View From The Top: The City gent

After a 20-year career at The Financial Times and three years on from taking up the editorship, you might be forgiven for thinking that Andrew Gowers had had his fill of City journalism. Far from it, finds Adam Hill.

View From The Top: The City gent
View From The Top: The City gent

As City landmarks go, the Financial Times building has a certain lack of charm; an identikit embodiment of 1980s architecture that has been dumped at the south end of Southwark Bridge.

Yet, inside editor Andrew Gowers' office things are more eclectic. His large corner room, which comes complete with obligatory river view, contains the usual artist prints and grabs from ad campaigns. There is also a large wooden ship's wheel - not in honour of the passing Thames, but a present from colleagues when he left the German-language FT Deutschland to take up his current post in October 2001.

Gowers eases into an armchair that looks slightly too comfy and therefore gives him the oxymoronic appearance of looking uneasily relaxed. Three years ago, he began his new job in an advertising downturn, which meant job cuts and a stop on recruitment.

'We are not completely out of those woods,' he says evenly. 'To grasp the magnitude of it you have to consider the frothiness of the (dotcom) boom and the precipitousness of the fall. Some papers lost 55 per cent or more of ad revenue. We still basically have a hiring freeze.'

The FT, along with many papers, has been losing money - £32m in 2003, up from a £23m loss the previous year - but Gowers is as bullish as you would expect from the man who came 69th in this year's Media Guardian list of the 100 most influential people.

The paper's owner, Pearson, will be glad to hear it. The temptation to think of the FT as just a City brand is a mistake. Quite apart from a £3m relaunch in April 2003, the FT has invested heavily in its foreign editions.

'The City is where we come from but our UK circulation is matched by our circulation in continental Europe,' says Gowers. 'And the City is Europe's financial centre: all the major banks of the Continent have their operations here.' Combined sales of the FT in the UK and continental Europe are around 270,000 while, in addition to FT Deutschland, the paper has English-language editions in the US (130,000 readers) and Asia ('early days').

Gowers remains quietly spoken and polite but at the suggestion that these offshoots, along with FT.com, may be diluting the brand, his brow furrows.

'Reinforcing it,' he says shortly. 'The essence of the FT is as a global source of news, comment and analysis in print and online.'

Online agenda

Revenue from FT.com is expected to rise as the site now has 80,000 subscribers paying £70-odd per year and 3.5 million unique users a month. Gowers says: 'The internet has changed the way we work fundamentally. When we first started FT.com most people working on the paper viewed it with suspicion.'

The basic facts of a story would go online at 9am, then appear 24 hours later in more complete form in the paper under a different byline. Therefore one of his first tasks was to bring print and online under the remit of the same team of editors.

'We had to eliminate that duplication of activity,' he explains. 'I want people to use the website and the newspaper in tandem. We want a continuously developing newsfile and to that continuum you need the same editors and journalists doing it. FT.com is the online expression of the Financial Times.'

And not just when it comes to news. The FT's prestigious and well-read Lex analysis column has also been assimilated into this new way of working.

'We took the plunge with Lex by doing it live during the day,' Gowers says. 'We took a deep breath because quality's especially important there.'

He now sees it 'like a sum, showing your workings that day and producing an answer in the morning'. Lex Live has been a success, with a number of corporate PROs taking out FT.com subscriptions off the back of it.

The FT, and Gowers, are unashamedly Europhile, which has not gone down well with all of its besuited readership. 'I have always taken violent exception to little-Englandism,' he says defiantly. His foreign desk experience with the FT was preceded by spells in Brussels and Zurich with Reuters and he lived in Germany in 1977 as a student.

'There is the balance with being the business paper for Britain,' he admits. But he is happy to have 'perfectly reasoned debates' with anyone who wants them. He can do it in several languages too: German, French, Italian, even a smattering of Arabic, if need be. Arabic? He smiles: 'Enough to break the ice.'

Europe is one issue on which Gowers is not afraid to say what he means.

Journalistic standards is another, and the brotherhood of editorship did not prevent him from publically stating that Piers Morgan should resign if the Daily Mirror's Iraq abuse pictures turned out to be fake.

But it is for the media furore that stemmed from Andrew Gilligan's report for the Today programme that he reserves his most trenchant criticism.

Gowers was quoted as saying, after the Hutton Report was published, that 'while the crisis at the BBC is deep-seated, it is merely part of a broader malaise; journalists' reflexive mistrust of every government action is corroding democracy'.

Gowers looks slightly surprised to have this read back to him, then admits: 'I probably did say that. It would have been after building up a head of steam over the woolly things being written in some of the media. Gilligan wasn't "basically right", he was actually wrong.'

But as a journalist himself Gowers is careful not to lay the whole blame for this symptom of the often adversarial relationship between Whitehall and Fleet Street at the media's door. 'Politicians putting the best presentation on something, and journalists trying to find holes in it, is part of the game. But politicians began insulating themselves from the press by developing this glittering and hard skin of spin.'

He admits he caught himself wincing when he previously used the word 'spin'. It must be said that this wince was invisible to the casual observer's naked eye - and the fact that his communications director is sitting three feet away perhaps concentrates his mind - but Gowers has clearly thought about communication and presentation a great deal.

Need for transparency

Despite missed PR opportunities in Westminster, an increased need for transparency has helped international businesses see the light, he believes.

'If you're Shell, something could happen anywhere: an oil rig in the North Sea, a dissident group in Nigeria. There is a much greater need to engage and explain, which has heightened the awareness of PR for top managers.

Successful and effective CEOs regard it as an integral part of their business. PR has increased dramatically in terms of sophistication.'

Gowers sees the integration between media relations and investor relations as particularly helpful to journalists, since 'the moment you communicate with a group of analysts, you might as well go on the roof with a loudhailer anyway'.

He also believes the business press has less mistrust of companies and what they communicate. 'I don't regard it as the job of a PRO to lay their soul bare. But with the better breed of corporate PR people, journalists know if they can trust someone to give them a steer.

I'd regard that as in the mutual self-interest of both sides.'

Taking time out

Gowers' schedule has a punishing look to it. He has been to China and India this year, gets to the US 'once a quarter' and 'forays on a day-trip basis' to continental Europe.

'I know of some people who don't take holidays,' he shakes his head.

'I do.' It sounds like he needs them. His latest, to Italy, saw him reading books and playing with his two young children. Although Saturdays are almost always spent with his family, Gowers' diary shows just two free weekday evenings in October.

Dinners or drinks generally cap days that see him in the office at 8am.

He has been in the job for three years, one of the longest posts he has held in his 20-year career at the FT. It all seems a lifetime away from his first job as a graduate trainee at Reuters. 'It was a terrific grounding,' he recalls. 'You were never allowed to have an opening par of more than 32 words.' It's a discipline he performs to this day.

1984: Financial Times agriculture correspondent

1985: FT commodities editor, becoming Middle East editor two years later

1992: FT foreign editor

1994: FT deputy editor

1999: FT Deutschland editor

2001: FT editor

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

Department store John Lewis is to use its 150th anniversary this year to talk about its history, which "not enough people know about", according to director of communications Peter Cross.

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

The man who helped Barack Obama win the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections is to work for Labour along with members of his team.

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Pay-TV giant Sky has added Fever PR to its agency line-up for a wide-ranging brief covering products and services.

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford has been sent home for Easter and will reconvene on Tuesday for further deliberations about its verdicts on 11 charges of indecent assault.

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

The Home Office has tasked Munro & Forster (M&F) with supporting its campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of a wider retained brief.