When the AP reported last fall that a group calling itself the ’United Loan Gunmen’ had infiltrated the computer system running the web sites for Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange, Nasdaq director of media operations Scott Peterson knew it was going to be a long day. For an organization that oversees billions of dollars in electronic transactions, any security breach is a serious threat.
When the AP reported last fall that a group calling itself the
’United Loan Gunmen’ had infiltrated the computer system running the web
sites for Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange, Nasdaq director of
media operations Scott Peterson knew it was going to be a long day. For
an organization that oversees billions of dollars in electronic
transactions, any security breach is a serious threat.
In less than an hour, Nasdaq’s PR pros were flooded with calls from over
30 news organizations. That afternoon and evening, hundreds of print and
online publications around the world ran with the story. But it was all
’It turned out there was nothing to the story,’ says Peterson. ’What
they had done was make an electronic mirror copy of our home-page,
altered that image and then had someone show that copy to the AP.’ It
just goes to show: Nasdaq, with its record gains and rapid global
expansion, may be a perennial media darling, but like any other
business, it’s only one phone call away from a crisis.
There are, however, tougher PR assignments for Peterson’s crew than
debunking the work of sembling hackers. After all, it seems that every
time a bell rings these days, Nasdaq is touting some record-breaking
milestone or another.
And it’s getting even easier for Nasdaq’s PR pros to garner media
Six of the 10 highest share volume days in Nasdaq’s history have
occurred during the first three weeks of this year. And that comes on
the heels of the market’s fifth consecutive year of record gains.
In fact, Nasdaq receives such star treatment from the media that PR pros
for the market were able to orchestrate not one, not two, but three
media circuses for the same event: the opening of Nasdaq’s new Times
First, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined NASD (National
Association of Securities Dealers) CEO Frank Zarb in lighting the
MarketSite Tower, the world’s largest video screen. The following week,
Governor George Pataki dropped by to open the MarketSite broadcast
facility. And tomorrow marks the unveiling of the MarketSite Public
Interactive Exhibit, where tourists can view exhibits and play stock
Nasdaq hasn’t experienced any real negative press since 1996 when the
SEC and the US Justice Department both launched investigations into the
manner in which market-makers conducted trades - resulting in the SEC’s
passage of new order-handling rules in early 1997. But while
market-makers are part of the Nasdaq system, they are not actual Nasdaq
Since then, it seems as though the media has fallen hopelessly in love
with Nasdaq. Rarely does a business-related broadcast air, or a news
story run, that doesn’t include a veiled love-letter to the tech-heavy
But changes are on the way. The Board of Governors at the NASD, Nasdaq’s
parent, has unanimously approved a major restructuring plan which calls
for selling off a majority stake in the market. With the NASD’s
corporate communications SVP Andrew MacMillan heading up communications
for the exchange, any sort of reorganization at NASD would mean big
changes in the Nasdaq media relations department. The most likely
scenario has MacMillan switching solely over to Nasdaq, though a
decision is still pretty far off. Currently MacMillan spends roughly
half of his time on Nasdaq PR, and divides the rest of his time equally
among NASD, NASD Regulation and the American Stock Exchange.
But Nasdaq’s PR operations are in need of an upgrade, irrespective of
the larger restructuring effort. Since skating in at the tail end of the
SEC’s inquiry, both MacMillan and Peterson have wrestled with a
ballooning number of projects and the media’s insatiable appetite to
Because of this increased interest, MacMillan concedes that Nasdaq’s PR
operations will have to expand.
And more than anything else, continued foreign expansion dictates that
Nasdaq must eventually deploy more internal PR pros on the ground - such
as it did when Nasdaq International’s PR operations were established in
the mid-1980s. PR operations for Nasdaq-Europe, an entirely new market
set for a first-quarter 2001 launch, are tentatively planned to fall
under Nasdaq International’s PR arm.
In the interim, Nasdaq has contracted a number of agencies, including
The Torrenzano Group and Kekst. ’Internationally we use PR firms that
have the local contacts to help us get the story out, but we need to
build up our capacity,’ says MacMillan. ’We know we need to fix that.
We’ve established the infrastructure in London under (Nasdaq
International VP) Maggie Kelly. Now we need to do that elsewhere.’
MacMillan estimates that Nasdaq’s PR pros field over 100 calls each day
from journalists requesting information. But that’s on a normal day, and
there haven’t been many of those of late. Robert Sales, a senior editor
at Wall Street & Technology, has tracked Nasdaq for the past four years
and is generally impressed with its PR operation.
’On a scale of one to 10, I’d give Nasdaq an eight in terms of meeting
the needs of journalists,’ he says. ’Unlike with some other exchanges, I
usually don’t have to maneuver around the PR guys to get to the
information I need. Occasionally, however, they let too much time lapse
before returning my calls.’
Nasdaq has four primary methods of disseminating information. These
include the ’BlastFax,’ which Peterson says is forwarded to a list of
the 120 top news organizations Nasdaq deals with. Then there’s an e-mail
list for the most important releases. Nasdaq also uses PR Newswire, and
lastly, posts everything to its PR site (www.Nasdaqnews.com).
Not surprisingly, the Nasdaq PR team is very discriminating with company
executives’ time, and has no patience for journalists who squander
’Don’t waste senior management’s time - that’s our biggest don’t,’ says
MacMillan. ’Three stars have to be aligned for me to arrange an
interview with Frank Zarb: the right publication, the right reporter and
the right story. If even one of those things are out of kilter, it’s not
going to happen.’ Arrogant? Perhaps, but that’s what happens when every
media outlet wants a piece of you.
Many financial pundits say Nasdaq’s bubble is bound to burst sooner or
later. Preparing for the inevitable, Nasdaq PR pros have crisis plans in
place for dozens of scenarios. And while they will discuss operations,
they keep mum about market performance. ’We provide a window onto the
market,’ says Peterson. And looking out from Nasdaq’s new headquarters
in Times Square, the view is pretty impressive.
PR head: NASD corporate communications SVP Andrew MacMillan
Internal PR staff: Nasdaq USA: director Scott Peterson; associate
director Judith Inosanto; manager Wayne Lee. Nasdaq International: VP
Maggie Kelly; director Judith Lacey External agencies: The Torrenzano
Group (US); Kekst & Company (US); Citigate Dewe Rogerson (UK); Ogilvy
Public Relations Worldwide (Europe); I&E Consultants (France); Gavin
Anderson & Company (Germany)
The market value of the more than 4,800 companies listed on Nasdaq ended
the year at dollars 5.2 trillion, up over 100% from year-end 1998.