Reuters held a press briefing last week. For most organisations, this
would be routine stuff. More so, you’d think, for a company that makes
its living disseminating information. So it was surprising to hear from
the nice lady from Firefly PR who organised the event that this was the
first time the men from Reuters had met the press and they were...well,
Quite how someone like Mark Wood, a former correspondent in Vienna, East
Berlin and Moscow and now executive director of Reuters, could have
butterflies in the presence of a handful of hacks in a private dining
room is beyond me, but I have to admit that the Reuters team did remind
me of Mole from Wind in the Willows, emerging blinking into the sunlight
after decades in dark tunnels.
The reason for their emergence after years of serene isolation was
simple: Reuters is having a pop at marketing itself, and it’s a new
experience. For most of the century, the group has been increasing its
stranglehold on financial information for the City, to the extent that
it now accounts for 93% of turnover. The supply of news to the media is
relatively small beer by comparison.
Nevertheless, Reuters reckons it has something to shout about with
Business Briefing, an information service that runs on PCs, and it feels
the need to talk to the press as part of its effort to get the thing
into the hands of business folk everywhere. It faces stiff competition.
There’s the formidable Dan Wagner marketing machine at MAID, with its
Profound service. Very whizzy and available via your Net browser without
special software. Then there are briefing products on the big online
services, CompuServe and AOL.
But perhaps more important is the competition from Everything Else We
Have To Do With Our Time. A nice chap from the Independent asked the
question: ‘How on earth did sales and marketing people get by before
they had access to all this news?’
I can’t deny that it is very valuable indeed to download a full briefing
on the company you’re about to pitch to or the brand you want to buy -
it’s what we do at Marketing before we start writing a news story - but
I do fear for the sanity of brand managers and agency account execs as
they struggle to cope with an ever-expanding surge of information oozing
from every desktop orifice.
Twenty years ago news came through three TV channels, BBC radio and the
newspaper. Now it comes through dozens more TV news operations, over
the fax, through mobile phones and pagers, over the Net and even from
screens in the queue at the railway station. If we absorb it all, where
are we going to find time to do our jobs?
The trick to survival in marketing is going to be not getting hold of
more information, but getting better at knowing what to ignore. If there
is a future for magazines like Marketing, it is in making sense of the
torrent of information we receive every day and serving up what really
matters in a handy portion pack.
It’s good that Reuters has decided to come out of the closet and sell
its news to a wider audience, but the value of its service should be
measured as much by what it leaves out as what it puts in.