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Economist Launches Online Ad Net

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The Economist has an audience of global elites that advertisers salivate over, but its print and online reach fall short of making it a mass-reach media vehicle.
 
Today, the British-based newsweekly is trying to remedy that situation, with the launch of an online network composed of sites that reach Economist-like readers, but on a bigger scale.
 
The Ideas People Channel is the umbrella name for the network, which comprises Economist.com plus about 30 niche sites like those of Christian Science Monitor and The Nation whose content spans politics, culture and ideas. Executives said the channel would launch with 11 million monthly unique visitors in the U.S., with a goal of reaching 21 million globally.
 
Such premium content ad networks were all the rage a few years ago, as media companies like MTV Networks, Forbes and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia put together networks of their own and similar sites to extend their online reach and better compete with online giants.
 
The Economist’s Paul Rossi, managing director, evp, Americas, said the Ideas People Channel is different, because its audience is defined not by demographic traits like age, income or education but by their mindset. “Ideas” people are intellectually curious, opinionated and influential, he contends.
 
“It builds around the Economist audience,” he said. “We call it the Ideas People, because when you put a group of Economist readers in a room, there’s very little that ties them together.”
 
The IE Business School based in Madrid, Spain is the first advertiser on board, and Rossi plans to pitch the network to corporate advertisers that he says are moving dollars online in their quest to build their brands or promote a positive image.
 
“I wouldn’t use this network to sell cheap tickets to London, but in building a brand, introducing a new product, introducing people to a new idea, this is an efficient way of doing it,” he said.
 
The effort comes as the core print publication’s growth has slowed. Year-over-year ad page growth is flat so far this year after falling 20 percent in 2009. Circulation grew 1.5 percent to 822,695 in the first half of 2010 after stronger growth of 3.3 percent and 8.5 percent in the previous two six-month periods.
 
It makes sense that The Economist would want to grow the reach of its online site, which currently reaches less than 1 million monthly uniques, per Compete.com, and to publishers like Jonathan Wells of the Christian Science Monitor.

“While we have a large number of people in our audience, we don’t always have the scale advertisers are looking for, especially those involved in corporate image and advertising campaigns,” Wells said. “In the aggregate, we can provide a useful audience for advertisers.”

But it will need to convince ad buyers that the network’s audience matches that of The Economist, whose sought-after readers command a premium from marketers, pointed out Scott Daly, evp, executive media director of Dentsu America, who handles print and online buying.
 
“I would be skeptical of their ability to do that,” he said.