid image didn't put him off though and there's certainly no sign of boredom setting in.

Hughes is on excellent form when we meet, riding high after an impressive set of ABC results and glowing with the excitement of yesterday's (Monday) "refresh".

It is not, he stresses, a "redesign". "We are making a few tweaks," he says. "It will be sharper and crisper."

Part of the idea is to make it easier for the reader to navigate, not just through the paper, but onto as well. The website is unique among fellow UK newspaper sites because of its subscription model. In an age of free information, it seems a brave move to charge people for content, but Hughes is unequivocal that it's the right one.

Revenue streams

"I've seen a few cycles in my time and one of the reasons we follow that model is that it's very difficult to rely on advertising all the time. We need to look at different revenue streams," he explains.

Investigating those streams preoccupies much of Hughes' thinking. On the digital side, the brand is embracing technological opportunities such as podcasts and videocasts - its View from the Top series of interviews with leading thinkers, for example.

"We're making good money with the print edition, but the challenge for everybody is to make sure we monetise the dotcom side of the business," he says.

"Ours is growing by close to 50%, but in terms of yield, dotcom as yet is only 10% of global revenue."

But it's not all about new media. The FT is also investing in other, more traditional brand extensions such as magazines and the events and conferences business, which is growing at an impressive rate.

And Hughes has every intention of grabbing a big piece of that growth, with conferences like the Business of Luxury Summit in Venice this June, now in its third year.

"We should be making more of that business - with the strength of the brand, we can make a lot of money from it," he says.

A change of structure at the end of last year means that selling this lucrative business now falls under his remit, with a fully integrated sales team that allows the brand to cross-sell its proliferating platforms.

"The aim is to go to the client or agency and say 'you can come into contact with the c-suite audience we deliver through all these platforms, and it's a fantastic one-stop shop to associate your brand with the FT," he explains.

Global appeal

Another key attraction for clients, as Hughes repeatedly points out, is the FT's global reach and appeal. With the word global in his job title, it's fitting that the international perspective permeates his conversation. And while he dislikes the term "global citizen", this wealthy, worldly consumer is a clear target.

"In an international market, people are seeking a global perspective on what's happening on a daily basis in the news," he proffers.

This is especially salient as circulation figures suggest that overseas is where the brand is growing. The latest ABC figures show a year-on-year increase of 15.36% in the US, compared with 3.14% in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

While defending the UK circulation - "we were losing circulation a year ago, but that's no longer the case" - Hughes consistently describes the FT as a global brand. This is reflected in the fact that 59% of its UK display revenues come from UK clients buying international packages - increasingly branding campaigns by banks, technology companies and luxury goods.

"Why are they doing that in the FT? Because we have an audience they are striving to reach - we are delivering a top-class readership," he says.

And despite the proliferation of information online, in freesheets and in competing quality papers, they will keep turning to the FT, he contends, because "they want the expert analysis our journalists give to a piece of news".

With the view of St Paul's glinting through the window of Hughes' corner office, it's impossible to forget the brand's London roots. But with the rise of the "global citizen", it seems the FT is now just as at home in New York, Paris or Tokyo

2006: Global commercial director and deputy chief executive, FT
2003: Worldwide advertising director, FT
1997: Managing director for Continental Europe, Rest of the World and
Asia Pacific, FT
1995: Worldwide ad sales director, FT
1994: Joined newspaper management board, FT
1993: Advertisement and marketing director (Continental Europe), FT
1991: European ad director, FT
1987: Publishing director, FT (France)
1983: Sales and marketing manager (France), Financial Times (Europe)
1981: European advertising sales executive, Playboy and Media Networks
1976: Various teaching roles, UK and France.

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