As FT Live reports double-digit revenue growth, it bids “good luck” to publishers joining the event market, saying “they might be too late to the party”.
FT Live, the publisher’s events arm, is on a high after reporting double-digit growth for the second year in a row, with revenues up 17 per cent year-on-year despite hosting fewer events. It's a rise that's testament to the aggression with which the publisher has tackled the events space over the last two years as it, like others, diversifies beyond advertising revenues.
Indeed, both established and young media owners are jumping on the event bandwagon, which in turn could eventually diminish the value of the event space if it becomes over-crowded.
Speaking to The Drum, Angela Mackay, global publisher of FT Live and managing director of FT Asia Pacific, said newcomers to the event space must “find a niche they can get involved in”, and will only succeed if they have the expertise and experience to be able to put on an event people want to attend and the reach to gather an audience and convince sponsors to pay for it.
“The benefit of the FT is that we have a very clear brand identity, and the quality that we deliver makes us stand out from the rest. People know exactly what they are going to get when they come to our events," said Mackay.
“Good luck to everyone else that wants to get into the market, I’m sure there are small and agile companies that will do well, but there will be others who will find they might be too late to the party.”
The “most perfected" event model the FT adopts combines revenue from sponsors and delegates. These events see its content and commercial teams working together, looking at the news agenda and figuring out where there is a gap in the market that attendees would rush to fill. It’s why the events arm introduced the FT Iran Summit last month - to inform sponsors and delegates of Iran’s potential as an investment haven for the Western world.
It all comes back to FT’s primary goal, which is to provide a “broad spectrum of content” that people are interested in and want to pay for, as it looks to boost subscription numbers. Mackay said: “Everything we do at the FT is about building quality reach, engagement with our audience and increasing our paid-for readership".
“FT Live can build that relationship with our readers and clients that are already existing in a live context, as well as increase our engagement and subscriber base with new clients who come to the events," she added.
While the FT is investing more in these larger events, it is scaling back on its clientele events, whereby a client approaches the FT to create an event for their client base moderated by the FT, but with all independent content.
It will still do client events because “they are a great source of income”, added Mackay but its new strategy is focused on delivering fewer smaller events and instead more larger repeatable events that have greater impact. This is because small events “take just as much effort” as big ones, so it makes sense to move the focus to not “dilute the efforts of the team”.
“We are not scaling back on the whole events arm, just changing the nature of what we do, because we have to be a very agile business and respond to the climate,” said Mackay.
She added publishers have to be very careful with their brand in client events, because even though a client is hiring you to do something for their own customers, “you mustn't cede your editorial independence”.
When asked if the FT is careful with the clients it chooses to work with, so as not to compromise its editorial stance, Mackay responded “I’m not picky as long as they have money”, adding “but they have to play by our rules”.
“We can’t have a client coming in saying they are the best company in the world and that is all they want to talk about. The content itself is independent, but we have to jump in and make sure the theme is right.”
She said the FT uses its judgement as an established brand to decide which clients are a no-go, but added: “If Kim Jong-Un wanted to have a big event and he was happy to leave it to us to run all the content we’d be crazy not to do it. That would be a fantastic source of stories for our editorial team.”
Moving forward, Mackay said a good time to grow into new spaces is “when it is in a downward cycle”, since this is the perfect time to approach that market and identify new opportunities. It’s why the FT is rolling out new events around oil and gas this year - despite the fact that that is a very perilous market and prices are down - to see what opportunities it can open up in this “mature and slightly depressed market”.