It is no surprise The Economist was again the top choice of magazine for PR professionals in PRWeek’s 2009 Power Book.
But despite mounting adulation, The Economist is unusually shy when the spotlight is turned on itself. A representative for the magazine says it regularly turns down requests for input from Newsnight and the Today programme and its byline-free content adds to its faceless aura.
‘Part of its allure is the brand edifice that gets between the reader and the writers,’ says David Brain, president and CEO Edelman Europe. ‘At a time when quality broadsheets are increasingly personality-based, The Economist has become even more impenetrable.’
The most recent ABC figures revealed the UK edition of The Economist to be up 3.1 per cent year on year and 6.4 per cent per cent globally. Perhaps most noteworthy is that 56.6 per cent of copies are sold in the US – with North American circulation growing 156 per cent over the past ten years.
There is no doubt that the magazine has tapped into the credit crunch zeitgeist – a movement that has seen the FT and Money Week also buck the trend of falling sales.
But The Economist occupies different territory in that it does not so much provide its readers with world news as information about the world. Few other media outlets attempt to match The Economist’s depth and breadth of analysis and pull together key themes across business, politics, trade and social issues.
The impact of the brand is also boosted by the The Economist Intelligence Unit. Although a separate entity, its research and analysis of countries and industries will often be the first port of call for its journalists to add gravitas to their own analysis.
‘It is essential reading,’ says Charles Watson, CEO of FD. ‘It is hugely incisive and I will always come away from reading it with a fresh perspective on something very relevant to me and our business.’
Ahead of the game
A bastion of free-market economic liberalism, the magazine nonetheless sounded long and loud warnings about impending doom in the housing markets and the time-bomb of personal debt – often to the point of ridicule – when other publications were just enjoying the ride.
It is happy to delight and infuriate the political left and right in equal measure – its endorsement of Obama was widely reported (it endorsed Bush over Gore in 2000), but recent editions have warned of the dangers of state over-spending and ‘big government’.
Research in 2007 showed two-thirds of its US readers had an income exceeding $100,000 – a demographic that would make many PROs salivate, if only they could get to them. And therein lies the problem.
‘The Economist is one of the most influential, but also most difficult places to secure coverage,’ says Andy Rowlands, director in the corporate, issues and technology practice at Burson-Marsteller.
As The Economist seeks to add value to topics that have usually already been extensively covered, any PR pitch has to reflect that wider view.
Speed is of the essence
While renowned for the depth of its analysis, one senior agency source notes editor John Micklethwait and his team ‘react very quickly to how global issues are boiling down’ and PR professionals have very little time to give them quality input.
And quality seems to be the consideration where The Economist is concerned. Michael Gonzalez, senior media consultant at Lewis PR, says only CEOs or genuine leaders in their field will even be considered.
Edelman’s Brain and FD’s Watson argue larger agencies can find themselves at an advantage with the publication given their access to a wider variety of globally renowned business leaders.
Watson says: ‘Any corporate and financial comms consultancy that claims to be a leader in what it does has to have a means of accessing The Economist. If it does not it is failing its clients.’
'It is not unapproachable'
Eileen Wise, former global PR head at The Economist and now A freelance comms consultant stresses that PROs ‘must not think The Economist is unapproachable'. She says: ‘It has the best journalists who like to be approached by PRs and others if it helps them to write good stories, enabling them to produce an excellent magazine.'
Wise stresses that they PRs need to have a genuine understanding of the magazine or they are likely to get rather short shrift - as a consumer PRO who pitched a competition idea to her will doubtless attest to.
She adds: ‘It is beneficial for senior PR people to build up a relationship with some of the business and economic writers. Once they have built up a good rapport and the journalists understand about their company or clients they will find, in time, that the journalists may start coming to them when they need information or comment on a particular subject or industry.'
This preparation and building of relationships is described as ‘core media relations’ by Gonzalez. He says: ‘It takes time, effort and understanding, but it will all be worth it if you crack The Economist.’