The Financial Times, in partnership with Lloyds Bank, is set to give free FT.com access to all UK secondary schools, colleges and academies from the start of the new academic term in September, in a move it hopes will turn school-goers into long-term subscribers.
The FT launched the initiative in response to what its business customers, teachers and young readers believed would boost the recruitment process for universities and employment.
"We saw this need to allow teachers and students to use the FT to bring some more context to what they are studying and relate what they are studying to what they might do after school," said Caspar de Bono, the FT’s B2B managing director.
"Schools say the best candidates are the ones who can demonstrate they are genuinely interested in their subject and have read beyond what they are given, but the same narrative is coming from employers who are saying the best candidates are the ones who really light up on the subject and can have a discussion about that industry."
In order to best fulfil this need, the publisher has recruited a panel of secondary school teachers who will find the most relevant articles on the FT and explain them with a brief introduction of why they are relevant to the curriculum. These will be curated in a weekly email.
“Our pilot study showed that just making FT.com free wasn't enough - there needs to be a guiding light for which articles are particularly relevant to the curriculum, why you should read them, what the key takeaways were. We have teachers who are willing to help us do that,” de Bono added.
Andrew Jack, the FT’s head of curation, is leading the project editorially and will highlight existing FT journalism that is relevant to secondary school students, while including a mix text, videos and podcasts in the weekly email to “appeal to a younger reader”.
Lloyds Bank is bankrolling the project and will be promoting it to their employees and customers in the hope that young students will perceive the bank as one that “supports the younger generation as they look to their future”, de Bono said.
“We feel extremely passionate about this initiative - through our strength, empathy and experience, we’re eager to support and be by the side of the younger generation, as they look to the future and prepare to take their next step,” said Jean Reddan, head of marketing at Lloyds Bank.
The FT has a lot the gain from the project too. Not only does this open up a whole slew of audience behaviour knowledge about the coveted younger generation, it also provides the publisher with direct, regular access to potential paying subscribers from a young age.
“We get to understand better how different generations use the FT. Our whole strategy is about having a direct relationship with readers, understanding our readers better, evolving our business as media habits change. Having that understanding of how the next generation uses the FT is really important to us,” de Bono said.
“The other is a long term subscription ambition: we think if people become familiar with the FT while they are studying and thinking about their life choices they are more likely to read the FT later in life as well.”
But is it problematic that a commercial business will be dictating what school students should be reading, in order to turn those readers into paid subscribers down the line? De Bono believes the initiative has altruistic roots over commercial ones: “We are not going to actively market to or sell to the students while they are at secondary school - that is not our intention.”
The initiative follows what the FT called a “successful trial” at The Leys School in Cambridge, the school of sixth form student Krishan Puvvada who did his work experience at the FT and later introduced FT journalism into the school.
Krishan Puvvada said: “It is very important for young people like me to better understand the wider implications of economics, politics and business on society, in order to fully appreciate the value of what is taught in our lessons. This initiative can really bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world, preparing students for working life after school. I hope many other students find the FT as engaging, inspiring and useful as I have.”
The FT and Lloyds Bank will be launching an extensive marketing and social media campaign to encourage parents, teachers and students to sign up to the initiative, which will run for the full school year.