IR pros must pay attention to rising list of outlets that count

Two recent and apparently unrelated events are further evidence of a tectonic shift under way in financial news.

Two recent and apparently unrelated events are further evidence of a tectonic shift under way in financial news.

First, in January, The Wall Street Journal introduced a new design and approach that reduced its size by about 20% and added emphasis on analysis at the expense of spot news coverage. Then, a few weeks later, Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, announced that the Rupert Murdoch-owned media conglomerate would launch a business channel to compete with CNBC and Bloomberg.

The Journal's downsizing and adjusted focus are unfortunately forced on it by the same thing that many other newspapers are facing: stagnant or declining readership. Younger people don't read newspapers. Instead, they rely on the Internet or TV for their news and information. Fox's decision stems from its corporate mandate to become a major source of news, whether its politics, sports, or business.

For financial PR pros, these developments have a practical consequence: No one source owns the business news space. For decades, an article prominently placed in the Journal was a sign of success, and often such coverage alone drew accolades from the C-suite.

Today, not only is the Journal less likely to place a big or midsize acquisition on the front page, but such news is also unlikely to make even the front section of the paper. Instead, it is now relegated to a few paragraphs in the back. What the Journal has realized is that unless it can say something penetrating about the deal, then saying less makes more sense, as most readers already know about the deal.

In a sense, what we are witnessing is a leveling of the media with the number of outlets continuing to mushroom. While this has certainly been recognized in the consumer space, it has taken longer to hit business news coverage. The number of outlets that "count" has increased dramatically, requiring the casting of a wider net, as well as calling more hands on deck.

A company releasing a significant piece of news now has to actively seek out and include media that perhaps it would have done little for in the past. For instance, Bloomberg's importance continues to broaden, especially its news wire. While coverage was usually a given, the tone, analysis, and depth now play a greater role.

The fact is that many financial players get all their news from a Bloomberg terminal, including sports and probably even horoscopes. While its TV networks still lack the reach of CNBC, Bloomberg TV interviews are also available to terminal users. That means the interview your CEO gives on Bloomberg television is readily available for a Fidelity fund manager - in Boston or Hong Kong - to watch on his terminal.

Similarly, other business news outlets have seen their importance and value grow. Now, the job of getting the word out and giving interviews often must include a small army of executives who can tell the story. The media landscape is surely changing, and an effective IR/PR pro needs to help the C-suite understand these shifts and their implications.

Fred Bratman is president of Hyde Park Financial Communications.

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