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Marketing

Published May 3rd 2016

Interview: In Conversation on Brand Management at The Financial Times

In the latest in our series of interviews we discuss reputation management with the Head of Brand and Employee Communications at the Financial Times

In the latest in our series of blog interviews with leading businesses, we were delighted to talk to Rebecca Watts, head of brand and employee communications at the Financial Times (FT).

Founded in 1888, the FT is widely respected as a trusted source of news, comment and analysis for business readers around the world.

It is one of the only media organizations to successfully charge for its content and today makes more money from its journalism than advertising.  

The FT pioneered the metered model, widely adopted by the industry, as well as the use of HTML5 for its award-winning web app. It has adapted well to the change in media consumption habits from print to online, and now three quarters of its audience are digital subscribers.

More recently, it changed its access model to trials, whereby new readers could sample the full range of FT journalism for a month for £1 or a dollar before being asked to subscribe. This move contributed to impressive growth in circulation of 7% YOY to 793,000, 587,000 of which are digital.

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It employs almost 600 journalists across five continents covering political, economic and business news from a truly global perspective.

When Watts started working at the FT four and a half years ago, she joined in a social media role on the commercial side, a brand new position. She joined as a community manager helping to promote the FT’s range of products and services from subscriptions through to product launches and conferences.

Measuring the impact and results of this activity was a key attribute to success, and Watts would run paid advertising around each campaign and measure the results.

Making use of social media to promote content and using social listening as a way of monitoring the success of content has become increasingly important to the FT’s success.

Although her role is based from the organization’s London HQ, when we spoke to Watts she was working from its New York office.

“I work as part of a team of 30 globally. We’re responsible for promoting and protecting the reputation of the brand.

Roles vary from employee communications through to brand managers, media relations and commercial marketing. It’s a real hybrid of comms and marketing experts”.

Protecting the brand

Protecting the reputation of a 128-year-old institution is a top priority for the communications and marketing team led by SVP communications and marketing, Darcy Keller.

“The FT adopts a 24/7 always on approach to social listening” says Watts. “Working for a news organization, anything can happen, so we have to be ready at all times and listen and respond when appropriate.”

The FT has invested heavily in customer service, moderating social media round the clock from four global offices: London, New York, Hong Kong and Manila.

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It is vital for the FT to capture every mention from social about its brand, so whether that’s finding comments about a subscription offer, paywall access or deliveries, using Brandwatch Analytics, the FT captures most things.

As Watts explains, “Missing just one thing said about you by an influencer can really impact people’s perception of you.”

In 2015 the FT was bought by Japanese media group Nikkei. The deal was kept secret, such is the nature of mergers and acquisitions. Rumours were rife on social as to who they had been sold to, but nobody knew until right at the last minute that it was actually Nikkei.

Thankfully, Watts and her team were able to monitor the sentiment and be prepared to react.

“Brandwatch was at its best during that period. Using the platform, we could quickly see conversation about our brand was spiking. The team were able to react and make sure they captured all the conversation.”


Driving subscriptions

Watts’ team are also responsible for driving reach and new audiences to the FT.

The dissemination of news across social and mobile is something the FT is adjusting well to, with a strategy that encompasses multiple digital platforms.

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Watts says “readers are not just picking up a newspaper anymore or even necessarily going to the homepage of a site. They discover stories through social, search and mobile – and we need to be there, offering a consistent brand experience.”

Attracting a new readership from these platforms and other avenues is essential for the FT. To sustain the success it has achieved over the last 128 years, growing its readership will be fundamental.

“Facebook instant articles, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Blendle are all places where we’re experimenting and we have a presence, because we’ve long made it a priority to offer FT journalism through multiple platforms.”


Cohesive working across the newsroom

Watts is a part of the FT’s Marketing Council: a body made up of heads from all parts of the business, including the SVP of communications and marketing, B2C marketing director, MD of FT.com, editorial staff and people from data analytics, B2C and B2B marketing.

Between them, they discuss opportunities to collaborate and align their efforts, especially around aspects like messaging and creative.

The council also discuss where to apply their budgets so that they complement one another. Watts believes that the impact of the council has been a fantastic success for the business.

“For an organisation our size, we find that’s the best way to get people to work closely together. It was something that we set up in 2015 and it’s working really well.”

A world-class multi-media organization

Following the acquisition by Nikkei, growth in the Asian market has become a big focus; a goal that sits alongside the publisher’s North American ambitions.

“We’ve got a really strong subscriber base and we’re continuing to drive new audiences to our site, but how can we continue to be relevant and a destination site for accurate, world-class journalism?”

Watts has recently launched its first truly integrated brand campaign ‘Make the right connections’.

It helps demonstrate how the Financial Times helps readers understand the links between seemingly unrelated events through powerful and impactful creative.

The ads will run across social, search, display, outdoor and TV, meaning Brandwatch Analytics will be crucial to measuring success and tracking brand sentiment.

“Data from Brandwatch will be used to complement data we get from our own internal analytics. We’ll be looking at how people talk about things online alongside insights that web analytics are showing” ends Watts.


A big thanks to Rebecca for speaking with us. This interview is one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.


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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.