My Greatest Mistake: Andrew Gowers, Editor, Financial Times

Click to follow

My biggest mistake occurred when I was preparing to launch a new German-language sister paper to the FT, named Financial Times Deutschland. We spent a year recruiting and training staff from other German media, and preparing countless dummies – on pink paper, naturally enough, but with an attractively modern design.

My biggest mistake occurred when I was preparing to launch a new German-language sister paper to the FT, named Financial Times Deutschland. We spent a year recruiting and training staff from other German media, and preparing countless dummies – on pink paper, naturally enough, but with an attractively modern design.

This being Germany, and me being the only Brit on board, nothing was left to chance. After some horrible wranglings over content and style, the editorial staff were raring to go. Expectations among potential readers were high, and the launch was scheduled with a huge marketing blitz for February 2000.

And we had some great stories lined up: an interview I had conducted with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder; a story on a German media entrepreneur's likely acquisition of the Jim Henson Company; a piece on Volkswagen; and the amazing tale of someone who had been allowed to patent a gene by mistake.

Any one of these stories – and a few others besides – could have led our front page and generated us the requisite publicity that day. But – here was the mistake – I did not deem any of them good enough. In the heat of the launch afternoon, I chose the wrong story as our splash. We wanted to highlight our interest in German big business, so we focused on an interview with the finance director of the mega-conglomerate Siemens, which appeared to indicate the possibility of a radical reshaping of the company. And by the time we had rewritten it 19 times, it did not merely appear to hint at such a restructuring; it stated as fact that one was going to occur.

Reaction the next morning: denial (from the company) and disbelief (from the readers). In our overexcitement, we had redone the story so much that we had bent it out of shape. It cast a disappointing shadow over our launch. Thankfully, the effect did not last: the FTD rapidly bounced back to become Germany's first successful new national paper in more than 20 years.

Interview by Adam Jacques

Comments