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Sun 12 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Time targets aggressive growth in Middle East

Not content with running the European edition of Time, Laurie Benson now has her sights firmly set on the Middle East.

|~|LaurieBenson_m.jpg|~|Benson… “Our investment in the Middle East & Africa region is long term”|~|Laurie Benson is struggling to make herself heard over the workman hammering next door. Reclined in a leather armchair, the well-travelled American in the designer shoes is talking about her plans to spread the word of Time magazine in the Middle East. But the dull thudding from the other side of the wall is a distraction. It’s all a contrast to the stylish surroundings of her central London office, just off Waterloo Bridge and offering a side-on view of the River Thames.

Benson started her role as publisher for Time in Europe, the Middle East & Africa in February this year, after a spell working on cable TV in her native US. “It is a sign that Time is committing to the region in a really big way,” she says of her new position.
Time’s circulation in the Middle East is 5500, making it one of the biggest international news magazines in the region but smaller than local based business titles such as Gulf Business and Arabian Business, which tops the 18,000 mark.

Time’s Middle East circulation equates to around 16,000 readers. But it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the magazine’s worldwide circulation — 5.5 million with 32 million readers. While many will associate the magazine with airports, the publishing model tends to be very subscription heavy, up to 80% of sales. And those subscribers stay with the magazine for an average of eight years.

“We definitely appeal to a very globally minded and elite audience. The type of person we attract has an international mindset. The fact that they speak English signifies a certain education level and they tend to be affluent,” says Benson.

“Time does very well in the Middle East, partly because the main advertising categories are finance and travel. They are both in the sweet-spot of Time’s audience. One of my mandates is to raise the profile of Time for finance and travel advertisers. They [advertisers] know the name and the brand... [but] we can do a better job letting them know more about the actual traits of our audience.”

To that end, Benson is preparing to go on tour. She will lead an editorial and publishing tour of the Middle East this Autumn, alongside international editor Michael Elliott. The aim of the tour is to increase business from the magazine’s key advertiser base of financial institutions and travel companies.

“We will be meeting the key influentials in the media community, as well as presenting our story to the agencies, with a focus to elevating our position as tool for business advertisers,” she says.

So the Middle East is not simply the recipient of a token annual trip — the neglected corner of the EMEA territory?

“No, it’s very important to us, particularly as there are some very high profile finance and travel advertisers,” says Benson.

There is further work to be done for Benson if she is to add to a regional advertiser list that already includes Emirates, Dubai Civil Aviation and the Qatar Foundation. But the advantage of working on Time, she says, is that the brand is one of the most powerful in the entire magazine world.

“It is a global brand. The name Time does instil a sense of credibility and authority that makes it appealing,” says Benson.

Her case was boosted by a recent international air travel survey, which was based on 25 of the biggest international airports. The survey queried more than 28,000 people in airports around the world, including the Middle East. “More people said they read Time coming in and out of the Middle East than The Economist or the other business titles. That’s a great story for Time,” she says.

“Most business decision makers read a news magazine. While the daily newspapers are important, they don’t have the circulation that Time or The Economist has.”
Another string to Time’s bow is that it can now run separate front covers for the Middle East. Ariel Sharon recently appeared exclusively on front covers across the region while Bill Gates appeared on the regular EMEA edition.

“We can customise the editorial relevant to the region. It is one of the things that really differentiates Time,” she says.

So what about some editorial in Arabic? “We explore it, but our mission is to be an international magazine. To do a local language edition is probably not on target with what we are trying to accomplish. Our readers have an international point of view, not just a regional one,” she says.

This is Benson’s second spell with Time, during a media career that has spanned 20 years. Most of her career has been based in New York, where she worked on the launch of two cable TV channels — Home and Garden Television and Oxygen Media.

“Those years in TV allow me to understand a marketer’s holistic objectives rather than just print,” she says. “But I always wanted this job and when it became available I picked up the phone and reminded the man I had worked for 10 years earlier that I wanted to come over. This is really a dream job for me.”

Benson already has her stall set out for the Middle East, which she says requires a certain mindset. “You have to have your feet on the ground, have a presence in the marketplace, telling your story and having relationships with people,” she says.

But Benson admits that Time does not struggle to get through the door of agencies. “Given the power of the brand name we have an advantage,” she says. “Much as we have access to world leaders editorially, we have access to most of the major marketers. The Middle East is an evolving media marketplace. It may be less reliant on research than some other markets but I think we will see that change.”

In addition to chasing down advertisers across the region, Benson will also be looking to grow the magazine’s circulation in the Middle East. She says there is still an “untapped” pool of potential readers in the region and that she has just secured a partnership with a “very powerful marketer” to do targeted direct marketing.

And, while Timehas a dedicated circulation team in London, a local database will enable it to drill directly into that “untapped” market. “Our investment in the Europe, Middle East & Africa region is long term,” she adds.

The workman has stopped banging next door. But for Benson the work has only just begun. Expect to see her this Autumn.||**||

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