ANALYSIS <b>Corporate Case Study:</b> FT targets broadcast media to bolster US standing

To boost its position among top-tier US papers, the Financial Times is working to further its PR and media-relations efforts by creating a presence for itself on radio and television.

To boost its position among top-tier US papers, the Financial Times is working to further its PR and media-relations efforts by creating a presence for itself on radio and television.

For decades, there's been a black and white difference between the top tier of American newspapers and the rest. This elite group of broadsheets that shapes public policy and affects markets has been dominated by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, papers so central to the journalism world that their reporting drives broadcast news and gives blogs something to talk about. Recently, however, some upstarts have mounted a strong challenge to this triumvirate. The LA Times, not too long ago dismissed as a city rag, cleaned up at this year's Pulitzer contest. And USA Today, long maligned as a cartoonish read, regularly grabs national and global scoops from under the noses of competitors with more prestigious reputations. Another challenger is the US edition of London-based Financial Times, long a must-read for the global jet set. Unlike the LA Times or USA Today, FT is anything but scrappy. The brand's history stretches back to 1888, and its salmon-colored pages are associated with a rich, cosmopolitan readership. Its pages are truly international. It will not ghettoize developments in foreign countries in a separate section. FT reporters are Ivy Leaguers, Oxford grads, and Rhodes Scholars steeped in the ins and outs of global economics and finance. Yet, since launching in the US seven years ago, the FT brand has faced severe challenges in penetrating the ranks of the journalism elite here. Though well-known among a class of educated readers, the paper is often viewed as an intensely British title with a very narrow base of readers. Branching out to broadcast outlets Over the past year, the FT has been trying to change that, and a key catalyst in the effort has been PR. Last spring, the paper hired Jolie Hunt to head up an ongoing effort to publicize its editorial content and talent on broadcast outlets. The media relations push, conducted with the help of the GCI Group, has resulted in a major expansion of the brand's presence on television and radio, with the most visible symbol of this success being a new partnership with The McLaughlin Group that has FT writers and editors making regular appearances on the Sunday morning gabfest. These strides have left US managing editor Lionel Barber, in his own words, "absolutely delighted." "We play at the high table now," says Barber. "In the last 12 months or so, I believe we're firmly established at the high table of American journalism. People talk about FT in the same breath as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post." Some find this a bit of a reach. "While the FT is a legitimate player in the prestige press, they are not in the starting rotation," says Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs. To be sure, the FT's competitors at the top of that prestige heap dwarf the FT, which last reported a circulation of 138,000 in the US. The Journal boasts a circulation of 2.1 million, the Times 1.1 million, and the Post 733,000. But, Barber says, even with the PR effort and the consumer ad campaign the paper also rolled out last year, the FT is not looking to attract those amounts of readers. Its ambitions remain firmly in the niche it already has carved out for itself, even if some of its most widely praised reporting overlaps with that of the Journal and the Times. Its coverage of hot business topics like the corporate governance scandals and the Martha Stewart trial warranted major television attention. And its reporting on the war in Iraq earned a plaudit from no less a critic than New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman. Importance of PR Some media companies are hostile to the very notion of PR, a stance based on the idea that PR is at odds with journalistic enterprise. The Financial Times, however, isn't one of these companies. Hunt says an appreciation for the value of PR goes up the chain of the FT to the management of its parent company, Pearson. Indeed, the US edition's PR operation already has had a few manifestations. It started out using only an agency, Porter Novelli, before turning to an in-house PR manager, who was in effect Hunt's predecessor. Though very proud of his editorial staff's work, Barber freely admits that, from a branding perspective, publicity is necessary. "For this particular time in the development of the FT in the US," Barber adds, "PR is incredibly important because we are a respected and intellectual newspaper, but we are not a really well-established brand in this market. We're moving towards that, but we're not there yet. We need PR to reinforce the message about what we're doing, why we're relevant, why we matter, and why we're a must-read. We cannot do it through editorial excellence alone." In these early years, the PR strategy was a broad-based one, with the goal being as much exposure as possible, a tack that, argues Hunt, yielded little equity for the brand and little internal respect for PR. She began to reshape this last spring, reducing the target-media list and working to gain credibility among the ranks of management, editors, and reporters. Her duties in the overhaul ranged from the mundane - adding a media contact link on the website - to the more complicated. She discerned which staff members wanted to make broadcast appearances and then had them media trained. Perhaps most important, she asked the staffers which TV and radio programs were important to them and to their sources, and, from that, composed a list that would dictate the media relations strategy. This included shows like Kudlow & Cramer, The McLaughlin Group, and others on prominent outlets like CNBC, ABC, and NPR. The results of these efforts were stark. From May to December 2003, the FT averaged about 10 hits per business day in top-tier media. Previously, that figure was one or two a day. "We had to trim the fat and be rigorous and focus," she says. "We had very little resources. We have a monster brand. We're fairly new and niche in the States. But the paper and the talent sells itself. It's just a question of knowing who to put out there." For help in pitching the talent, Hunt has the media relations department at GCI, the agency she signed up as AOR shortly after coming to the FT. Headed by SVP Ray Kerins, the account team works closely with Hunt to the point that she calls it "more of a partnership than anything else." Plans for the future Looking ahead, the FT has its sights set on expanding editorial coverage in Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and other parts of Texas. Moreover, Barber wants to attract more readers from the realm just below the C-suite by expanding its markets coverage. In PR terms, it's looking to get more coverage by building on the inroads already developed in Washington, DC, and grabbing more attention in Chicago. But both he and Hunt caution that this doesn't mean straying from that well-honed affluent niche. "We are not in mass media market business," Barber says. "We want to go for selective exposure, very high-quality exposure on high-quality programs. We're getting there. We're definitely moving in the right direction. We don't want to disperse our energies and strengths. We want to be very focused, both in terms of what we produce in the paper and where we want to go in our broadcasting and PR outlets." He says, "I want to embed the brand in the US." To Felling, this is certainly a possibility. "What the FT is attempting to do is enter the market as an alternative mainstream news source, much like the BBC rose in prominence after 9/11," he says. "More than ever, Americans are willing to investigate new media outlets as they are conditioned by the American media to loathe it. Bill O'Reilly tells you the media is worthless, and Michael Moore agrees, so sentient Americans of all political stripes are turning elsewhere." PR contacts PR director, Americas Jolie Hunt Event manager Alicia Matkovich Agency GCI Group

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