As the modern-day workforce weighs returning to in-person offices, The Financial Times is re-committing to a U.S. expansion.
The UK-based publisher is opening new bureaus in Houston and Hollywood, part of the company’s plans to reach more readers in the U.S. by further investing in the sectors — and the hubs — where American companies are dominant players on a global scale.
The bureau in Houston, which officially opens in September, is the FT’s first joint office with Nikkei, the Japanese financial news company that acquired FT in 2015 for $1.3 billion. Both publishers are investing in office space in Houston to double down on coverage of global energy and how it’s affecting oil, gas and tech companies based in the U.S. The Hollywood bureau will focus on the business of the entertainment industry.
The FT’s U.S. readership has increased in the last few years, starting with Brexit coverage, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic which doubled its U.S. audience before the U.S. presidential election last year tripled it, said Peter Spiegel, US managing editor of the FT.
U.S. readership accounted for over 40% of FT.com’s traffic in the week leading up to Election Day, Spiegel said — usually, it makes up about a quarter to a third of the website’s audience. However, the publication is already seeing some of that taper off. FT.com had 1.4 million total U.S. unique visitors in June 2021, down 14% compared to the year prior, according to Comscore.
FT began covering energy with a standalone vertical about a year and a half ago, hiring Derek Brower as U.S. energy editor in January 2020. In 2021, an FT.com reader was twice as likely to read an energy story compared to last year, according to Spiegel.
The FT has about 1.1 million global print and digital subscribers, about a third of which are in the U.S., according to Spiegel, who said U.S. paid readers are “overwhelmingly digital,” around 80%. He did not provide exact figures.
The growth in its U.S. audience — and failing to continue to develop more of a readership in Asia after making a “huge investment” — led the company to reconsider its strategy here, Spiegel said, who did not provide additional commentary on what that investment looked like.
A three-year growth plan for the U.S. was born. “We were punching below our weight, with not enough editorial or marketing resources” behind FT’s reach in the U.S., Spiegel said. Now year two of that three-year plan, he did not provide context on how much money the company is pooling — or will continue to invest — into its U.S. expansion.
The FT is targeting “global Americans” or those involved in an industry or sector that is “global in scale,” such as finance, energy and tech, Spiegel said. Or Americans that have family, business or academic ties to global markets. It’s not necessarily about competing with other financial publications like The Wall Street Journal, but being a part of the mix of subscriptions a “global American” — and left unsaid: those that have a wallet of one — might pay for. “I do think there’s space for all of us,” Spiegel said.
By targeting this demographic, the publication could theoretically also attract luxury advertisers, a category that wasn’t hit as hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The publication is focused on news quality, over specific beats or filling teams. A US-China correspondent role for its D.C. bureau, as an example, aims to get scoops on relations between the two countries ranging from foreign policy to trade. The FT’s U.S. headquarters in New York City is focused on financial coverage and a bureau in San Francisco covers Silicon Valley and tech. The FT also has an office in Chicago.
The Houston bureau is technically a reopening — the FT had an office there that shuttered over a decade ago. The joint bureau will be mostly about pooling resources and sharing a physical space. Editorial will remain separate. However, there may be opportunities down the line for the FT and Nikkei to co-host events, Spiegel said. In August, the FT will open another bureau in the Los Angeles area to cover the media and entertainment industries. These new bureaus mean the FT will have more offices in the U.S than in the U.K, Spiegel said.
“When you expand a new audience for a media company, especially a business-to-business one like the FT, the way you typically expand is through a specialization,” said Ava Seave, principal of Quantum Media, a management consulting firm specializing in media. Choosing a city like Houston to focus on the energy sector, “makes sense and is a smart way” to “expand your market by a speciality,” and find areas of coverage that differentiate the FT from other publications covering that sector as well. Being in Houston could give the FT “a competitive advantage,” Seave said. (Houston employs nearly a third of the country’s jobs in oil and gas extraction.)
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