TV came to NYSE 25 years ago today: The N.J. man who brought it there tells the tale

I had only been back at the New York Stock Exchange as an executive vice president and member of the management committee responsible for marketing communications for a few months when the NYSE announced its then-president, Dick Grasso, was going to assume the role of chairman and CEO, replacing Bill Donaldson.

MJ Hulik
Bob Zito of Zito Partners and IPZ, the man who brought television to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Like any good communications and marketing team, we developed a “First 100 Days” plan. But, with a limited advertising budget and Grasso’s desire not to be gone from 11 Wall for more than a week, we knew we needed something special to reach the global business audience.

We believed the answer was television.

Since 1987, the NYSE had let credentialed television crews come into the Exchange and tape pieces (or do some live shots) from what was called the “Members’ Gallery,” a long, thin walkway above the trading floor. In the plan we laid out for Grasso, we wanted to let networks broadcast from the trading floor. It was, in essence, putting a “helmet cam” on the quarterback.

It was just one part of a five-year marketing initiative that we believed would elevate the Exchange to global prominence, creating a brand that would be unsurpassed in its space. As I walked through the plan with Grasso, he gradually began smiling and finally said, “It’s brilliant.”

Then came the kicker: “You have to convince the Animals.”

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“The Animals” was our endearing term to describe some of the personalities on the trading floor. Convincing them was not easy. At the time, the Floor was about 3,500 people, a mix of specialists, traders, their clerks and NYSE employees. It was crowded, rough, but the greatest environment anyone could work in. Loyalty, patriotism and a sense of doing what was important for business and America is what the Floor was about.

But, when I made my first stop with the “Reds” — the members of the NYSE trading floor community who at the time were on the NYSE’s board — they looked at me as if I had just landed from Mars.

“You want those media people to be down here with us while we’re trading?”

The comment came from Charlie Bocklett, a gravel-voiced specialist who at the time was an NYSE board member and who commanded the respect of the entire floor. It immediately reminded me of Larry Vaughn, the Amity mayor in “Jaws,” when he said to Police Chief Martin Brody: “You want to shut down our beaches?”

Mike Robbins, an independent floor broker from New Jersey and a member of the board, looked at me, shook his head, “No,” and walked away. But, we kept talking and eventually we got agreement to do a pilot program. One reporter would be allowed on the floor before the opening bell, but the reporter needed to be off the floor before the opening bell rang.

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The next step was contacting the business networks.

The two significant ones in 1995 were CNBC and CNNfn. At the time, CNBC was broadcasting from a perch above the floor of the now-defunct American Stock Exchange.

Zito Partners
Maria Bartiromo reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a role that helped make her famous.

Jack Reilly, a respected exec in television news, was the vice president of news at CNBC, and a guy I knew well. I called Reilly first because I thought he was the less likely of the two to do it. Lou Dobbs was running upstart CNNfnand I assumed Dobbs would jump at the opportunity.

“Jack, here’s the deal,” I said. “The Floor and the chairman have agreed to let a reporter broadcast from the floor before trading begins. It’s a pilot program, but I wanted to check and see if you’d be interested.”

“When could we start?” Reilly asked.

“Next week?” I said.

The next day, Reilly called me back.

“Bob, we want to do it,” he said. “But I need to run something past you. The person we’d like to use is a woman. You probably don’t know her. Her name is Maria Bartiromo.”

I laughed. I knew her well.

When I was at Sony, we would host over-the-top screenings of our upcoming movies for the media. Dobbs would always be invited, but, because his show on CNN aired at 7 p.m., he could never attend. Bartiromo worked for Dobbs and would come in his place.

I knew she would be the perfect choice.

And so, it began: Aug. 4, 1995.

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Ray Pellecchia, Tony Walenty and so many other members of our team escorted Bartiromo daily, until the floor agreed to let the networks broadcast “during trading.”

On the afternoon of CNBC’s first broadcast, Dobbs called and said they wanted in as well.

That five-year marketing plan was completed in eight months. By then, we had 27 networks from around the world broadcasting from the floor.

I had learned the power of entertainment at Sony, so we needed “programming” to keep the networks interested. We coached dozens of members to prep them to be on camera, and developed what we called the Partnership Program, which encouraged NYSE-listed companies and member firms to host events inside and outside the Exchange, regularly closing Broad Street for events.

Some attracted thousands to Broad Street. The celebration of SAP’s listing brought more than 20,000 people to our doorstep, and made it to the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Ringing the bell became “the thing to do.” My personal favorites came during the last two weeks of 1999, and the first two of 2000, as we created the “Millennium Bell Series,” welcoming individuals who had made an impact on the 20th century, and who would make an impact on the 21st century.

Muhammed Ali, Elie Wiesel, John Updike, Walter Cronkite, Bishop Desmond Tutu and others all came to 11 Wall to stand on our podium and ring that bell.

But the most significant bell in the NYSE’s history came on September 17, 2001 — the day trading resumed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The flag we hung on our façade that day meant so much to all of us who came to that building every day. And it still does every time the Exchange hangs it.

The trading floor has changed dramatically since those days. But the one constant for the past 25 years has been television. Still today, the NYSE’s significance and brand resonates daily around the world. It remains the preeminent marketplace in the world.

That’s all thanks to Grasso, the CEO in 1995 who understood the power of a brand — and gave us the green light to get it done.

Bob Zito is the founder of Zito Partners, a full-service marketing and communications company, as well the founder of IPZ, a talent agency. He previously served in top-level marketing and communications roles at Bristol-Myers Squibb, the New York Stock Exchange and Sony.