CFO Magazine, Beyond the 'Business Silo'
You know you are in a good relationship if after 20 years you still have plenty to talk about. CFO magazine, which is celebrating its silver anniversary this year, keeps the dialogue with its audience fresh by adjusting to their changing needs and exploring new methods of communication.
CFO, a subsidiary of U.K.-based The Economist Group, started as a single U.S. publication and now connects with an international audience by hosting seminars, researching key industry trends, and by developing new electronic products and services.
CFO's commitment to its straightforward mission—to help chief financial officers to be better at their jobs—requires the magazine to adapt its content to reflect changing job requirements, according to Molly Meloy, CFO's vice president of marketing.
As the influence of the chief financial officer within an organization has expanded, so has the magazine's range of editorial topics. During the dot-com boom when companies were investing heavily in information technology, CFO expanded its technology coverage, and positive audience feedback resulted in the launch of the CFO IT supplement in 2003. The free quarterly broaches how technology trends such as open-source software or Internet-based telecommunications can serve a company's bottom line.
When CFO first started, the typical chief financial officer wasn't among most companies' inner circle of decision-makers, so the publication initially focused on financial matters. However, today, "the CFO is more involved in all facets of a company's operation that involve where and how money is spent," Meloy says.
Growing with Its Readers
As the typical CFO job started to become bigger, more CFOs wanted to be able to meet to discuss their changing role, and so the magazine launched a conference in 1994. The flagship conference, CFO Rising, gives leading CFOs a forum to meet annually to discuss privately and publicly the future role of a CFO. The conferences provide an educational forum for peers to share and discover best practices.
CFO co-sponsors a few events with its sibling publication The Economist. Conference discussions are also valuable as fodder for new areas to research for future publication, and are another example of CFO's strategy of cross-
promoting the company's services while adding value, Meloy says.
Meloy, who was corporate advertising director at ExxonMobile prior to joining CFO, delights in the opportunity to collaborate with advertisers
to develop "win-win" programs that provide access to CFOs while educating the audience. "It's interesting to be on this side," she says, and working on putting together packages with advertisers.
Meloy enjoys more freedom at CFO than when she was at a massive international conglomerate. "Working for a smaller company allows you to be more nimble in bringing out new products and services," she says, and to "operate outside of the business silo."
For example, CFO incorporates advertisers' expertise and perspective into collaborative research projects; CFO's researchers receive input from sponsors when developing white papers that analyze financial and business trends by surveying and interviewing the thought-leaders on a particular subject.
Onward to Europe and Beyond
CFO began its international operations by launching CFO Europe and CFO Asia in 1998, and the company added CFO China in 2002.
Staff stays in tune with world developments through conversations with an informal global marketing board, according to Meloy. "The Chinese and Asian markets have a huge opportunity for growth," Meloy says, so the company will continue to explore new ways to share information globally.
CFO prints the international editions in their respective regions and has Web sites for each publication.
"With the advent of technology and faster Internet connections, we now transfer all our files over to the printing houses by FTP [file transfer protocol] and have almost phased out the use of ISDN [integrated services digital network]," says Neerja Sujanani, production director for CFO Asia and CFO China. "For our suite of magazines, quality control is emphasized, and we make sure that one of our production staff is at the press for online printing approvals while the magazine is … on the press."
"CFO Europe is printed and bound by a company in the north of England, using both web litho and reelfed sheetfed presses," says Allen Fisher, production manager for CFO Europe. "A complete CTP/PDF setup using Agfa Apogee workflow and XCaliber hardware incorporates the full-ended Prism and Technique [management information systems] they have in place throughout the site."
As for file transfer, Fisher says, "Data is currently transferred by FTP, but we have just joined forces with a London-based reproduction company to supply data via a personalized Web-based CMS [content management system], using WebNative. In addition, the printers are upgrading their PDF workflow to ApogeeX enabling online proof/ approval/reporting, job ticketing and other JDF [job definition format] abilities."
CFO Europe staff supplies high-resolution Cromalin proofs (accredited by the Periodical Publishers' Association) to the print site, and receives low-
resolution PDFs via FTP for a final check.
"File sharing [advertising and editorial] between editions tends to be a
mixture of e-mail, FTP and IP [Internet protocol] server linking, although we are hoping that the CMS we are working on will become the preferred file transfer method in the future," says Fisher.
Webcasts Reach Those Busy, Hard-To-Reach Readers
CFO found another avenue for advertisers to directly communicate with its increasingly hard-to-reach audience while conducting its first Webcast in 2001, according to Andreas Droste, the general manager of CFO.com. The Webcasts provide CFO's advertisers with an experiential way to reach the audience that offers a dialog not possible through print or banner ads.
CFO provides a moderator and industry expert and coordinates the virtual meeting, which can include up to four speakers. Advertisers come up with the topic and pay for the broadcasts, according to Droste.
"The Webcasts are very issue-based and focus on providing solutions," says Droste, adding that satisfied advertisers have sponsored multiple Webcasts. Archiving the Webcasts so that CFOs can listen at their leisure increases the sponsors' return on investment, he says.
Droste, who also oversees the company's nine e-newsletters and e-mail alert services, says the company conducts 30 Webcasts per year. The Webcasts provide another cross-promotional vehicle for CFO as well, as the company periodically unveils findings from its research division through the interactive forum.
CFOs Take Center Stage
During the past half-dozen years, the role of the CFO has gained even more prominence in the boardroom, as well as a share of public notoriety. The corporate financial scandals involving Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and many others have made chief financial officers household names as investigators revealed that CFOs are now key corporate strategists.
"Eliot Spitzer's campaign (over corporate malfeasance) put everyone on caution," says Meloy. But the publication will not get caught up in headline hyperbole. "One of the challenges (for CFO magazine) is to continue to educate about the value of the CFO."
Through its 450,000 controlled-circulation U.S.-based publication, as well as its European, Asian and Chinese publications, and its Web sites, e-newsletters, e-alerts, Webcasts and conference, CFO now addresses human-resources and regulatory issues such as Sarbanes-Oxley compliance that were out if its purview two decades ago. "We are focusing more on the role of the CFO as gatekeeper and are covering topics not just within the scope of finance," says Meloy.
CFOs Need Breaking News … Fast
CFO.com, which has its own profit and loss statement, provides the entire magazine content for free on the advertising-supported Web site. To keep CFOs in the loop on breaking developments, the company hired writers to produce daily news online. CFO.com also enhances the buyers' guides that appear in print by including additional information and linking to the vendor's Web sites.
CFO's editorial excellence has earned the magazine numerous industry accolades in recent years, including being named the "Magazine of the Year" in 2002 by the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). The magazine also won a gold medal from the ASBPE for the "Best Original Web feature," and Deputy Editor David Katz won an "Excellence in Financial
Journalism Award" in 2003 from the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants.
CFO's evolution will continue with more electronic products this year, and a major redesign scheduled for year's end. The publication has not developed products for wireless devices or mobile phones as of yet, but Meloy says the company continually reevaluates its range of services. "[We will] continue to see how the CFO role changes during the next five to 10 years, and keep listening to our audience," says Meloy.
John Gartner is a technology writer in suburban Philadelphia.