Tag Archives: Company coverage
by Liz Hester
Panel discussions at the fall Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in New York touched on topics ranging from how to increase revenue and audiences to social media best practices.
Nearly everyone agreed that the best way to attract and retain audiences was to produce quality content and deliver value. Sitting on the panel were Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek; Nik Deogun, senior vice president and editor of business news at CNBC; and Gary Silverman, U.S. News editor at the Financial Times.
“People don’t read out of obligation anymore,” Tyrangiel said. “You want to use everything you’ve got to impress people that you care.”
It’s important for business organizations to smartly explain business news, especially complicated stories, Deogun said. Journalists are paid to analyze events and present balanced facts.
The conversation turned to advertising and placement online. Tyrangiel said his vision was for fewer ads on the page and higher quality views for advertisers. He said companies need to consider building more customized ads in order to better engage audiences.
On the social media front, all of those on the panel talked about how to engage people in the conversation, especially on their mobile devices. Bloomberg created a specific social media policy and trained every reporter on it. Everyone agreed that social media created another important way to reach an audience and integration into current platforms would happen more quickly.
Journalists and public relations executives discussed the best way to work with each other in one of the day’s later panels. Author and New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin and Vanity Fair contributor Bethany McLean were joined by Bill Hensel of Invesco, Ben Deutsch, vice president of public relations at Coca-Cola; Herbert Winokur, CEO of Capricon Holdings, and Stephen Labaton, former New York Times reporter and partner at RLM Finsbury.
Much of the conversation was about the state of distrust between companies and the financial media. Labaton said the level of cynicism had increased, partly due to the rise of some journalists as pundits. Since the line is being blurred between reporting fact and analysis, it can lead to a lack of access or mistrust.
Some of the mistrust comes into play when companies try to front-run stories or keep reporters from breaking news. All on the panel agreed that it is important to establish a relationship. Over time, that’s what helps public relations people make the case to their executives for talking to reporters about stories or sitting down for interviews.
Panelists also discussed the recent controversy over quote approvals. Deutsch said that he would never ask for approvals, but appreciated it when reporters would review what was said for accuracy.
Sorkin said the real reason for quote approval was to limit what was published. Television is always on the record, while those who ask to do interviews on background and review quotes are trying to limit what is published.
McLean said she had real sympathy for executives who have no incentive to speak on the record. She said she would rather have the conversation and not use any of the information on the record than not know what the interviewee thought.
Several of the public relations executives also agreed companies were struggling to find the right way to use social media. Blogs and other tools should be additive to the coverage and not try to front-run stories reporters bring to them.
Most of those on the panel agreed that there should be a shift back to more dialogue and openness on the part of both companies and journalists. While the adversarial relationship was built into the relationship, both sides agreed people should listen and remain open to having a conversation.
by Liz Hester
It’s no secret that certain reporters have better access to companies, executives and information. Many have such incredible access they’re household names – creating their own brands for breaking news.
This is great for their publications — think Andrew Ross Sorkin’s branded content in Dealbook for the New York Times. By consistently being the first to the story and leveraging his sources for key details, Sorkin has been able to make a name for himself and in turn elevate the paper’s coverage.
This might seem obvious, but it’s important to note the cyclical nature of the game. Sorkin breaks a story, strengthens his brand, and in turn, more people want to talk to him. His hard work pays off, which is how it should be.
I use this example to point out the power of relationships. With each conversation, Sorkin is building trust. The more public relations people trust you to quote their executives, present their sides of the story and listen, the better the access. As more executives see you getting the story right and using the information they give, the more likely they are to take the time to talk.
Many companies choose which publications or reporters will receive information based on past experience working together. Which writer is sympathetic to this particular issue or which publication has the best track record of covering the story are all considerations in deciding who will get the heads up.
Sometimes, it’s even built into the media plan to leak the story to certain reporters or publications. When agencies or other executives put together the press plan, this is often the case for deals, they’ll build in the leak to a certain publication as part of the process. Usually the client has the final say in who gets the information first, so long-term relationships and coverage will come into play here.
It seems that everyone would be balanced, but different publications definitely have different viewpoints. Coverage is shaped by the way those editors and reporters have written about topics previously.
On the face of it, choosing if and how to leak a story is the public relations professional’s job. They should have the industry knowledge and relationships to exercise this last bit of control. But, sometimes it goes a little too far.
Recently, Stephen Roach, a Yale professor, made comments on Bloomberg TV about the power of a Wall Street Journal reporter. From the Business Insider story:
But he also took the opportunity to take a dig at both Hilsenrath and the Fed, which Bloomberg reporter Betty Liu called mere speculation:
“They [The Fed] have gone about their usual pre-FOMC leak frenzy where they talk to this reporter and that reporter. Jon Hilsenrath is actually the chairman of the Fed. When he writes something in the Wall Street Journal, Bernanke has no choice but to deliver on what he wrote.”
Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it does point out the power of consistent leaks and the perceptions that creates. On the plus side, this means the Journal has a lot of institutional knowledge, allowing them to put the news into the proper context. On the minus side, it means that other reporters and publications voices dim a little each time.
One of the best parts about the U.S. media is the competition and ability to have different perspectives. When access to information is doled out, that reduces slightly. Companies are obviously looking to break news, especially bad news, in the most favorably light possible. It’s important to keep in mind when a story breaks.
The cycle of favoritism can also make it harder for younger reporters to cover a beat. Earning that trust and building relationships often starts by writing the small scoops such as a new manager or hire from another firm, a former colleague used to call them “beat sweeteners.” They’re not groundbreaking, but can go a long way to show contacts at companies a reporter is willing to work with them and listen to their comments.
Playing favorites is unavoidable and often the product of many years hard work by reporters. It’s building those source relationships over time typically wins you the information. Problems can arise when there’s a perception that one publication has outsized power or influence when covering a story.
But it seems that given today’s competition and the speed that outlets can match each other’s reporting, the built in leak is only a temporary advantage. It’s much more important for a reporter, a reward for all the lunches and cold-calls and care spent writing a good story. We all benefit from that.
by Chris Roush
Business journalists are invited to attend a workshop in New York on recent revenue, profitability and employment data for private companies.
The session, which is hosted by Sageworks, will be held Oct. 4 at the Harvard Club from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The speakers will include Brian Hamilton, the CEO of Sageworks, which does financial analysis of privately held companies. Hamilton will talk about new revenue, profitability and data trends in privately held companies and what these financial trends mean for the economy and jobs. Hamilton is an expert on private companies and is currently a guest columnist for Inc. magazine and Forbes.com.
Also speaking will be Giuseppe Gramigna, the chief economist of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Gramigna will discuss current trends and data on access to credit and capital, capital expenditures and labor markets as they relate to small businesses.
The event is free, but please RSVP at 212-683-9200 or register here.
by Liz Hester
William D. Cohan’s exceptional profile of Robert Rubin in Bloomberg Businessweek should be on everyone’s must-read list, especially younger journalists and students. Not to gush too much, but it’s balanced, fair, critical and interesting. And anyone who’s ever had to convince someone to say something less than glowing about an executive as well connected as Rubin – much less on the record — can appreciate the work behind the story.
Writing a profile, especially one as comprehensive as Cohan’s, requires a lot of interviews, skill at asking the right questions at the right time and research. It’s easy to find the person willing to praise a friend, colleague or client. In a world where it’s hard to know who is a potential client or could be in the office next door, saying the wrong thing could be costly.
But after reading the story, I impressed not only with who was quoted, but how substantive their on-the-record comments were. Cohan told Rubin’s side of the story and also called to question some of the less-flattering aspects of his record. From the story:
This legendary stillness, combined with decades of economic and market expertise, keeps Rubin in constant demand. Since 2007 he’s been the co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he maintains a disheveled office and employs his longtime assistant. He’s considered the intellectual father of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, which examines the relationship between government spending and unemployment. He’s a regular participant at the annual Bilderberg Meetings (so secretive they make Davos look like an American Idol taping) and a member of the Harvard Corporation, the discreet board that runs his alma mater. He also meets regularly with congressmen and foreign leaders and has access to the Obama administration through Timothy Geithner and other protégés. In 2010 he joined Centerview Partners, an advisory investment banking boutique, as a counselor to founders Blair Effron and Robert Pruzan.
It’s enough to keep a 74-year-old plenty busy. But not enough to shake questions about just how wise and thoughtful Robert Rubin really is, especially on the fourth anniversary of a financial crisis in which he played a pivotal, under-examined role. Rubinomics—his signature economic philosophy, in which the government balances the budget with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, driving borrowing rates down—was the blueprint for an economy that scraped the sky. When it collapsed, due in part to bank-friendly policies that Rubin advocated, he made more than $100 million while others lost everything. “You have to view people in a fair light,” says Phil Angelides, co-chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, who credits Rubin for much of the Clinton-era prosperity. “But on the other side of the ledger are key acts, such as the deregulation of derivatives, or stopping the Commodities Futures Trading Commission from regulating derivatives, that in the end weakened our financial system and exposed us to the risk of financial disaster.”
As Cohan himself points out, it’s hard to find an unflattering profile of Rubin. The story, although not glowing, does point out some of Rubin’s good qualities, such as being a good mentor, according to Sheryl Sandberg. But:
It’s not his personality that riles critics of Rubin’s four-and-a-half-year tenure at Treasury. It’s his failure to tame the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall and the wild expansion of over-the-counter derivatives, which were traded between banks, out of the public eye. “The changes that Robert Rubin drove through in the 1990s certainly helped plant the seed for [the] collapse,” says Angelides. (That’s Phil, the co-chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.)
And it’s exactly quotes like these from Angelides that make the profile so strong and a good primer for students. Often it’s hard to write something critical when covering a beat, especially if that person is, say the CEO of the company you cover. But all executives should be held accountable for their actions and Cohan’s story does just that.
by Chris Roush
Business journalist Roddy Boyd writes about how some companies that are criticized by the media and investors file lawsuits to shut their critics up.
Boyd writes, “Unsurprisingly, Fairfax does not agree with the notion that its lawsuit was primarily designed to stifle critics. Approached for comment, Michael Bowe, the Kasowitz Benson partner directing the litigation, emailed the following statement:
Fairfax sued not for “criticism,” but because people were spreading false claims that Fairfax was an insolvent, Enron-like fraud in order, in defendants’ own words, to “kill” the company. The Court found that there was “absolutely no question” that this intentional conduct caused Fairfax to “suffer … massive pecuniary/economic loss.” The Court’s ultimate conclusion that the law provided no legal redress for such massive losses is unfortunate and incorrect and will, we are confident, be reversed on appeal.
“Nonetheless, let’s look at the math: The hedge funds sued in the Fairfax case each spent $3 million to $4 million per year on legal fees. They were able to absorb it because they were large. But a small hedge fund likely does not have an extra $4 million in cash flow to pay lawyers – and fund investors are loath to invest in smaller funds with ongoing litigation. That creates a powerful disincentive for small-fund managers to speak publicly, even if they believe their research has uncovered significant fraud.
“Financial journalists, too, have incentives to keep quiet. The financial media’s ability to play a meaningful watchdog role has declined as rapidly as its economic health. The result has been shrinking staffs, bigger workloads and decreased appetites for potential conflict. Journalistically the result is a non-threatening palaver that faithfully recaps a conflict between a company and a critic, but does nothing to advance any understanding of the fight.
“Ultimately, the only people who are safe speaking up in this scenario are the rich. Even though hedge fund managers like Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn or Kynikos’s Jim Chanos have spent many millions of dollars in legal fees fighting off pointless litigation, their headaches are just that: headaches. They are profoundly wealthy and going to stay that way.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
The Houston Chronicle announced Wednesday that it will begin publishing content from the energy industry website FuelFix in Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The move coincides with the paper’s hiring of AP reporter Harry Weber to cover energy news.
“I’m pleased to welcome Harry to our energy staff,” Chronicle business editor Laura Goldberg said in a statement. “His tenacious reporting style and extensive experience covering the oil spill make him a valuable addition to our team of talented journalists who excel at providing comprehensive coverage of the energy industry from exploration and production to pipelines and refineries.”
Extending FuelFix to print from the web, where it has attracted nearly 2 million unique visitors this year, is a natural next step in the Chronicle’s expanding coverage of one of the region’s most important industries, Chronicle president John T. O’Loughlin said.
“Six of the top ten employers in Houston are energy sector companies,” O’Loughlin said in a statement. “In a city where everyone is both talking about and affected by oil and gas, we know how important it is to host this conversation.”
Joining the Chronicle as the charter advertising sponsor is Statoil, the petroleum refining company that this year was named the top business in its field on Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” list. The firm also advertises on FuelFix.com.
Read more here.
by Liz Hester
The era of rising corporate profits may be over. As Nelson Schwartz wrote on Sept. 16, gains in earnings at large companies are declining, after outpacing the broader economy since the last recession. From his story:
In all, Wall Street expects quarterly profits at the typical large American company to decline for the first time since 2009.
The causes of the expected decline are many. In addition to the anemic economy in the United States, much of Europe has fallen into recession while growth in China, once white-hot, has slowed. There is also the looming prospect of automatic tax increases and spending cuts in Washington, which has caused companies to sit on the sidelines.
FedEx Corp. cut its yearly profit estimates for the fiscal year ending in May after demand for global shipping services has fallen. According to the Associated Press, “FedEx’s forecasts are closely watched for signals of future economic health. Its results provide insight into the global economy because of the number of products it ships and the number of countries in which it does business.”
Rival United Parcel Service missed quarterly earnings expectations in July and cut its full year forecast citing the European financial crisis and the looming “fiscal cliff” in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Federal Reserve reinforced the weak outlook last week, announcing another round of economic stimulus through bond purchases and continued low interest rates. Industrial production also posted its largest monthly contraction since March 2009 last week, falling 1.2 percent in August.
It’s clear that corporations are feeling the effects of the economic slowdown. They’re likely also suffering since many have been holding onto cash instead of investing it in their own business. Again, from Schwartz:
After reducing spending and eliminating jobs during the recession, American companies reaped huge gains by keeping expenses down and putting off aggressively hiring new workers as growth slowly returned. Strong profits have also propelled the stock market higher, reassuring investors whose other assets, like real estate, have declined in value over the same period.
Thinking about this, my first thought was this “news” lacked the fundamental element of surprise. I’m worried about Europe and the fiscal crisis, I expect every CEO worth his/her paycheck is also concerned. But what’s most important about FedEx, UPS and others is the global nature of their businesses.
China, which is trying its hardest to take over as the world’s largest consumer, is also suffering. This is a country with a state-supported economic system. If the one-party dictators can’t keep the economic engines steaming ahead, it’s definitely going to be hard for those operating in a more capitalistic environment to keep growing.
FedEx is worried about China, according to another WSJ story:
Some China observers “completely underestimate” the impact of slowing exports despite the country’s domestic stimulus efforts, Mr. Smith said during a conference call with analysts after the company reported a slip in fiscal first-quarter profit.
Mr. Smith’s comments echo recent concerns expressed by other prominent executives. Andrew Liveris, chief executive of Dow Chemical Co. last week cautioned that destocking by Chinese clients was continuing, while small and medium-sized enterprises were suffering from a liquidity crunch. “They really are hurting, and bankruptcies are starting to occur,” said Mr. Liveris at an investor event.
That’s not a lot of good news for people struggling to make ends meet, working several part-time jobs or chronically under-employed. It’s hard to tell whether things are getting better, worse or staying the same. And if the rest of the world is any indication, no one’s sure where the global economy is heading.
While skimming through my go-to financial news websites this past week, I couldn’t help but notice the number of articles dedicated to New York Fashion Week, which officially ended Thursday night.
This struck me as a bit odd at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Fashion Week is just another part of the consumer industry, just a bit more glammed up and high-profile than usual.
Since business journalists closely cover the back-to-school shopping season, monthly retail reports and holiday sales, it only makes sense that they cover New York Fashion Week, a time when designers market their lines in creative ways to attract potential buyers to their collections.
In fact, Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) started Fashion’s Night Out in 2009 specifically to encourage consumers to shop and support the fashion industry coming out of the recession.
“Don’t be fooled by the air kisses, the man in orange leather shorts or the reality stars in the front row. This thing the call Fashion Week is just a glammed-up trade show,” said the Wall Street Journal in an article. “Every one here is hustling for something. It’s probably for the money, might be for the fame, and only for the very lucky few, the art.”
Despite flaunting outfits that could only be worn on a runway, New York Fashion Week comes down to money. And business journalists follow the money. The council estimated that the week would generate $865 million for the city of New York.
Bloomberg has a business journalist who solely reports on specialty retail, and the Wall Street Journal had a special section of its website dedicated to fashion week (the link will take you to WSJ’s section of London Fashion Week now since that began Friday).
It seems that stories about high fashion have become more popular for financial news outlets, perhaps partly because many fashion companies have gone public in recent years. Michael Kors stock has risen 122 percent since its initial public offering in December 2011. The S&P Luxury Index has bounced back by 291 percent since the depths of the recession in 2009, according to Bloomberg.
And for those independent designers who aren’t become publicly traded, many collaborate with publicly traded companies such as Target Corp. to bring high fashion to the masses. Jason Wu, the 26-year-old designer who made Michelle Obama’s inauguration-ball gown, launched a line with Target earlier this year and will debut a line for Nordstrom this January. Italian fashion designer Missoni has collaborated with Target as well.
Investors may view Fashion Week as another indicator of how successful consumer spending is going into the holiday season, and which trends will and won’t be successful – pointing to which companies will come out on top and which ones will not.
Steven Sadove, the chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, told Bloomberg that fashion retailers similarly watched the stock market to determine whether or not the fall season would be successful.
But beyond the close connection to finance and the stock market, New York Fashion Week markets luxury goods. News outlets such as Bloomberg, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal reach the readership that can afford – and enjoy—these luxuries.
While maybe a “typical guy” wouldn’t be attracted to the $4000+ suits shown on the runway, the top businessmen that read the WSJ or Bloomberg terminal each day is more inclined to be.
Last week, I was having drinks with a few of my friends who now work in finance. I, admittedly, know nothing about men’s fashion, but my two male friends were talking about the nuances in the pleats and cuffs in suit pants, and whether button-down shirts were allowed to have pockets. To an extent, this sector of the population cares about fashion – or at least about appearance.
These articles focusing on the business of luxury make sense for the targeted readership, and help boost web traffic. Bloomberg has a magazine entitled Bloomberg Pursuits, which specifically targets luxury lifestyle. The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ. magazine has a similar focus. New York Fashion Week intends to sell clothing, while news outlets aim to “sell” articles that will increase readership.
“At the end of the day, we are businesspeople,” Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing told The Journal.
by Liz Hester
Recently, I was watching an interview with author Michael Lewis for Reuters TV and he was asked would the president make a good chief executive officer. His response was to turn the question around to would a CEO make a good president. His answer: no because they’re too used to getting what they want and having people follow their orders.
Now, I think Lewis is an incredible writer, but his response is trite and doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the president is actually a CEO position, so it would seem that the characteristics that make you good in the public sector would make you great in the private sector.
Here’s a small list of skills, qualities, and characteristics that work for both jobs:
- Politics: to rise to the top of either political party or a Fortune 100 company, you have to be good at navigating personalities, balancing agendas, reading people and using information to accomplish something. You can be brilliant, but toil away at a mid-level corporate job if you’ve not able to motivate and lead people.
- Decision-making: Both a good CEO and a good president need to be decisive, sometimes there are only seconds to make the call and both need the confidence to not second-guess their choices.
- Informed: There’s a balance between having the facts and getting bogged down in the details. Finding that balance is important for both jobs.
- Delegation: Not the kind you send to India, but being able to hire (and keep) the right people working for you is one of the biggest keys for successful CEOs and presidents. Those who have only “yes people” or isolate themselves from the rest of the organization tend to fail. You have to trust the people around you will get the job done and present you with the right information.
- Communication: you have to value it, make it a priority and be willing to spend the time letting others know your vision, a clear plan for getting there and what the final outcome should be.
And it’s this last point, that brings up an interesting question: Would coverage of politics and the presidency be any different if a CEO held the nation’s top job? Of course much of that depends on personality, but communication is critical to both the running of a good company and the country.
I do think politicians need the media more than executives. To run a successful company, you need to make sure your shareholders, board of directors and employees are informed. The thoughts of the broader public aren’t nearly as important to a CEO as a president since the latter depends on the public for employment.
It’s possible that this would make getting information out of a CEO-run White House harder for reporters, but I doubt it. CEOs are used to complying with securities laws, dealing with regulators and making sure their investors understand their vision. It’s no different explaining foreign policy decisions.
In this age of the constant news cycle and demands of the public for incremental updates, most executives are used to working with reporters to shape coverage. In fact, the best-regarded companies have sophisticated public relations strategies and consider the “reputational risk” associated with every deal, hire or decision. It’s no different than a career politician sitting at the helm of the nation.
While I do see that some CEO-types might have a more closed or guarded approach to the press, the importance of public opinion would likely push them toward standard engagement with the media. Reporters need to accumulate clicks (or in the case of a few, sell papers) but both executives and politicians rely more now on reputation to keep their jobs. And for that, you have to get the information out somehow.
by Chris Roush
Steve Smith of minonline writes about how blogs and sites that cover Apple reported a large increase in traffic this week due to the iPhone 5 announcement.
Smith writes, “IDG’s Macworld.com reports that its live blog of the Apple presentation in San Francisco drew 300,000 unique visitors. The event gave the site twice its typical day’s traffic.
“At Conde Nast’s Ars Technica they employed a proprietary platform built for just such an occasion. The special area of the site allowed for live blog posts to work seamlessly with image feeds as well as user commentary. The area was also designed to withstand hard hits to the servers and still perform.
“And the platform came in handy yesterday. Ars Technica recorded its highest traffic day ever because of the iPhone 5 event. It counted 15.3 million page views, 500% the daily average. The live blog platform got a whopping 13.2 million of those pages, up from 8 million for the iPhone 4S launch. As for unique, it drew 684,000.
“Searches for ‘iPhone 5′ had already been up over 100% in August, according to reports.
“Which is not to say that interest was unprecedented everywhere. Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science, tells minonline that his site’s live blog of the roll-out did get a characteristic bump, but not of quite scale or longevity one might expect. ‘It was our highest-trafficked topic of the day, what with our liveblog of the event, but was eclipsed by other unrelated topics the following day — science miscellany and the like,’ he says.”
Read more here.