Finding New Readers

Part of a newspaper editor’s job used to be having an idea of what their average reader was like. In an unusual turnaround, the Financial Times’ editors asked readers what they thought their newspaper would be like, if it were a person.

The response, from female focus groups, was that if the FT were a person it would be a man.

We weren’t a party to the focus groups, so can offer no more than that. Were they asked what sort of man? How old? What was he wearing and what’s his general tone? It’s probably true that the stereotype of the FT reader hasn’t changed much in decades. Chalkstripe suit, carrying briefcase and umbrella, FT tucked under the arm. Possibly wearing a bowler hat, for older readers.

Evidently, the business world has changed since that model reader was generated. FT readers are as likely to be reading the paper on their smartphones than in paper editions. The most revered business leaders are no longer venerable City titans in Savile Row tailoring but tech geniuses on the US West Coast, who make a point of wearing Patagonia fleeces and James Perse t-shirts. Moreover, 2018’s business elite are far more likely to be politically progressive than the stereotype suggests. And while it’s true they’re disproportionately male and white compared to the rest of the population, media and business alike strive for a better gender and ethnicity balance.

So when the business world changes, how do you make coverage respond? The FT found that its paying readers skewed 80/20 male/female. Even given underrepresentation of women in the senior management ranks the newspaper targets, getting as many women to subscribe as men would bring readership up from 900,000 to near 1.5 million – what a newspaper claiming to be the authoritative voice on finance would describe as a no-brainer.

The interview with the newspaper’s head of audience engagement outlines some of the hacks the FT used to improve its rating with female readers.

Can similar hacks be used to increase male engagement and readership of newspapers and publications where men are underrepresented among subscribers and contributors? Could be an interesting thought experiment for publishers.