Posted by Cognito on Wed, May 14 2014

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Grasping at shadows

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The Economist is famous for its covers and rightly so. Amongst the European print press, perhaps only the covers of Private Eye approach the sheer wit of the visual puns that adorn The Economist each week. This week’s graphic is another prime example, showing butterflies decorated with banknotes fluttering around a lit candle to illustrate the issue’s title ‘The lure of shadow banking’, which itself refers to the magazine’s 2014 international banking special report, Shadow and substance

This annual special report has become a major event in the financial services PR calendar – arguably as important an opportunity as those presented by the investment banks’ annual results season or the late autumn industry gathering at Sibos. The 2014 report has been written by Ed McBride who recently segued into the finance editor role after several years as Washington bureau chief. McBride assumed responsibility for the report from the ever-courteous Jonathan Rosenthal, who will also soon move roles, taking up the Africa editor position next month. Rosenthal, of course, wrote the preceding three reports (2011 to 2013), the only editor to pen so many in recent times.

Despite the change in authorship, McBride has successfully continued the narrative thread from last year’s report; after all, this is The Economist where it is usual for the editorial line to correspond to what has been written in earlier issues and will be written subsequently. Last year’s report (entitled Twilight of the gods) chronicled the humbling of the global investment banks. The 2014 report develops this storyline and is as much about the market participants encroaching on the international banks’ territory – the so-called “non-bank financial competitors” that Jamie Dimon referred to in his annual letter to shareholders – as it is about the banks themselves.

The report’s leader details how some traditional businesses, abandoned by their long term banking partners during the crisis, have turned to asset managers such as M&G to service their debt needs. A later article looks at the proliferation of non-bank payments providers from Home Depot and Starbucks to PayPal and Google (and of course Kenya’s M-PESA which no article on upstart payment services is complete without). Another looks at how banks’ FICC revenues have declined as swaps trades are channelled through swap executions facilities (SEFs) and commodities units are sold to pure-play commodities houses.

Where does this broad focus leave those in financial services PR? The sheer breadth of firms cited in the report – from traditional investment banks to asset managers to telecoms behemoths to internet retails – shows that PR practitioners from all areas of financial services and beyond cannot afford to ignore it. 

Yet the report has traditionally been difficult to get clients into. It is a fairly safe assumption that it has one of the highest pitch/interview to quote ratios around. Indeed the acknowledgements, which list contributors who aren’t directly cited in the report, read like a who’s who of major financial services participants, industry bodies and consultancies. And you can be reasonably sure that many companies which were interviewed aren’t even named here.

The Economist international banking special report is different to those produced by many publications. The quality is exceedingly high and it tends to be the result of several months’ work. In contrast to the FT’s special reports for instance, it has a long lead time with its author given two or three months to research and write it. This timing is worth noting for PR practitioners planning to make an approach on behalf of their clients.

With the trend towards a wider focus on all types of financial services providers, it’s safe to say that competition to make it into the 2015 report will be fiercer than ever. In all likelihood, McBride or whichever of his colleagues assumes responsibility for next year’s report – incoming banking editor Stanley Pignal may be a strong candidate – will hear from more PR professionals representing more companies than ever before.

Roles change frequently at The Economist and the authors of ten of the last twelve international banking and finance special reports are still with the publication (Rosenthal as well as Patricks Lane and Foulis amongst them).  This would suggest that, as so often in PR, ongoing and long-term engagement with The Economist team is likely to result in the greatest success in terms of client representation in this prestigious report.

Banking, Banking Communications, Financial Communications,
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