Nearly three years ago, I received a memorable phone call from Jolie Hunt, director of PR for the Financial Times in the US.
She was calling to complain - nicely - that the FT had not been put on a list of publications we included in a survey which asked CEOs to rate certain titles' importance to their business. This, she maintained quite correctly, was an oversight. FT has been justly included ever since.
Granted, that attention to detail may not totally explain the FT's rise to the top of an international survey of "the world's best newspapers," conducted by Zurich-based media consultancy Internationale Medienhilfe (IM). But it is a fact that the Financial Times Group takes its PR seriously, particularly at a time when low media credibility - while not exactly a new thing - is certainly an issue that has currency right now.
Few details about IM's survey were available, but one data point did emerge loud and clear: The New York Times had dropped from the top spot in 2003 to sixth place this year. In a statement, IM linked the result directly to reputation problems. "The results show that The New York Times is suffering because of past scandals."
But there must be more to this story than the dented image of an iconic news brand. The FT's focus on reaching global influencers, most recently exhibited in the launch of its Asian edition nearly two years ago, may be speaking to a newly focused audience around the world. As we discovered when working on aspects of our Global Report 2005, which appears in this issue, media strategy needs to be both local and global, the same way corporations and agencies continue to evolve.
According to Hunt, having an international vision is part of the FT's readers' profile.
"CEOs of domestic companies with no global remit are not part of the remit for the FT," she explains. "Our readers read us for different reasons than they would The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. We are unapologetically global."
Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the paper vaulted to the top of a survey that asked academics, politicians, executives, journalists, and advertising people from 30 different countries to judge the world's best newspaper.
Credibility is critical. "We're in a new era where our readers expect more," says Lionel Barber, US managing editor. "They expect the highest standards of credibility, accuracy, and good conduct. And they are also expecting greater transparency."
Quality, relevant editorial coverage for the market is the ultimate deliverable. But there has always been something about the FT's PR strategy that makes it stand out among its peers, and it shouldn't be discounted as a factor contributing to its success. While PR is centralized in London, Hunt has the authority to develop the approach that is right for the US, whether she is pitching media outlets in Seoul or Sioux Falls, IA. The dual understanding of its mission - both editorially and commercially - on both the global and local levels, is surely a key part of its reputational success.