MEDIA ROUNDUP: Press still places stock in analysts

Despite accusations of overreliance and a slew of Wall Street scandals, analysts remain a coveted source for reporters covering a wide array of stories.

Despite accusations of overreliance and a slew of Wall Street scandals, analysts remain a coveted source for reporters covering a wide array of stories.

The New York Times' reader representative Daniel Okrent recently took the journalist community to task for its reliance on analysts, especially unnamed experts, to add perspective on stories ranging from politics to foreign affairs to business. This criticism is the latest in a line of finger-pointing aimed at the analyst community, especially those employed by Wall Street securities firms. Much of it still links back to the role some analysts played in over-hyping both individual companies and entire business categories during the dot-com boom. But despite complaints, the media continues to rely on analysts, especially among the trade and business press. "We're clearly seeing an increase in incoming inquiries from the press this year," says Tom Hayes, group VP of PR at the Gartner Group. "We get more than a 1,000 phone calls or e-mails from reporters requesting figures or comments from Gartner analysts every month, and that doesn't count the number of direct contacts between reporters and analysts." Like it or not, analysts continue to fill a major role in today's 24-7 news cycle by offering readily available third-party perspective needed for breaking stories. But it's also important to note that despite some high-profile cases - where analysts quoted in the media turned out to have conflicts of interest - many analysts, including those at the tech-centric firms that predicted the online business revolution, turned out to be largely right in the end. While stressing the firm does not feel vindicated from accusations of over-hyping dot-coms, Karyl Levinson, corporate communications director for Forrester Research, says, "It is gratifying to see that some of the trends we spoke of and some of the ways we anticipated the web would move have happened - that's what clients pay us to hear about." Changing media attitude But despite the continued prevalence of analyst quotes in many news stories, Susan Butenhoff, president and CEO of Access Communications, stresses the media's attitude toward the analyst community has changed in the past five years. "Before, to get the story written you needed the analyst's validation," she says. "Now if you provide an analyst contact to the reporter they may or may not pursue it, but it's secondary to what you definitely need, which is the customer. The analyst is no longer the tipping point to them becoming a convert to the story." There also seems to have been a subtle shift in the type of analysts now being quoted, with less use of the traditional Wall Street insiders and more use of independent, vertical-market experts. "If a reporter has the space in the article where they need some third-party reference point, they are not particularly circumspect about separating the two worlds," Butenhoff says. "But they know the difference enough to properly value the source of content as to whether it's a financial analyst or an industry analyst." Hayes adds, "There was a theory that after all the scandals on Wall Street and unfortunate endorsements of dot-com stocks that later tanked, there would be a move away from the use of securities firms and toward the more independent firms." Christine Bock, MD of wireless specialty PR firm Bock Communications, says some of that has been borne out, but she notes that in many ways the type of analyst used varies with the reporters. "The trade media tends to go to trade analysts, while the mainstream financial press goes to financial analysts," she says. Bock notes her firm maintains a robust analyst-outreach program, but says now it's less about influencing the media and more about business development. "If you're representing a startup, you want to educate the analyst community about where you are in the marketplace because the analysts will then go out and talk to all the other companies in the industry," she says. Analyst outreach The use of analysts by the media remains so prevalent that most veterans of the business can quickly sense whether a reporter wants a quick quote on deadline or a lengthy interview. "We have very experienced analysts, so we don't have to do a lot of media training," notes Levinson, adding that much of her firm's media relations is reactive. "If the Oracle/PeopleSoft issue is hot or there's something involving Microsoft, we're inundated." But it remains a competitive marketplace, so many independent analyst firms are proactive in their outreach, whether it's offering up exclusives on research or setting up satellite media interviews. "We have certain areas within Gartner that are important to our strategy and to our clients or where we've got world-class thought leadership," says Hayes. "So we'll prioritize different analysts and their topics." Pitching... analysts
  • Remember that while an analyst's third-party endorsement is still important, it's not nearly as vital to a business reporter today as a customer validation
  • Most analysts, whether from Wall Street or an independent research firm, are now in full disclosure mode, but make sure you and your client know if there are any potential conflicts before referring a reporter to an analyst
  • Many major research and financial firms hold conferences regularly, so make media contacts at those events, as well as during normal business

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