The FT has defended columnist Tyler Brûlé after concerns were raised about him praising companies who have been commercial clients of his without declaring an interest.
An FT reader, who asked to remain anonymous, has complained to both the title itself and the Advertising Standards Authority over the latest Brûlé The Fast Lane column for FT Weekend.
It name-checks three companies which have been clients of Brûlé’s creative agency Winkreative: Bombardier, Swiss International Airlines and Blackberry.
He writes: “When I mentioned a couple of months back that I’d acquired one of the latest generation of BlackBerrys, I felt like I’d set up a ‘live chat’ on behalf of the manufacturer, as so many Fast Lane readers got in touch, feeling nostalgic about a device built for purpose.
“‘Does it really have a proper keyboard?’ asked one reader. ‘Has it stayed true to being a device dedicated to corresponding or is it trying to do everything?’ came the query from an industrial designer friend.
“As much as I wanted to say it was amazing, it was still just a BlackBerry. Its arrival didn’t fill me with the sense of wonder experienced en route to Geneva on Tuesday.”
The “sense of wonder” referred to the Bombardier C Series aircraft run by Swiss International Airlines.
Brûlé said: “For the past few months I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Bombardier’s new C Series aircraft. Despite all the negative press about a flat order book and the absurd trade tariffs being proposed by the US, the buzz from passengers and crew has been incredibly positive.”
He goes on to give the plane a glowing review himself before concluding: “As you shift into the next work week, be happy there’s a new and well-engineered device to get you where you need to go.”
Brûlé notes in the column: “I was involved with the naming and first livery design before the project was halted and then rebooted.”
But he does not mention that Blackberry has also been a client of Winkreative as has Swiss International Airlines.
The FT editorial code has strict rules around employees writing about shares or financial instruments which they have a financial interest in. But the code does not appear to require journalists to declare broader potential conflicts of interest.
A spokesperson for the Financial Times said: “We have received and are reviewing [the email complaint]. Tyler Brûlé has been writing for the FT for nine years and is a trusted and experienced columnist. He has confirmed that the companies mentioned in his column have not been his clients through Winkreative for some time.”
In 2011 Winkreative create a new brand identity for Swiss International Airlines
In 2015 Winkreative developed a “new identity and global advertising and marketing campaign” for the Bombardier C-Series aircraft
Blackberry is also listed as a client on the Winkreative website.
Brûlé also wrote about Blackberry in an April 2017 FT column: “A keyboard is thoroughly modern and carrying a battered BlackBerry gets more compliments than a finely cut suit from the best Firenze tailor. How often do I hear, ‘Ahhh, a BlackBerry. I wish my company hadn’t made us all move over to iPhones. I really miss it’? ”
In 2012 Winkreative worked with Thailand to promote the country’s “successes, potential and plans”.
In August 2017 he wrote about Thailand in his FT column: “Last week I met with a client from the transport and hospitality sector who was feeling the pressure to deliver a bit of inspiration for his team come September 5. ‘If I could go to just one place right now to get a read on the world, where should I go?’ he asked….
“‘I think you need to go to Bangkok,’ I suggested. ‘It’s got everything you want for your business — a merging of various markets, strong trend uptake from the region, good design scene, smart start-ups and the general feeling of a city that’s on the up.’
“Bangkok has the most diverse range of hotel projects in the world. From massive new developments by Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental to smaller-scale properties from the likes of Rosewood, the city is awash with talent and ideas for bringing lobbies, suites, bars and cafés to life. ”
FT parent company Nikkei owns a 2.8 per cent stake in Brûlé-owned magazine title Monocle.