Agency: Grey London
By Alasdair Reid, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 11 October 2012 08:00AM
The potted corporate history Pearson provides on its website doesn't really do the company justice.
Selective editing (and perhaps amnesia) has been used to make it seem as if the business of publishing has always been its destiny - a notion that would have astonished its driving force, Weetman Dickinson Pearson, a century ago, when it was a world leader in oil, construction and railways.
The point here is that the Pearson story has always been one of diversification and corporate evolution. Even in the last quarter of the 20th century, it was a rich and strange conglomerate dabbling in everything from waxworks museums to billiard balls and banking as well as magazines and books.
And, last week, there was speculation, prompted by the resignation of the chief executive, Marjorie Scardino, that Pearson could stand on the threshold of another era of reinvention - and the Financial Times, traditionally one of the jewels in the company's crown, was right at the nub of the matter.
Many times during Scardino's 15-year reign (and with increasing frequency of late), City analysts have suggested that it might be a rather good idea to offload businesses based on the positively mediaeval technology of the printing press. Scardino's resolute response was always that the flagship ink-on-paper assets were sacrosanct.
Well, they might not be quite so ring-fenced now. Her successor, John Fallon, has indicated that he sees the FT as a valued property; but he comes from the educational software side of the Pearson empire, which, taking the long view, has better growth prospects than the FT Group. There are those who believe it's only a matter of time before he takes another cold, hard look at the future of the company's most famous brand.
1. The FT Group owns the FT newspaper and FT.com; the FT Chinese financial news operation; a macroeconomic intelligence unit called Medley Group Advisors; a financial publishing division with a range of brands including The Banker, Money Management, Investors Chronicle, FT Money, FT Wealth plus a range of highly targeted professional news and analysis brands; and FT Labs, the group's web and app development operation. The group also has a 50 per cent shareholding in The Economist Group.
2. The FT has flourished as a cross-platform news brand under the editorship of Lionel Barber, who succeeded Andrew Gowers in 2005. The paper had been flirting with the notion of broadening its appeal beyond boardrooms and the City; Barber refocused the title on its traditional virtues as a must-read information source for "the world's global decision-makers" - and almost immediately underlined the newspaper's positioning as a premium product by doubling its coverprice (currently £2.50; £3 on Saturdays).
3. Barber was also instrumental in developing a coherent cross-platform strategy. In 2007, the group became the world's first media organisation to adopt a metered-access model for the paper's website, FT.com. This allows you to read up to eight articles a month free of charge. You're then invited to subscribe to a package that gives you access to all areas via any platform you fancy, be it desktop, smartphone or tablet. FT.com has more than 300,000 digital subscribers (the figure has grown 31 per cent in the past year) and more than five million registered users.
4. It has also been at the forefront in the development of mobile access software. In June 2011, the FT became the first major news organisation to launch a mobile web app using HTML5.
5. The FT produces its own figures (they aren't audited but are given "assurance" by PricewaterhouseCoopers) for what it terms its Average Daily Global Audience. By this measure (as of July 2012), the FT reaches 2.1 million people worldwide daily, across print, online and mobile.
6. In December 2011, the FT Group sold its 50 per cent stake in FTSE International to the co-owner, the London Stock Exchange, for £450 million.
7. FT Group financials have been decent despite difficult trading conditions. In half-yearly figures published in July, the group's sales were £216 million, representing headline year-on-year growth of 6 per cent. Analysts estimate that the group could be worth around £750 million.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Before the summer of 2007, uncertainty (however speculative) about the future ownership of the FT would have been of huge interest to a certain Mr Rupert Murdoch.
- But Murdoch's News Corporation now owns a world-renowned financial news brand, The Wall Street Journal - and it's not easy to imagine any of the world's other great media organisations becoming worthy owners of what is, arguably, one of the industry's classiest companies.
- And it's in all our interests to see it continue to prosper. The great thing about the FT is that it practises as a business what it preaches in its editorial columns - and, as such, offers "thought leadership" to an industry that, yes, faces problems not entirely of its own making, but which nonetheless can be prone to terribly self-destructive tendencies.
- For instance, Barber's Fulbright lecture, delivered in September 2011, is a masterful summary of the challenges facing the medium as a whole - and, in an ideal world, it would be required reading in the management corridors of all rival organisations.
- Likewise, the FT is a valued component of a surprising range of media schedules. Dominic Williams, the director of print at Aegis, reveals that he's a fan: "The FT has really changed over the last five years.
The sales team used to think they worked in the City and acted like bankers. The sell now is all about cross-platform and international - and it is more flexible than before.
It is an organisation that has changed for the better."
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk