The Economist kicked off the year trumpeting its continuing success as the 'preferred business title' of global commerce. Its publicists were citing a Global Capital Markets survey that found that 40 per cent of CEOs and senior banking executives reached for The Economist ahead of rivals Business Week, Time, Forbes and Fortune.
The business and international affairs weekly has an average net global circulation of 1,038,522 (it broke the million mark at the end of 2004), and the UK edition has an ABC of 155,371. Given that Time has a UK circulation of 139,105, it is easy to see why comms professionals wanting to influence the world's top-spending decision makers would want positive mentions in The Economist.
Edelman London CEO Stuart Smith describes the magazine as the 'gold standard' of any high-level corporate PR campaign. 'This is where people want to see good news about their organisation.
'It is the biggest challenge to get this in The Economist,' he says. So when the magazine chose to publicise its relevance to the business community, it was almost a celebration rather than a reminder of its success in that sector. After all, with a history dating back to 1843 and iconic ad campaigns, awareness of its power scarcely needs reiterating.
As Burson-Marsteller head of corporate and technology Jonathan Jordan points out, its broad readership makes it an illustrious target: 'Most rivals appeal to a quite narrow audience, but you will see students on the train reading The Economist. It is important to business people because it is important to people outside the business world.'
Its appeal is based on a carefully guarded reputation for objectivity in articles that analyse and comment on the most significant trends.
Articles are frequently controversial, forensically argued and seldom pull their punches. But while avowedly free-market in its philosophy, its opinions and editorial direction are not as predictable as those of some national newspapers.
This can be a bit of a conundrum for PR professionals. Their lives are already made difficult by the publication's trademark strategy of not bylining articles or listing the names of editorial contacts on its flannel panel. 'One of the big challenges with The Economist is that nothing is bylined,' admits one senior PRO. 'You don't know who is writing what unless you have a good feel for the publication.'
Communicators also remark on the longevity of many specialist writers, who often have very close relationships with company CEOs.
Editor Bill Emmott reckons a specialist writer spends around five years covering a particular sector before moving on to a different part of the magazine.
He says he does not deal much with PROs, but is keen to attend chief executive and chairman forums where he can 'get a steer' on the business community's concerns.
Targeting The Economist's specialist writers is also difficult.
Influential technology editor Tom Standage laments that PROs frequently fail to understand that the magazine is a global publication. Although around 50 of its 75 journalists are based in London, the magazine has offices across the globe including in Paris, New York, Washington DC, Moscow, Delhi and Bangkok. It also employs a network of stringers and 'super-stringers', foreign freelancers who write exclusively for The Economist: it is the job of all these writers to know their local markets and sectors inside out.
Standage, who oversees the quarterly technology section, says this global network of journalists means that offers by PROs to facilitate London meetings with globetrotting CEOs are generally superfluous.
He also stresses that The Economist is not interested in press releases on new company products.
As well as the weekly print magazine, The Economist has a breaking-news website called Global Agenda, launched in October 2000. As an adjunct to the magazine's main site, economist.com, it provides more regular analysis, comment and news throughout the week and at weekends.
While Standage tends to take the view that he would not be doing his job properly if he made extensive use of PROs, Emmott believes the PR industry can be important to The Economist if it provides the access and detailed background required.
Jordan cautions that anyone dealing with the magazine must tread carefully and read the magazine religiously before approaching its journalists. But even then a crude approach will get short shrift.
'They want a client that can provide genuine insight and colour to a trend they are following – not some announcement about a particular product,' Jordan says.
The jealous way in which The Economist's writers guard their integrity and objectivity is a source of frustration for some PROs. But as practitioners such as Smith point out, if PROs have helped to get their client named alongside an authoritative quote, they have really struck gold.
Contacts at The Economist
Merrill Stevenson 020 7830 7057
Tamzin Booth 020 7830 7062
Science and technology editor
Geoffrey Carr 020 7830 7097
Finance and economics editor
Patrick Lane 020 7830 7140
Books and arts editor
Fiammetta Rocco 020 7830 7042
Business affairs editor
Edward Carr 020 7830 7054
Gideon Rachman 020 7830 7005
Head of global agenda
Matthew Valencia 020 7830 7087
John Peet 020 7830 7155
John Micklethwait 020 7830 7107
020 7576 1033
Middle East and Africa editor
Xan Smiley 020 7830 7051
Email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org