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Foreign Policy exec on creating customised ad solutions

Senior vice president and publisher of Foreign Policy, Amer Yaqub, spoke to Olga Nasalskaya about the innovative ways in which the brand competes in today's crowded advertising marketplace.

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How has this year’s magazine redesign affected ad sales?

The magazine not only looks better - heavier paper stock, more graphics, it now has new, dedicated sections that align more with advertiser and reader interests. These new sections on economics, travel, energy, technology and others give our sales team additional tools to leverage, and we are seeing more interest not only from clients from traditional ad segments but new ones as well. Our July-August edition will generate the highest revenue since 2009- not many magazines can say that.

Could you tell us more about which traditional and non-traditional ad formats you offer your clients? 

Native online advertising has been a great success for us especially for one of our fastest growing categories - nation branding. Just in the past few months, we have run campaigns for Brand South Africa, Nigeria Next and Russia Direct - an analytical publication for US-Russia experts. There are many reasons these campaigns run on FP. Firstly, it’s a natural audience for these clients. Secondly, they are very turnkey. Most importantly, we work with each client to help them tailor the content to the needs of our sophisticated audience. On the print front we have been innovative as well. We ran our first belly-band for Chevron that coincided with our year-end Global Thinkers issue which was very impactful. That generated interest from other clients as well. Beyond advertising, many of our biggest sales involve new services that were never part of advertising packages a decade ago, such as research studies, custom events, social media development, targeted mailings and consultative work on their creative strategies. We are truly more like McKinsey consultants than strictly media salespeople now. These new services have helped distinguish us from our competition. 

David Rothkopf, CEO and editor, mentioned that you are planning to expand your video production on both editorial and business sides. 

We are building the capacity to produce both podcasts and video. Video is a very lucrative part of the advertising market, with very high CPMs and limited inventory. But people are familiar with video format because they see it on TV, and pre-rolls are now part of many online campaigns. Like many other media companies, we have found that creating the in-house expertise to produce podcasts and other multimedia formats is the best way to go for our clients and for ourselves. 

Have you thought at all about programmatic advertising?

For us, advertising is about understanding the client’s biggest problems and coming back to them with big ideas and “never-been-done-before” programs for them. Almost all of our biggest deals are multiple year efforts for which straight advertising is only a small portion. Though programmatic buying will no doubt play a larger role in the advertising marketplace especially for B2C campaigns, it's of lesser value for the kind of thought leadership clients we attract. But for clients who just want a digital campaign across multiple platforms with big reach, programmatic might be a viable solution. 

With the average media website averaging four million uniques per month, how does FP’s audience compare? Is it big enough to go into programmatic? 

We don’t have the ambition to grow our audience to a hundred million uniques a month. We have a unique foothold with a global, professional, influential audience and we want to stick to that niche. In short, though programmatic may be an opportunity for websites of our size each media property has to weigh the benefits vs. the potential challenges.

FP has seven different newsletters, some of them are traditional “best stories from the web site” but some are “long reads in your inbox”. How important are newsletters for your business? 

We often sell newsletters as a part of package deals. Two of our newsletters in particular have been successful in attracting new business. “Editor’s Picks” which is an afternoon product in the US that allows our readers to see what FP editors think are the most important news stories of the day. It generates extremely high click thru rates, and a wide range of clients have used it, from embassies to universities to advocacy groups. Another one is “Morning Brief” which is a compact summary of what happened in the world last night. Both of these newsletters have become very important to our revenue. We expect the newsletter revenue volume to grow substantially in the future.  

How big is your sales team?

The advertising sales team consists of five people, with one person based in New York, and four based in Washington, DC. The kinds of people that succeed at FP are those who have a broader interest than just selling advertising. You have to be a true consultative seller, you have to understand and be passionate about the content we produce every day. We hire extremely bright people from various fields - many who had not previously sold media but have excelled quickly. For example, our advertising director who focuses on one our biggest endemic business categories - Brian Ackerman - has a master’s degree from an international affairs school, is fluent in Portuguese and became an expert on higher education by working at a consulting company. He is in charge of our education business and is creating the next generation of digital products for the education market. Emily Simon, our vice president for international, is an expert on nation branding and has helped bring in a half dozen sovereign clients - many of them exclusive to FP. 

If your goal isn't to have 100 million uniques, explain how FP’s audience is changing. Is there anything special about your readers?

Having a hundred million people per month might be good for some advertisers, especially consumer goods. However, our audience consists of decision makers at the highest levels of business, government, academia, and the media. There is a limited pool of those decision makers. We don’t know what the upper limit is yet. We are constantly looking for ways to grow, but we want to grow consistent with our DNA, which is a very influential and important audience worldwide. 40 per cent of our readers come from outside the US. We continue to find that the global conversation on many key issues is underserved in other media. There are many media companies who have cut back on international coverage, or cover international issues only in times of crisis. We may be niche, but we happen to be a niche publication for what we consider the most important people in the world. The good news for us is that global issues are only getting more complicated every day, and we have been covering them for almost 50 years - this is not new territory for us. There is rarely a national story that doesn’t have a global dimension. For FP, the future is bright because of the world we live in and we are excited to provide value to our clients in both traditional and new ways. 

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