At TTAC, we showed you the secrets of how to make a supercar. But what about the real top secrets of a car company, like its earnings? This is insider information, trading on which could make you rich, or poor. It also can land you in jail for a long time. TTAC takes you to the inside of how a car company prepares for an earnings press conference.
Dan Sloan is tired. The head of Nissan’s Global Media Center in Yokohama got up at 6am this morning after days of not much sleep. Today is the day when Nissan’s third quarter earnings are to be announced to the press, and the world at large. It will be a long day of preparations for the big announcement in the late afternoon, and TTAC will be the fly on the wall. Or, as Sloan predicted, the fly in the ointment.
Dan Sloan, a former Reuters Singapore Bureau Chief, has poached an impressive news team from outlets such as Bloomberg, BBC, and Time Magazine. They produce a daily stream of video, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter feeds, in an effort to further Nissan’s brand equity, and to put us poor bloggers out of business.
Dan’s approximately 15 man and woman team is only one wheel in the transmission that gears up today to announce a not so good quarter at Nissan. The latter fact will remain a secret until 4:30 pm today exactly, when the Tokyo Stock Exchange puts the information on the wire. Speeches have been written, PowerPoint charts have been prepared, wires, hairs and legs have been pulled, invitations have been sent, many hours of sleep have been lost. Sloan’s team even received new laptops. They look like they were bought from the lowest bidder.
On a table in the middle of the Global News Center, tools of the trade pile up. Still photographer Andrew Malana lays out his array of shooting equipment while Dan Sloan and his Deputy Ian Rowley put the last touches on today’s scripts and storylines.
Coco Masters, a former Time Magazine reporter, edits an interview with Nissan Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa. The interview is top-secret. Tagawa talks about numbers that will be released hours later, after the close of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The Nissan stock has been on a tear for days. Would the market know what Coco edits, the stock could crater. Secrecy must be utmost.
Teamwork: Ian Rowley and Anthony Trotter prepare a video segment that wraps around Coco’s interview. Former Reuters producer Trotter is Nissan’s multi-role fighter, he is producer, cameraman, and a hell of a non-linear editor. He is small in stature, but as tough as they come.
Trotter loves to shoot people (on video), but he hates to be shot. He shows us the edit room of their TV studio.
A trophy from the Moscow Auto Show. Dan’s team travels a lot. To cut down on travel, the Global News Room already sprouts offshoots at Nissan U.S.A., Europe and Hong Kong. A mini news empire emerges.
Roland Bürk is Executive Producer and on-air talent. Formerly the BBC’s Tokyo Correspondent, Bürk anchors “The Dashboard”, a weekly news magazine about the car business. Today’s Dashboard is all edited and ready, except for the earnings release. Even with the release, it’s mostly bull. Red Bull.
Brit Bürk hails from a German family that brought the time clock on the world’s workers. Most early clocks punched by hourly workers were from the Württembergische Uhrenfabrik Bürk & Söhne. Roland says his father was a black sheep who emigrated to England and did not see a Pfennig of the company.
Speaking of time:
3:17pm in Tokyo, 1:17 am in Nashville. An hour and fifteen minutes before the press conference starts, and we are still diddling with videos and Tweets a few floors up. Producer Noriko Kiyama is a bit worried.
Kiyama is not the only one who is troubled.
“Where are your guys? Time to set up!”
“Alright, alright, I’m sending them down.”
Andrew and Anthony are setting up. Anthony assembles the most important implement: The stepladder.
The team that is responsible for the sound equipment is a bit shy. One even wears a mask.
Sound is fed to speakers, to the video cameras of the media, to translators, and then to earpieces.
What would be a press conference, what would any conference be without PowerPoint?
The gentleman is in charge of lights. Can’t keep the media in the dark.
Test. Dim the lights. It works. Meanwhile, the representatives of the media still cool their heels in the lobby.
They did not have to wait much longer. 4pm, 30 minutes to start. Here comes the fourth estate!
From Bloomberg, Jie Ma, a fugitive from China’s Xinhua. His boss Yuki Hagiwara. Both cover the auto beat at Bloomberg.
In the olden days, reporters from trusted wire services were given “the numbers” a few minutes earlier so that they could be “on the wire” exactly at the start of the press conference. These days, it is done fully automatic. Nobody knows how it works. The numbers simply appear. Robots, probably.
From Reuters, Yoko Kubota.
Yoko already wrote most of her story. In half an hour, she will type on her laptop:
“SLUG: NISSAN Q3
LEAD: Nissan Motor Co bucked the optimistic trend among Japanese carmakers reporting quarterly earnings, leaving its annual profit forecast unchanged as sluggish sales weighed on its bottom line while others got a boost from a weakening yen.”
Ma & Hagiwara will write:
“Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s second- biggest carmaker, reported third-quarter profit that fell short of analysts’ estimates, after sales tumbled in China and new models trailed competitors in the U.S.”
But they don’t know it yet.
The room has filled and all hands of the media are on deck.
With the hands come the handlers. Here Nissan spokesman Koji Okuda.
Nissan spokesman Chris Keffee, freshly coiffed. Wears “boxers, not briefs” and blogs.
Chris said this picture is strictly embargoed until his retirement. Really?
This is a very important tool in the newsgathering business: The foldable stool. It puts you above the rest.
Except when you are Anthony Trotter. Small in stature, but as tough as they come, he uses a foldable ladder. And nearly hits the ceiling.
This is Shotaro Ogawa. We met him two years ago. He will stream the event live, come high earnings or hell. Today, he is incognito.
A very important man: Whitebalance-san. He makes sure the news aren’t too rosy.
Only minutes to go. Anthony checks the transmitters on his camera.
Nissan’s top brass arrives, led by Joseph “Joe” G. Peter. He is CFO of Nissan, and he could be happier. But hush, the numbers are still secret.
In the blue folder are the Fiscal Year 2012 3Q Financial Results, and Joe does not like them. Only he knows what they are, allegedly.
This lady also has the Fiscal Year 2012 3Q Financial Results in her hands. But no, we can’t have them. The handouts will be handed out when the clock strikes 4:35 pm. It is 4:34pm, no exceptions.
Nissan Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa, the man who had given the top-secret interview hours earlier, to be transmitted minutes later, will present the numbers today. Apparently, there were last minute changes to the PowerPoints, explained by Okuda. Wakatta!
And here we go! 4:35pm on the dot. Finally, the results we’ve been waiting for all day. The handouts are being handed out. Andrew is already sitting down.
Lights, tweets, camera, action. Tagawa-san is on stage, presenting the not so good news.
“In the third quarter (October-December 2012), the consolidated net income after taxes totaled 54.1 billion yen (US$670 million, euro 510 million), a year-on-year decline of 34.6%. Third quarter net revenue was 2.2084 trillion yen (US$27.23 billion, euro 21.01 billion), down 5.3% year-on-year. Nissan reported an operating profit of 62.1 billion yen (US$770 million, euro 590 million), down 47.4% compared to the same period in FY2011, and an operating profit margin of 2.8%. Ordinary profit was 89.0 billion yen (US$1.10 billion, euro 850 million).”
He blames it on “significant and in some cases historic economic and political challenges” in China, Europe, and a messed up launch in the U.S.
Missed expectations, sure, but still a gain, right?
After the presentation, Q &A. The reporter from The Nikkei. We aren’t at Toyota, so no unconsolidated earnings questions.
After the Q&A, the scrum. I have no idea why there is a Q&A in the first place, then there is no more time for questions, then the reporters pounce on the guy, stick their Olympus LS-7 DVM in his face, and ask more questions for another 15 minutes. But that’s the way it is. This is where the exclusive interviews happen.
Spokesman Chris Keeffe turns into listeningman Chris Keeffe. He needs to make sure that the boss doesn’t talk off the reservation. If the boss does that, Chris will get many phone calls later from reporters who were not there: “Did Tagawa really say that?”
No juicy tidbits. Jie Ma of Bloomberg is already bored, while Keeffe and Bloomberg’s Hagiwara compare notes.
While the sun sets over Mount Fuji (yes, they have that kind of a glorious view from the Nissan HQ in Yokohama, this is not a wallpaper) …
… there is no rest for our weary warriors in the Nissan Global Newsroom. Their work just started in earnest. A blog wants to be published.
A few thousand pictures, shot today by Andrew, want to be sifted through, in the quest for the perfect shot.
The speech and the Q&A (but not the scrum) are already up on ustream. But there is still work to be done. Anthony edits a 1:43 short and sweet newsclip with a voice-over by Ian.
Hilfe! What’s that on the screen?
Nissan found a guy who tries to be an expert on foreign currencies, AND world politics, at the same time, and all in 5 seconds. (Starts at 1:11). But vy ze German akzent?