MEDIA ANALYSIS: Navigating the new FT weekend

FT Weekend has been consolidated into fewer sections and its content has been spiced up to retain readers' interest. Claire Murphy speaks to editor Andy Davis.

Andy Davis is familiar to anyone who has been in the PR industry for a while as the founder of the much-missed Creative Business supplement in the FT, which documented trends in marketing and PR.

After a spell working for the FT in India, Davis is now back on PROs' radar as the architect of the newly relaunched FT Weekend.

The changes made by Davis and his team have been largely concerned with sharpening the newspaper's design and shifting regular sections to make it a more logical read. Book reviews, for example, have been expanded and moved out of the magazine into the Life & Arts section. News is now merged with the old Companies & Markets section. Davis has also brought in new columnists to spice up its appeal - Tyler Brule returns, along with star fund manager Anthony Bolton.

Seeing things in a new way
Davis was keen to consolidate the paper into as few sections as possible. 'The era of multi-sectioned newspapers is coming to an end,' he says. 'It has been hastened by the rising costs of paper and falling ad revenues, but mostly because readers get annoyed when they flick through sections that immediately end up in the recycling bin. People are now far less tolerant of waste.'

In order that readers will always find something that interests them in each section, Davis has two key criteria that he and his commissioning editors use to judge each potential story: 'It must make them think "I didn't know that, and I'm glad I do now" or "I'd never thought of it that way".'

The ideal piece of FT Weekend journalism, says Davis, will equip its highly discerning readership to come to their own conclusions on an issue. 'They don't accept conventional wisdom - they like to be challenged and learn to see things in a different way,' he believes.

One recent issue featured a piece on how the recession is affecting consumers' clothing choices, including a box-out on Alberta Ferretti's rose-tinted glasses. A travel feature sent novelist Carl MacDougall well off the beaten track to the Japanese island of Miyajima ('where it is forbidden to cut down trees, give birth or die').

The cover story in the relaunch issue, three weeks ago, looked at plastic packaging. It took the unusual angle of arguing that plastics are far more environmentally friendly than anyone thinks, and quoted industry experts including Marks & Spencer's head of packaging Helene Roberts.

'It was a very insightful article,' says M&S corporate PR manager Olivia Ross, who dealt with the freelance writer of the piece, Sam Knight. 'It looked at the bigger picture and all the complexities, bringing new thinking to the issue.'

'It's a tough sell'
Clearly FT Weekend is a sought-after platform for PROs with clients who want to appeal to this opinion-forming readership. Patrick Barrow, head of corporate at Ketchum London, thinks its strength is that it 'resists the temptation to overdo the lifestyle coverage'.

Mark Hutchinson, a director at Colman Getty, handles authors including Nigella Lawson and JK Rowling. He points to the 'Lunch with the FT' feature as a prime target for book publicists and is pleased that books coverage has now been expanded. The international readership has also proved useful when promoting a book with extensive overseas distribution, he reports.

But, cautions Matt Gower, director at CitySavvy, there is a direct relationship between the value of the coverage and the effort required in preparing a pitch. 'This isn't the kind of publication where you'd put in a quick call to gauge initial interest in an idea before lining up the spokespeople and the research,' he says. 'It's a tough sell - you need to package your pitch fully with a clear angle, a great photo and an exclusive. Make it clean and well-structured.'


Frequency: Weekly, remaining on sale on Saturday and Sunday. Luxury guide How to Spend It appears fortnightly.

Audience: The FT sold an average of 448,241 daily copies in April (ABC), two-thirds to overseas buyers. Industry estimates put the circulation of the FT Weekend title at around 550,000.

Deadlines: Most sections are planned two to three weeks ahead:

The magazine goes to press on Fridays, one week ahead of publication

House & Home is finalised the following Wednesday

Life & Arts go on the Thursday evening

Money section and the main newspaper are sent to press on Fridays

- Nicholas Spencer, acting House & Home editor
- Lucy Tuck, Life & Arts editor
- Matthew Vincent, Money editor
- Gillian De Bono, How to Spend It editor


Is there a 'typical' FT Weekend reader? What do they have in common?
We have a really broad spectrum of readers, from the City people checking share prices to the people who would never buy the paper during the week. What does unite them is that they have a highbrow approach.

Andy DavisThey are interested in quality, extremely well-informed and rightly expect high standards of us. They are also more than aware that the world doesn't stop at Dover and enjoy reading about international issues.

What proportion of your editorial is written by freelancers?
News is almost exclusively produced by staffers, but around 50 per cent of the magazine features come from freelancers. We also have a large stable of regular freelancers who write for the Life & Arts and How to Spend It sections.

What's your attitude to pitches from PR people?
I'm a firm believer that a good idea can come from anywhere. But they have to be really good. It's a cliche, but there really is no better preparation than to read the paper and get a feel for what our readers are interested in. Pitch to the section editors or to me for the magazine.

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