William T. Bisson Jr., is group publisher of financial media at Crain Communications, which oversees Pensions & Investments, InvestmentNews and P & I Daily and serves as vice president of Crain Communications. Crain also publishes business newspapers in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, New York and in Mexico as well as industry publications such as Business Insurance.
Bisson has been the person behind the launch of Crain’s latest publication, New York-based FinancialWeek, which had its debut issue last week. On Monday, Bisson talked by telephone about the weekly business newspaper, which will begin publishing weekly in 2007. Bisson hopes to have a circulation of 55,000 and sell subscriptions for $79 a year.
What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
1. What was behind the decision making at Crain to start this publication?
The decision essentially was that all of the trade publications I read, including Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek, youâ€™re looking at all of this information and thinking, canâ€™t I consolidate this all down into one publication? This is an awful lot to read every week. That was the thinking. We have a unique perspective, and weâ€™re looking for a niche. Corporate finance is one of them, but there wasnâ€™t a high frequency newspaper serving that market. We made a presentation to the Crain family, and they bought into it.
2. What kind of audience readership are you seeking?
The core reader will be the CFO of a corporation. Weâ€™re looking at large companies and middle market companies, basically. Itâ€™s the 17,000 largest companies with $100 million in revenue or 100 employees. Thatâ€™s where we started looking.
3. What is the niche that this publication fits that you feel isn’t being filled by other publications?
The niche is a comprehensive newspaper that picks up the things that a CFO would be interested in. It wonâ€™t have the depth of Pensions & Investments. You want to generally know whatâ€™s going on across 10 or 15 beats, from investor relations to governance rules. But you donâ€™t need a primer written for you. Itâ€™s a little broader, but itâ€™s not as broad as the Wall Street Journal. We will have news, trends and analysis, not in-depth features. Itâ€™s what Crain does.
4. Why a newspaper format instead of a magazine format?
Weâ€™re not very good at magazines. Nothing against them. But the higher you climb in the corporate hierarchy, the less time you have to read magazines and you become depending on news. You get a piece of news information, it might change a decision you make.
5. Can you give me an example of some of the stories that will be covered?
Anything thatâ€™s regulatory, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, that would be important. We did stories in the first issue on the merger with the New York Stock Exchange. We did a story on audit fees and how they didnâ€™t drop after Sarbanes-Oxley. There will be things on corporate governance and investor relations. Any FASB rulings that would come out, we would be on top of. Itâ€™s supposed to be a quick hit for somebody who is already on top of the game. Weâ€™re not teaching anybody anything, weâ€™re just telling them whatâ€™s going on.
6. Do you see this publication breaking news about finance?
Oh yeah. Itâ€™s an ongoing process at Crainâ€™s. We donâ€™t own a publication that doesnâ€™t intend to break news. Itâ€™s an expectation that we have, and we can do it in a weekly newspaper.
7. What publications will FinancialWeek compete against?
At this point, from a readership standpoint, weâ€™ll compete with the Journal. Thatâ€™s the competition that the editorial staff looks up to. In its own niche, CFO magazine is a logical one, but it has redesigned itself and is trying to compete with Forbes and BuisinessWeek, and weâ€™re not interested in that. Thatâ€™s more broader based. This will be a hard-working publication in terms of what is going on.
8. You have hired four staff writers so far. How big will the editorial staff get?
It will be 18 by the end of this year. The budget calls for 20 at the beginning of next year. Right now, most of them are going to be in New York, but we also have an office in San Francisco, and I expect we will have two people in Washington within two years. Ultimately, we will have them globally. Normally, we get them from the business sections of newspapers. We donâ€™t have much success hiring from magazines. We like them better. They have news backgrounds.
9. How does this fit in with the other business publications at Crain’s?
It fits into my group very well. I have Pension & Investments, which normally fits into the treasurer department of a company and endowments and money management. The ad sales people will call on the same people, but at a higher level. It wonâ€™t be the director of pensions, but the CFO. Itâ€™s a complement to Pensions & Investments. Workforce Management is an HR book we bought several years ago, and it fits into that area as well because the HR directors report typically to the CFO. Business Insurance is another paper that we have, and this publication will also be covering that, but for a higher-level executive. It complements everything. Within the company, it could be a core publication that everything else revolves around.
10. How will the paper be distributed to readers nationwide?
Postal. In certain cities, we may use alternative distribution. The first issue is going to 75,000, and the second issue in September will go to a similar sized audience. But it will be predominantly be post office. We control the circulations pretty tight on these publications.
11. What will be the Web presence? Will breaking stories be posted on the Internet first?
For sure. The four people we have hired right now are trying to figure out how to do that on an ongoing basis. The intent is to integrate online reporting with print reporting. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s unusual. It makes more sense. We want to be the first ones with the story, and the Web allows us to do that.
12. How is the process going in finding an editor?
Weâ€™re going through the interviewing process. Weâ€™re looking for a certain kind of editor, and I desperately want someone who is hard news. Most of what we look at in terms of hiring editorial staff is newspapers. It wonâ€™t be as broad as the Wall Street Journal, but it wonâ€™t be as deep as Pensions & Investments. But we can go deep if we want to, and will go deep. Thatâ€™s why I like daily newspaper reporters and editors. Daily newspaper people have pretty good news judgment.