Our FH colleagues invited us and our clients to a presentation by Ed Finn, editor and president of Barrons and editor in chief of SmartMoney. Having heard Ann Moore, CEO of Time Warner speak at the D Conference about her publications’ embracing of online publishing and knowing that many of my technology comrades are downsizing their print offerings in favor of online, I was particularly interested to hear what Finn would say about how that medium is working from a profits standpoint.
He acknowledged that his numbers for paid online subscriptions — 100,000 (versus 300,000 for the print edition) pale against Wall Street Journal’s online paid subscribers. But interestingly, Barrons is a profitable operation, which he attributes partly to the strength of their content. They have financial industry veterans with an average of 15 years of experience, who could be running hedge funds, writing their articles because they love this kind of journalism. They have inspired a loyal following of roughly 60,000-70,000 financial traders who read the pub, either in print or online, because they make decisions based on what they are reading. They spend, on average, 2.5 hours a week reading the pub. Finn describes it this way: Barrons is different from WSJ, Forbes, Fortune and other business pubs because “we spend more energy trying to figure out what is going to happen next,” rather than reporting on what already happened. Because of this, Barrons is cited for moving stocks 10 times more than Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek combined, according to Finn.
How have they fared? Well, Finn admits that on the short side, they haven’t done as well or perhaps are even with the market. But he likes to think of them as being “early, not wrong.” He points to an article a number of years ago saying Amazon was priced way too high as an example of being early, but not wrong. He said they wrote an article about “Gurgle” (guess who?) saying that its stock should not be 350 and it has gone up and up from there. “We’ll see if we’re early on that one,” he said.
Finn did say that the average print reader looks at $500 worth of print ads, whereas the average online reader only looks at $50 worth of online ads. So if he shifted his mix too heavily in favor of online right now, given people’s lack of receptivity to most online ads, “we don’t have a great business.” But he had some good advice for online advertisers — look into video, as interest in engaging videos is growing. If something is engaging and interesting or educational, they are more willing to take a look at it than if it is popping up at them and just seems disruptive. “We have to figure out how to do that on the web.”
Finn himself sets the example of doing your homework at Barrons. He has his relatively small editorial staff of 25 writers do 30-50 editorial board meetings with top execs each year, but also, on his own, visits many CEOs for off-the-record meetings. The goal is to get smarter about the company and the industry, to learn what they know about their competitors, to dig deep, to build relationships. He said the ideal story about a company from Barrons should include information that surprises the CEO about his/her own company. That comes from not only scouring financial information, but talking with other sources surrounding the company.
It was nice to hear Finn’s optimism about the business. He says they are a niche and are not trying to grow too large too fast. “We do what we do well.” He said they have been profitable in good economic times and bad. Because of this, he’s not fearing a takeover (which he believes will happen) by Rupert Murdoch.
He left the audience with some very good advice regarding working with Barrons or any other pub: Build relationships. Get over your fear of journalists and journalism and get to know these people and their pubs before you have news to deliver to them. And most importantly, be willing to educate them. Finn’s assertion, which is sad but true, is that many journalists (not just at Barrons) may be brilliant writers, but have little or no knowledge of your company’s industry. Despite that, they will be writing an article about your company that could have strong influence. He asserts that it is the CEO’s job to educate those media about the industry overall, as well as about his/her own company.
He also made a comment that warmed my heart, as it’s something I’ve been saying for years — press releases do not equal PR. He said he had to give a talk once to a PR class. He calculated the number of press releases he opened (40,000) and how many of them turned into stories (1, with 2 others mentioned in stories). “It is more important to build relationships with people so they know you ahead of time and you know the pub, not just when there is a story.”