Financial Times Pushes to Build Business Portal

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FT.com, part of British media giant Pearson Group's Financial Times franchise and a leading news site for international commerce, has launched an initiative aiming to transform itself into an all-encompassing business Web portal.


A $3.2-million image-building ad campaign and a more user-friendly Web site, both launched earlier this month, underpin that effort for FT.com, whose sibling Financial Times ranks among the world's leading business newspapers.


"We are looking at positioning the site as a business portal rather than an online newspaper," said Paul Waddington, marketing communications director at FT.com in London. "We want to pretty much get under the skin of business people and make sure they rely on FT.com for their news and information on the business world throughout the day."


Themed "FT.completely mad about business", the campaign by the London offices of long-time FT agency Delaney Fletcher Bozell and sibling Modem Media.Poppe Tyson initially breaks in British media and runs through August. A global rollout follows in September.


"We're seeing this as the beginning of a [international] marketing push, but we're starting with a very concentrated campaign in a target-rich area of London and Southeast U.K. where a lot of the users are," said Waddington. "The purpose is to raise brand awareness and drive traffic."


"What we're doing is taking the values and integrity of the Financial Times brand and putting them online," said Tom Knox, managing director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell. "The tone is quite irreverent and fun. The positioning for FT.com is that they are passionately interested in an obsessive business and this campaign brings that to life."


The ads, which depart from the serious tone of the flagship FT print edition, deliberate on the different types of content on FT.com. They will run in the Evening Standard, Sunday Business and Financial Times newspapers, and magazines such as The Economist and Marketing Week.


An ad about stock market news shows a man on the beach, waves lapping at his feet. "Ft.completely off his trolley about company flotations," reads the headline.


Another ad for business intelligence shows a bi-spectacled man reading a book with a magnifying glass, with a geeky-looking person looking quite lost. "Ft.completely daft about data", says the headline.


Complementing that is a series of eight 10- and 20-second spots for TV which will air next month. Old black-and-white footage of events - not celebrity-linked - will be accompanied by soundtrack shilling the FT message. Around the same time, seat-backs in London's famed taxi cabs will sport FT ads.


Modem Media, meanwhile, will place FT.com banner ads on British Web sites, including Freeserve, U.K. Plus, This Is London, and The Daily Telegraph's electronic edition, as well as the local variants of Yahoo, Microsoft Network, Bloomberg, and Altavista.


Supporting this initiative is the total revamp of the Web site, tasked to Web designer Razorfish. Chief among the changes are new search and horizontal section bars that improve site navigation, a Life section that covers lifestyle, career and education issues, and faster page downloads.


"Our objective is also to increase its attractiveness to advertisers and to extend the offerings we can give to them," said Waddington.


IBM Corp., PricewaterhouseCoopers, Anderson Consulting, Walt Disney Co.'s Go Network, Xerox Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. are current FT.com advertisers and sponsors. Talks are on with other marketers, though FT won't disclose their names.


The campaign and the improvements to the site are no hint of stock market spin-off, the FT.com spokesman clarified, and neither will the service change its free-access model to the subscription route preferred by New York publisher Dow Jones & Co.'s for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.


"We don't really see much of a future in the subscription model," Waddington said. "We think advertising and sponsorship is the way to go."


But there are doubts whether the campaign or the FT.com service itself will expand its share of the online business news market in the U.S., home to the biggest, richest and most influential part of the Internet-using population worldwide.


FT.com is a well-designed site and an improvement over the old one, remarked Jeff Moore, an Internet consultant at The Strategis Group, Washington, D.C. But he had his doubts about its edge over U.S. competition such as The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition and other Dow Jones sites, MarketWatch.com and Schwab.com, among others.


While Asia contributes 11 percent of FT.com's readership and Europe 55 percent, North America accounts for about 25 percent. Overall, it claims 250,000 unique visitors a month and two million registered users in 239 countries. Access is free.


The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition has 283,000 paid subscribers, each coughing up either $59 a year or $29 if they subscribe to the flagship print edition or sister financial publication Barron's.


"[FT.com] should fare well in Britain, but it is unlikely to gain serious market share in the U.S.," Moore said. "The Financial Times' best bet in the States will be to focus on their current subscriber base and other niche markets, such as British expatriates and investment bankers."
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