Rafee sketches out a plan for marketing Reuters.com

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as azhar rafee sees it, the customers of Reuters.com "don't need a lot of hand-holding" with their financial information. But he still knew enough about branding to take advantage of Reuters' good name-and 153-year history of syndicating business news-to turn its digital offshoot into an advertiser-supported financial news source for businesspeople.

In the year and a half since he was appointed senior VP-global head of Reuters.com, Mr. Rafee has sold out the site's ad inventory through the end of the year, solidified its member base and is testing advertising innovations. He joined Reuters from Multex, a pioneer at providing broker research online, which was acquired by Reuters in February 2003.

"I bought the company he worked for because I liked what he and his team were doing," said his boss, Reuters Media President Chris Ahearn. "He had the ability to distill a vision to me about how we could make money and build an audience."

The challenge ahead is formidable, analysts say. The site had 3 million unique visitors in July-not bad, particularly if they are the targeted audience advertisers crave-but that makes Reuters.com only No. 7 among financial sites.

"It's a very competitive category," said Nate Elliott, associate analyst at Jupiter Research. "It's a dogfight for the best advertisers."

eager to build

And, it's not just Yahoo Finance, MSN Money and CBS MarketWatch that Reuters.com has to contend with. Consumers are increasingly "Googling" topics they are interested in, bypassing sites specializing in that topic, said Mike Vorhaus, managing director of consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. Mr. Rafee's first hurdle was integrating the Multex and Reuters sites. The combination merged news from more than 3,000 Reuters journalists with Multex's broker research on 30,000 companies worldwide.

With a "substantial commitment" from parent Reuters that insiders say must be tens of millions, Mr. Rafee is energized by Reuters' confidence and all the more eager to build out the site.

Pretty good for a guy who says it doesn't seem that long since he was "a kid from Karachi" tooling around the Pakistani city on his motorbike.

Subordinates say he is an intelligent, energetic and passionate manager. He pushes people and raises the bar, and there "are moments of stress around that," said Steven Schwartz, VP-global business operations. "But he cares a lot about helping people develop professionally and personally." He demonstrated that care by setting up a professional development program "on a level that Reuters has not seen before," said Mr. Schwartz.

Mr. Rafee acknowledged that building Web traffic is a challenge. Meanwhile, he pointed out the ad-sales team has done as much as it can to leverage existing users and add new categories beyond financial services. In September, Daniel Bernard joined as global head of advertising development; he'd done the same at CBS MarketWatch.

"The awareness that all the Reuters stuff is in one place is not there yet," Mr. Rafee said, and he admitted he may need an ad agency. Reuters.com uses Omnicom Group's OMD for media planning worldwide.

As with everything else, Mr. Rafee has high expectations for what that agency would offer. In addition to cross-media experience and knowledge of the online world, he would want "a great strategy on the way we can best get this audience," he said.

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