INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: CAN THE FT TAKE MANHATTAN? Paul Woolmington, a self-confessed fan of the Financial Times, looks at how well this very British institution has adapted to the US market

As a very young chap trying to enter this complex communications business, I saw the Financial Times’s first advertising campaign, ’no FT, no comment’, and thought I ought to read it. It represented a club I neither belonged to, nor aspired to. I found the publication complex, unwieldy and unfathomable. Which probably says more about me than it does about the FT.

As a very young chap trying to enter this complex communications

business, I saw the Financial Times’s first advertising campaign, ’no

FT, no comment’, and thought I ought to read it. It represented a club I

neither belonged to, nor aspired to. I found the publication complex,

unwieldy and unfathomable. Which probably says more about me than it

does about the FT.



Later, when my former agency started to court the FT, I forced myself to

revisit the paper. It became essential reading and has been ever

since.



When I transferred to the US, I continued to subscribe. Beyond my

interest in it as a business tool, I’ve been taken by its desire to

become a more required read in the US by Americans whose business

interests are becoming global.



So what is the FT up to? What are its prospects now that it has

introduced a special US edition? First, the FT hasn’t a prayer of

competing head on with the awesome Wall Street Journal. It’s one of the

highest-selling national newspapers with a US circulation of more than

1.8 million, reaching 21 per cent of all presidents and chief executive

officers and 58 per cent of all chairmen. Furthermore, it has a

fantastic editorial product and is considered the oracle of the US

financial and business world.



The FT editor, Richard Lambert, has said he’s not about to try

duplicating existing American business news services. So by 2000, the

modest but realistic goal is to double circulation to 100,000.



The game plan for the FT must be to play to its core strength - as a

complement to the Wall Street Journal for readers conducting business or

embarking with trepidation on the global business arena. The aim of the

US edition is to help internationally-minded US executives to keep their

fingers on the global pulse. And with more than 100 years’ experience in

spotting global trends, the FT is uniquely designed to do so.



Big changes in the economic climate make this move timely. Lambert says

increasing flows of foreign investment are locking the US more closely

than ever to the world economy. International trade is rising as a

proportion of gross domestic product, with export growth playing a major

role in the economy. US portfolio investors have been shifting funds

abroad increasingly.



The FT has a good chance of achieving its goal as a secondary or even

tertiary read to, say, the Wall Street Journal and the New York

Times.



Business people will need the tools, insight and analyses of a truly

international publication.



Lambert and his team seem well tuned into these global-minded US

business citizens. The FT has adapted its front page, offering up two

summary columns offering world news and business news which provide the

two-minute reader with the items of greatest interest.



The summary columns also actually serve, for the first time, as a guide

to the contents inside, highlighting relevant articles to international

readers.



Inside there are more changes. One criticism of the FT here is that it

has not given enough day-to-day coverage of the US business market. So,

unsurprisingly, it has increased US news. But not in competition with

the Wall Street Journal.



While the Wall Street Journal provides analysis of the US market, the FT

highlights the international relevance of the actions of US companies.

US global business leaders can get more coverage of the important Latin

American region. Unlike the UK, where business tends to be involved with

Europe, Latin America is a key focal point for the Americans.



One other area the FT believes can be exported with some adaptation is

the popular Lex Column, which offers short analytical takes on the day’s

business news. An American Lex columnist has been appointed. It could

have great potential here: Americans, used to press reliance on

authoritative quotations and figures to support an article’s

conclusions, may find they enjoy the more personal style of FT

editorial.



So, what are the chances of the FT achieving its modest goals? Extremely

high, given its unique positioning and rich heritage placed in context

with a growing global-minded US business environment. I think it could

be a slow process: the FT is an unfamiliar pink paper written in an

unfamiliar style. Many will need time to get used to it.



To succeed, the FT must tap into the mindset of this rare group of US

’internationalists’. It should not forget its role as a complement to

other publications that have served a need for many years.



The bigger question, one that is particularly pertinent to advertisers,

is this: will achieving its modest goals be sufficient for the FT to be

deemed successful here in the US, where numbers are huge? Analysts are

sceptical about the depth of commitment from Pearson (the FT’s parent

company) in relation to its US ambitions and this may be reflected in

the FT’s small target and cash injection. The FT’s two production sites

are in New Jersey and California, so readers may encounter late

delivery.



By contrast, the Wall Street Journal is printed in 17 plants across the

country meaning early delivery almost everywhere. And at dollars 1.50 a

copy at newsstand, the FT costs twice as much as the Wall Street

Journal.



Creating an elitist appeal much like the Economist could work - it has

been so successful here that US circulation is double that of the

UK.



The FT to a UK businessman is something more than the sum of its

parts.



It really is all about belonging to a club to which you have to earn

right of membership. And part of earning that right is being a

successful businessperson.



Equally, in the US, the FT could be missing a trick if it doesn’t tap

into that delightfully British ’snob’ value. As an Englishman in New

York, unsurprisingly, I wish it well.



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