Bloomberg Industry Group Editor-In-Chief, Cesca Antonelli, Talks Legal, Tax and Government News
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with Cesca Antonelli, editor-in-chief at Bloomberg Industry Group. Bloomberg Industry Group is leading an organization of more than 200 journalists and analysts who cover legal, tax and government issues. Cesca has spent more than 20 years in the Bloomberg family. She helped build bureaus and ran teams around the world. She worked in newspapers before that, back when you read the news on paper.
Tell us a bit about Bloomberg Industry Group and what you do there.
Since the Bloomberg acquisition, the place has transformed from a traditional publisher known as BNA. I’m sure everyone in the audience read the BNA, to a company that offers an unmatched mix of content. Now it’s all delivered through cutting-edge technology platform. Things have changed, especially in the past three years since I’ve been here. We eliminated some products, pushed content enhancement and now we’re seeing a lot of new customers buying. We’re also getting a lot of great praise from long-time users. The goal is to empower lawyers, government affairs professionals, and tax accountants, with everything that they need to do their jobs better and faster, whether that’s a technology tool or super news.
Gina Rubel: That’s fantastic. Congratulations on that. It must have been somewhat challenging to do so much over the course of the last, let’s say, 16 months.
Cesca Antonelli: Yes. We’re all in that together, though. I don’t know of any job that was easy to do on day one from home, but it does sharpen your judgment and make everyone pull together in a way that’s rewarding.
Gina Rubel: For our listeners, we’re recording this in July 2021, which is a year and some odd months since the COVID pandemic hit globally.
How have the two biggest events of the past year — Covid-19 and the push for social justice — shaped the coverage by Bloomberg Industry Group?
Cesca Antonelli: There’s nothing like a big story to sharpen your coverage. We try to be urgent. We try to be super relevant, and we try to be thorough. We’ve got traditional reporters and analysts. Overnight, we were basically starting new news packages and figuring out how to get them in front of people when COVID struck. The COVID news packages ended up being the most popular every day by a huge margin and that was everything from labor law news to tax law news to all the healthcare regulations from the government in D.C. and from the biggest states. Those things were changing day in and day out, sometimes two and three times a day. Staying on top of all of that was super challenging, but it also ended up showing our customers, especially our legal customers, what we could do.
That news was worth paying for. We ended up getting tons of positive comments on social media for the comprehensiveness of the coverage. That allowed us to focus on a couple of key things as COVID was developing, where we could make our mark in big and unexpected ways. We wrote some of the earliest and most comprehensive coverage around COVID long-haulers and how they were dealing with insurers. We wrote a lot of well-read coverage on Zoom courts, both the good and the bad, where you suddenly had these virtual hearings that allowed children and victims of abuse to be more at ease in court. It wasn’t all the horrible myth of COVID impact on the court that you might have expected. When things started, we wrote a ton of great stories about PPEs and all the problems there, getting them to frontline workers and the stockpile and hospital problem.
Then quickly, everyone had to pivot to add a lot more robust social justice coverage to their day-to-day beat reporting. We did some great work around cops and state reforms. We produced a podcast series that has gone on to win awards with Black lawyers speaking about their unique experiences. That is something that allowed lawyers of all stripes to be a part of the diversity conversation and the conversation around social justice and the impact that that’s having on firms. That diversity-related content has gone on to be some of our most read content. That is something that is rewarding for the entirety of a newsroom, whether you’re a reporter and editor or a podcast producer, or even a news engineer who helped stand up new channels every day and began pushing things out at a much faster clip than they did before.
NOTE: The Black Lawyers Speak podcast five-part-series was released as part of [Un]Common Law, Bloomberg Industry Group’s podcast home for audio documentaries. Josh Block is the executive producer of Bloomberg Industry Group’s podcasts. Episodes in the series focused on lessons from pathbreaking Black corporate lawyers and law deans, how Big Law is examining diversity anew, law firm recruiting practices, the unique experiences of Black women lawyers, and the paucity of Black judges.
What tools do you use to measure what people are reading, what content they’re interested in, and how they’re engaged with it?
Most of our readers engage with the content first via a newsletter, like a lot of places today. We obviously track newsletter opens and open rates and click-through rates – in other words traditional media measures. It’s not all about what’s getting clicks. Some stories are simply important, and you have to tell them whether your people are reading them in droves or not, but it can be a good way to find out if you’re missing something. If everybody is searching on the Bloomberg Law platform for certain terms and you haven’t written about that in a while, it’s a good heads up that something is keeping people up at night that you didn’t know about. It’s not just about chasing clicks and putting up cat videos. It’s about a window on your own news judgment, too.
Gina Rubel: It’s important that the listeners who are your readers understand that it’s not just about whether or not it was tweeted. There’s a science behind understanding what the audience is reading, why they’re reading it, what they need and being responsive to the needs of the audience. There’s so much science behind it and data that the external parties never see.
Cesca Antonelli: That’s true. It does help the journalists make choices. The editors make choices about what you’re writing more about or less about if there are things that people are essentially wasting their time on. We want to save that time and be providing customers with something that they’ll be able to use more often.
Gina Rubel: Oftentimes, every story might feel like it is the most important story to a law firm or lawyers, but as a PR agency, we can’t always get them placed. A lot of times we’re up against that kind of data.
Cesca Antonelli: Yes. I feel your pain on that one. If everyone could cut the journalist and the editor a break, and maybe listen or pivot a little better, that’s always good for the PR professional. Who’s ready to pivot and hear what you’re interested in and why? If you can explain why, you think someone is wrong in a less than lawyerly tone of voice, that would be great.
How have subscribers’ news consumption preferences evolved?
We’ve seen a big increase in the number of people multitasking. All those smart speakers in people’s houses are on now that they work from home. They want to hit play and listen to their news and newsletters. We’re seeing the time spent on audio and podcasts has been quite interesting over the course of COVID and we’ve adapted. We’ve added a lot of new tech to our newsletters and a number of new podcasts like On The Merits
, which has voices and perspectives from across the legal industry on a wide variety of newsy topics.
We also added one called [Un]common Law
, which is a long-form podcast series that dives into the weeds on legal, government, and tax stories in a multi-episode story arc. I would also say explainer videos have long been the sleeper hit of the internet. We’ve had a lot of success on COVID employment, law topics like “can your employer make you take the vaccine?”
For both wide free audience consumption and our paying customers we had a great video on asking If Women Still Earn Less, Can Laws Even Fix the Pay Gap
with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charlotte Burrows, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Those kinds of listening and viewing examples draw people in and it seems to be resonating, especially with younger lawyers looking for a quick hit or get-smart-fast content.
What trends are you seeing in the industry and how do they impact your business or your audience?
Cesca Antonelli: One thing is it took COVID to make lawyers human. The old school way to do things was to give a nod to wellness. But everyone knew that people didn’t mean it. Now we have all seen the inside of people’s homes. Suddenly it was no longer weak to have a problem. We all had a problem. It became natural to ask about hobbies and kids and pets. We saw them on the video conferences.
Those lawyers who never quite connected on a human level learned how to do that. It seemed to make people with the levels of power inside the firms care more about their employees at all levels. Even the non-lawyers like me. As things open again, we’re seeing how virtual proceedings and social distancing isolated people and lawyers seem a little more woke to that kind of wellbeing than maybe I would have expected before. Some folks who already had solitary jobs lost some of their friends or their peers to COVID. Now we’re seeing people ask the questions that at least show they’re connecting like humans in a way that they weren’t before.
I would say burnout is coming up more and more. We did a survey recently of big law where respondents reported experiencing burnout about 50 percent of the time during the first quarter, which was a lot higher than in the fourth quarter. We’re seeing this big increase in junior and mid-level associates being hard hit and talking about a decline in their wellbeing. That’s one trend that’s worrying.
Gina Rubel: I’m reading the book, The Addicted Lawyer by Brian Cuban. I’m going to be interviewing him for this podcast as well. It’s mind blowing to me how much we hide in particular in the legal industry and the statistics as they relate to behavioral health issues, everything from eating disorders and substance abuse to mental health challenges and depression. He goes deep into this subject. None of it is new. What I found interesting is the data that he shares on how it’s affecting younger lawyers and law students. I thought that was fascinating. I do believe that it’s something we need to keep an open dialogue on in the industry and continue to push law firms to remain human. My biggest fear is that the opening of the door isn’t going to stay open if we try to get back to the way things were. I share that with you because it’s top of mind for me, but also as you mentioned, it has become a more human industry. I hope it stays that way.
Cesca Antonelli: Yes. That’s a good point. You’re starting to see some big law firms adding additional mental health benefits or paying for a certain number of private therapy sessions where there’s this surge of interest, especially among younger lawyers who are looking for employers who are interested in their mental wellbeing and doing things that can actually support that. Hopefully more firms embrace that, and it becomes a trend in recruiting to be able to speak to those kinds of benefits rather than throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at people.
Prior to us starting to record our podcast, you and I were talking about the PR industry and crisis communications. Can you repeat for the audience what you said to me?
Cesca Antonelli: I was saying that if I ever ended up having to be in PR, I’d want it to be in crisis communications because that’s the most interesting place. There’s always something happening. I love it when all my days are different, and I love problem solving. Even with the cat fighting and war of the words that goes on in crisis PR, it’s still an interesting and engaging spot to be in.
It’s true. I love what I do as a trained lawyer, law firm media relations
and crisis communications
professional. But I will tell you, I definitely felt the same level of burnout that all of our clients were feeling while trying to close our own office, understand our own policies, implement new policies, etc. We also had to do that for our clients and educate them on those same topics. It’s a fascinating space. I say this for any of our listeners: if anybody is in any profession where you feel burnt out, seek help. Talk to people because we’re all there together. That’s important in the legal and tax industries right now. For example, when I talk to my accountant, every day she is trying to understand the myriad changes to the tax laws.
Cesca Antonelli: Yes, exactly. Tax is a fascinating place right now because it’s moving much faster than it used to. When you think about the last reform was in 1986 and now, we’re having reform year after year after year. Just staying on top of all of that is crazy enough. Then if you have to be working from home and perhaps teaching first grade on the side while you’re homeschooling your kids during this, it’s maddening. For all the lawyer moms out there, if you ever need to feel better about yourself, send me an email because I can always provide a story where I am the worst mother or at least worse than you.
Gina Rubel: I actually have a sign on my door that says, “recording in progress.” I close the door so that the three dogs, as well as my kids, don’t come running in. I shut my ringer off on the cell phone. We’re all there. It’s the way it is today. I do find that some of the clients who are much less tolerant of the human side of people get it now. I had one client say, “Now I get what it’s like working from home when your kids are sick.” That’s empathy.
Cesca Antonelli: It’s better late than never.
Gina Rubel: That’s it for all of us. I didn’t know what it was like to be a parent until I was a parent. Once we walk a day in someone else’s shoes, we gain a lot of empathy.
Cesca Antonelli: Definitely. The other thing is there are some positive things that hopefully will come out of this, especially on the technology side. The legal industry historically has obviously been married to this in-person business model and are truly reluctant, more so than other industries, to adopt new technology. But the pandemic has obviously accelerated transition to virtual technology across the board. Legal is no exception. Whether it’s things like deposition that possibly changed forever. Virtual depositions, they said, cut costs by a third, when you factor in all the travel expenses.
Gina Rubel: I haven’t seen a client in person since February of 2020. Before that I was traveling a good two weeks out of every month, all over the U.S. and I do miss seeing clients, but I’m as happy not getting on a plane.
Cesca Antonelli: As we open, we’ll be connecting one-on-one in person, probably close to where we live. Some people are starting to come out and do meetings and get on airplanes and see clients and that’s great. Not everybody’s there yet.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Cesca Antonelli: That’s a great question. We’ve broken several stories over the course of COVID, being first to report when the IRS delayed the U.S. tax deadline, which was huge for our customers and when Biden essentially fired the NLRB general counsel after he refused to resign. There have been some great stories that we’ve led on and that makes me very proud. We’ve built a great team.
We’re also proud of the way we adapted to change and rebuilt the coverage here broadly in the past few years. It continues to gain momentum with customers who pay us money. News is a business, and we are fortunate right now. We’re seeing strong growth across all of our businesses. That means that today we’re in a place where we’re at our healthiest ever. That is because the quality of the reporting is so good now. We are essential to our customers and there is nothing that is more gratifying than that.
What was your biggest pet peeve when you were a journalist?
Cesca Antonelli: People who don’t answer your question and don’t listen. It’s always hard to deal with that kind of a situation where people are openly hostile about questions.
Gina Rubel: Do you have any pets?
Cesca Antonelli: No pets right now. We resisted the pandemic dog, and I told my kids next pandemic we can get one.
Gina Rubel: Favorite music genre?
Cesca Antonelli: Country.
What one piece of advice would you like the listeners to know about communicating with Bloomberg?
Cesca Antonelli: Oh, call anytime. We get tons and tons of unspecific emails. When you’ve got a good idea and you can tell us why something matters, that’s the most important thing to us.
How can listeners get in touch with you if they have a story idea or just want to learn more about the publication?
Cesca Antonelli: You can feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn or feel free to send me an email at Cantonelli at bloombergindustry.com.
Gina Rubel: Thank you for your time today. Listeners, I hope you’ve enjoyed this recording with Cesca Antonelli.
Cesca Antonelli: Thanks for having me.
For additional conversations with members of the media, check out Furia Rubel’s Media Relations Podcasts.
Learn first-hand what legal reporters are looking for when they are choosing what news to report and which stories to tell in our blog post Five Things Legal Reporters Want You To Know: An On Record PR Podcast Roundup.
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