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
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
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
Business people will need the tools, insight and analyses of a truly
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
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
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
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
Creating an elitist appeal much like the Economist could work - it has
been so successful here that US circulation is double that of the
The FT to a UK businessman is something more than the sum of its
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
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.