How the FT is using hundreds of global events to propel it towards 1m circulation
Today it is hosting a renewable energy summit at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires, featuring 13 speakers and hosted by the paper’s Southern Cone correspondent, Benedict Mander. Yesterday it was at the historic Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt (where JFK stayed in 1963), with comment and analysis editor Frederick Studemann chairing the paper’s latest conference in a series on Brexit, staged with KPMG and featuring the accountancy giant’s head of Brexit, Karen Briggs.
On Thursday next week it will stage three separate events around the world: a forum on risk management in New York, a leadership briefing in Hong Kong in partnership with HSBC, and the second day of a summit on the future of banking, taking place in Cote d’Ivoire and featuring contributions from the FT’s East Africa correspondent John Aglionby and Ibrahim Stevens, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.
In total, the annual calendar for FT Live runs to a diary-busting 200-plus events in 44 countries across all five continents. It has reached a point where James Gunnell, head of FT Live, admits there may even be too many of these FT-branded gatherings. “For me the overarching strategy is fewer, bigger, better events,” he says. “We do 200 events at the moment and ideally I would like to do slightly less than that but make them bigger and make more money from each event.”
High finance meets high fashion
The FT Weekend Festival is a good example of what he means by “better”. Taking place last Saturday in the lush green surroundings of Kenwood House on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath, it featured eight diverse stages and was a high-class mix of culture and serious debate, where wine-tasting and wild cooking sessions competed with discussions on Brexit and the economy for the attention of FT readers. It was also “bigger”, drawing 2,649 visitors compared to the 2,000 who attended the inaugural event last year.
The programme included editor Lionel Barber, breaking new ground by publicly discussing forthcoming editorials, and star writers Simon Kuper and Tim Harford talking about how they write their columns.
One of the star attractions was the former columnist Lucy Kellaway talking about her new life as a maths teacher in an inner London secondary school. It might sound like bad marketing to give a headline slot to someone who walked away from the brand to another job but Kellaway still contributes monthly pieces to the paper she joined 32 years ago.
Moreover, as the FT’s vast events programme shows, it is becoming a requirement of modern journalism to appear in a crowded space to voice expert instruction on a specialist subject and hold the attention of an audience. Kellaway’s new career path is less radical than some might think.
Gunnell says that FT journalists are relishing the opportunity to be live performers. “We offer media training to journalists who take part in the events and people want to take part because it’s good for the brand, it’s good for them to be able to get out and meet their readers and the people they write about, and it’s good for their journalist brand as well.”
The FT has been steadily building its events offering for three years and the first B2C offerings were talks with book authors including the football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The ambition is now much greater and revenue contributed by FT Live grew by 10% last year in a market that Gunnell says is “very competitive and increasingly so”.
The value of B2C events like the FT Weekend Live Festival is that they help sell more reader subscriptions. The FT’s total paid-for circulation, as of June 2017, is 870,000 (up 9 per cent year-on-year) and 666,000 of these are digital subscriptions (rising at 13 per cent year-on-year)....MUCH MORE