Media: Breakingviews sets the agenda

Overhyped and underfunded, many digital publishing businesses come and go.

For financial and corporate PROs, though, one news website has firmly established itself as an indispensable shaper of opinion in the business world.

Breakingviews has prospered to such an extent during its first decade that it bucked last year's trend of depressing media stories when it sold to Thomson Reuters for more than £12m.

'There isn't a transaction that we're involved in where Breakingviews doesn't matter,' says College Hill chairman Alex Sandberg. 'It is tremendously good at getting to the kernel of a deal or transaction, cutting away the noise and getting to the point.'

This is largely the result of the heavyweight team of journalists that editor and former FT journalist Hugo Dixon has assembled across the globe, including former Daily Telegraph City editor Neil Collins and ex-FT banking editor Peter Thal Larsen.

Dixon cites a recent article by Thal Larsen from Davos as an apposite example of how Breakingviews can shift the consensus among business leaders. The story explained how the US government's new 'Volcker rule' (proposed by Economic Recovery Advisory Board chairman Paul Volcker to stop proprietary trading by banks) could be effectively incorporated within the G20's financial regulatory structure.

'That was original and cutting-edge, and may help influence the way people enact the Volcker rule,' says Dixon. 'If people look at something differently, they are more likely to act differently.'

Significantly, the story broke during the Davos World Economic Forum. 'Breakingviews is probably the most important asset to the Davos set,' says one PR agency boss who declined to be named. 'It is particularly useful around industry events, where the noise level is high.'

The willingness to think counter-intuitively has obvious benefits for Breakingviews' audience, traditionally subscribers from the big investment banks, fund managers, hedge funds and corporates.

'We find them approachable, open to ideas and willing to engage in debate,' says Fishburn Hedges director Jason Nisse, who recently helped position expert comment from his client HarbourVest Global Private Equity in a Breakingviews story on discounts on debt for buyouts.

The expertise of Breakingviews' columnists means PROs should think long and hard before making any kind of pitch. 'It puts the emphasis firmly on quality over quantity,' says Burson-Marsteller director Andy Rowlands.

Thomson Reuters' decision to buy Breakingviews may be 'countercultural', in the words of Nisse, but it offers the website an opportunity to significantly scale up its offering.

New columnists have been hired and the site is now available via Reuters' terminals, vastly increasing its footprint.

QUICK FACTS
Audience: 500,000 desktop users
Frequency: 20 pieces of insight a day
Website: breakingviews.com
Launched: 1999
Contact: hugo.dixon@thomsonreuters.com

A MINUTE WITH ... HUGO DIXON, EDITOR, REUTERS BREAKINGVIEWS

- Describe your editorial agenda

What we're trying to do is produce agenda-setting financial insight. Broadly speaking, most of our columnists believe in free and fair markets. A lot of what we do involves pointing out the inefficiencies of the free market system.

- Describe your relationship with PROs

We have a good relationship. One of the important things is that our standard modus operandi is off the record, unlike almost all other news organisations. For us to have a fruitful conversation, it is important that PROs are confident enough in the financial detail to discuss that with us, and confident enough to engage in a debate. That tends to be the most senior people.

- How should PROs pitch to the site?

They should call and tell us they have something interesting. It is best to arrange an off-the-record lunch with the relevant specialists. Relationships are very important. You have to be realistic: we only look at big stuff. The one no-no is telling lies. It is very difficult to recover lost credibility.

- What benefits does the sale to Thomson Reuters bring?

Extra resources for building our editorial team, marketing and distribution. We have a PR function, plus cross-fertilisation between the Breakingviews and Reuters news teams.

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