Freesheet bids to wake up the City

Last week saw the launch of the capital's first financial freesheet. Tom Williams asks whether its arrival marks a watershed for financial PROs.

There has been a mixed reaction to last week's well-trailed launch of CityAM, billed as 'the first newspaper to exclusively serve London's financial village' (PRWeek, 9 September).

Citigate Dewe Rogerson MD Patrick Donovan acknowledges: 'It has a good team led by (former Sunday Express business editor) David Parsley. It is a challenging market and there is always need for top-level financial coverage.' Equally, Capital MS&L director Richard Campbell says he will target the paper for clients such as spread-betting firm Cantor Index because it is 'right for the money market', aimed at the City and Canary Wharf's well-heeled financial workers.

Contributors, such as Five's Fifth Gear presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson, who will regularly write for City AM's Wednesday motoring section, certainly offer more colour than the FT which, during the week at least, is a more cerebral business read.

Differentiated offering

The paper also manages to make news analyses on European takeovers sit comfortably alongside lifestyle-angled City features, covering subjects such as getting financial backing for a Hollywood blockbuster. Other regular sections include Small Business/Holidays & Leisure (Monday), AIM/Style & Health (Tuesday), Personal Finance/Motoring (Wednesday), Commercial & Residential Property, and Interview (Thursday) and Fund Management/Burn Your Bonus (Friday).

Parsley and his team (see box), are the engine that leads City AM's content, bolstered by columnists such as former Times media editor Ray Snoddy and ex-Daily Telegraph City deputy editor Richard Northedge.

But some PROs are less than convinced. One complains that the paper's distribution does not stretch far enough to reach those on the edges of the City. Another points out that its 1am print deadline and 6.30am to 10.30am distribution is 'too late to get people on their way to work and too early to properly analyse what has happened during the day'.

Parsley says people have been getting the paper from outside the distribution area by requesting a copy. He also maintains that few people look at general newspapers the moment they arrive at their desks, so City AM is likely be the first thing the target audience will read. Sixty-thousand copies of the first City AM were distributed last Monday (5 September) at Tube and train stations. Several financial PROs say the freesheet has thus far been lightweight by devoting the front-page splash to the previous day's big business stories and repackaging news reported elsewhere. Parsley retorts: 'We are the only paper other than the Financial Times that has business on the front page. We also offer motoring, sport, leisure and residential property stories.'

Taking on the FT

Indeed, while at first glance City AM appears to have a format not dissimilar to London-wide freebie Metro, the perception that the financial freesheet is lightweight may be drawn from the space it is prepared to give to smaller company news. 'Who defines what insignificant is?' Parsley asks. 'We have up to 30 stories a day, which means we can cover big news and the smaller company news. That means we also cover the advisers and can make sure their names are in. But we still have our news filters.'

Therein lies both the opportunity for financial PROs with smaller clients and the threat to traditional business paper of choice, the FT. 'So much of the difficulty with the FT is that (it ignores) smaller companies, even if they have a genuinely great story to tell,' says College Hill partner Dick Millard.

Some in the City believe the FT handing out flyers for the next day's edition, near to City AM's distribution area, is evidence that the former is rattled. But FT director of comms Joanna Manning-Cooper insists the flyers are 'part of our ongoing content strategy' launched five months ago.

Others, such as M: Communications consultant Stuart Leasor, say Parsley's interview with outgoing British Airways CEO Sir Rod Eddington last Thursday proves the City AM team, in Millard's words, 'has a lot of clout'.

For many though, it is simply too early to tell whether the paper will emerge as a force among readers in London's financial district and become, as Leasor puts it, 'another weapon in the PR man's armoury'.

The fact that few PROs are willing to openly criticise the paper and its editorial team certainly suggests that City AM is not a publication anyone can afford to write off.

CITY AM CONTACTS - Editor David Parsley - Deputy editor Claire Oldfield Tel: 020 7015 1210 - Associate editor Dominic Midgley Ext: 1249 Email: dominic.midgley@cityam.com - Sports editor Mike Bovill Ext: 1200 Email: sport@cityam.com - Reviews editor Steve Jelbert Ext: 1200 Email: reviews@cityam.com - Chief reporter (from October) Ben Griffiths, Ext: 1204 Email: ben.griffiths@cityam.com - City correspondents Robin Marriott (from 19 September) Ext: 1200 Roger Baird, Ext: 1214 Zoe Wood, Ext: 1213 - City reporter Marianne Barriaux (small business) Ext: 1215 - Economics correspondent Helen Power, Ext: 1209 Email: helen.power@cityam.com

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