MEDIA ANALYSIS: Why the new FT is like a good haircut

The Financial Times has come out with a sharper and more contemporary look and style, writes Robert Gray. The subtle overhaul is ‘like a good haircut: you don't really notice it, but it feels smarter,' says one observer.

‘No FT, No Comment’ ran the ­famous but now discarded strap­line. ‘New FT, New Content’ might read an updated version – except the new slogan of choice is, in fact, ‘We live in Financial Times’.

Last week, two years after Lionel Barber took over as editor, heralded the arrival of the ‘refreshed’ City daily. In a bid to highlight the sharper content that Barber has presided over since assuming the editor’s chair at Financial Times, a series of design changes have been introduced, partly with the aim of helping the paper’s well-heeled but time-pressed readers find what they need efficiently.

Development editor Andy ­Davis – familiar to many PRWeek readers as the launch editor in 2000 of the FT’s now defunct Creative Business supplement – oversaw the ­revamp. He began working on it in September, having returned to the UK ­after two years in a commercial role with the FT in India. A dozen-strong steering group of senior executives worked on the project.

Extensive research
‘The FT has become a sharper, better product and we needed to reflect that in its design and packaging,’ says Davis. ‘We wanted to make the paper a more effective business tool, helping our very busy readers get more out of the paper with less effort. And we wanted to cement the upmarket, premium product positioning of the FT.’

The masthead and colour palette have been revised, and a greater ­degree of signposting and labelling have been introduced to help the business and ­investment community find what it ­requires.

These changes came out of extensive reader research conducted between May 2006 and March this year, which concluded that some younger readers felt the product was a little old-fashioned and inaccessible.

The number of colour pages in the 16-page first section has been upped from eight to 14. World news coverage has been boosted by 25 per cent by the allocation of an extra page at the ­expense of sports coverage, to back up the advertising boast of ‘world business in one place’ .

There is also an increased focus on cross-promoting the print and online versions of the FT. The paper is increasingly signposting where more background and in-depth information on a story can be found on its website.

One important content change is the increased size and scope of the ‘People’ section, which highlights important moves in the corporate world. PROs with good ‘job change’ stories should take note: Davis says that by placing greater emphasis on this section, it will become a ‘must-read’.

Barber has conceded in the past that the FT needs to improve its coverage of people and there is evidence in the refresh that this is becoming more of an editorial priority as a means of bringing stories to life.

New columnists such as Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson, Washington-based Clive Crook and former Guardian journalist Matthew Engel have been brought on board to add analy­tical weight.

There have been significant changes to FT Weekend, which has seven pages of arts coverage including a ‘Critics’ Choice’ spread addressing the week’s cultural highlights.

The use of colour has been increased in FT Magazine – also published on a ­Saturday. The back page is now called ‘Defining Moment’ and features an event that shaped or influenced our world. Book coverage has been ­expanded – including author interviews, with Toby Litt the subject last Saturday. Meanwhile, a new ‘Frontiers’ page offers scope for pitching stories on science and technology.

‘With our expanded books coverage, there’s a real opportunity here for publishers,’ says FT Weekend editor Michael Skapinker. ‘We have a high-achieving audience that wants to be discriminating in their leisure.

‘The weekend is a crowded news­paper marketplace but other newspapers are coalescing around the fluffy middle market. We’re more intelligent and more focused.’

Skapinker says he is happy to be a conduit for PROs pitching ideas to the various FT Weekend pages, including the magazine.

So, what do financial PROs make of the evolutionary changes? With a few ­caveats, the response is largely positive.

‘The new-look FT has a fresher and more modern feel and the increase in opinion is a welcome move,’ says Gay Collins, founding partner of financial PR agency Penrose.

‘Evolving two pages of the markets section into “Markets and Investing” is a great idea, and will provide more opportunities for our investment clients to air their views.’

Subtle overhaul
College Hill chairman Alex Sandberg has mixed feelings about the changes, seeing both improvements and a few retrograde steps.

‘I think it’s a shame they’ve dropped “Mudlark” – it was a City village column and the paper is poorer without something like it. The “People” column is an improvement, but should be expanded both in scope and bite,’ he says.

‘The signposting is overdone: an FT reader probably knows Trinity Mirror is a ­media company and Shell is in oil and gas.’

But in general, Sandberg says he feels positive about the changes. ‘As ­revamps go, I think it’s like a good haircut: you don’t really notice it, but it feels smarter.’

Sandberg may have hit the nail on the head. The look and style do seem sharper, smarter and more contemporary. But this is a subtle overhaul rather than a major shift in direction.

And, while the changes are mostly forward-looking, one also harks back to the FT’s proud heritage. The motto 'Without Fear or Favour', which first appeared in 1888, has been revived on the ‘Leader’ page. It underlines the FT’s aim of being both timeless and very much reflective of these times.

FT Contacts

FT Weekend Editor Michael Skapinker* E

Business Life Editor James Pickford* E

People Editor Emiliya Mychasuk* E

News Editor Robert Shrimsley* E

Switchboard T 020 7873 3000

*prefers to be contacted via email

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