Bell ringing, gongs and jumbotrons

May 16, 2012
<p>A look at the profile-building (and ego-boosting) perks being offered by exchanges to companies celebrating milestones</p>

A glass brick is placed in a receptacle, setting in motion a countdown that appears on a large digital globe. No, this is not a scene from a sci-fi movie. It’s the new market opening ceremony at the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which underwent a major revamp last year.

The change highlights a broader trend: stock exchanges around the world are reviving or enhancing their market opening and closing ceremonies to help promote both themselves and their listed company clients.

Glencore at the London Stock Exchange
Glencore celebrates its $11 bn IPO at the London Stock Exchange in May 2011

The LSE’s brick-laying event is one of the more inventive revivals. The exchange did away with its opening bell in 1986 around the time of Big Bang, and in recent years it has marked the start of the trading day by switching on a mobile installation called ‘the Source’.

The London exchange clearly wanted something more memorable, however. In the new ceremony, participating companies appear on a balcony at the exchange and place the brick in the hole. This symbolizes the completion of a circuit and starts the countdown to trading.

The countdown is displayed on an illuminated globe, designed by a company that has produced spherical displays for bands like Coldplay to use at their live shows. ‘We’ve married the electronic aspect of our markets to this market opening ceremony,’ says Tom Gilbert, senior press officer for the exchange.

As a souvenir, the chosen company gets to take the glass block – which is inscribed with its corporate brand – home after the show.

Amsterdam puts one foot in the past

While the LSE has plumped for a modern feel, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange chose a nod to tradition when it rejigged its market opening ceremony in 2008, a fitting move for what’s recognized as the oldest exchange in the world, established in 1602.

The exchange chose to bring back a gong to signal the start and end of the trading day, a custom believed to date back to the early 20th century. The choice of an Asian instrument makes sense for a market that built itself on trade in the East, through firms like the Dutch East India Company.

These days, corporate executives appear on a daily basis, striker at the ready, to celebrate events such as IPOs, mergers, product launches and management changes.

TNT Express listing in Amsterdam
The listing of TNT Express at the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in May 2011

‘Any event can be rolled into a gong,’ says Anne Louise van Lynden van Sandenburg, head of listings at the Amsterdam bourse of NYSE Euronext.

The type of event dictates whether companies choose to open or close the market. ‘Companies looking for publicity and financial media exposure might want to open the market,’ explains Van Sandenburg.

‘But if there’s something more intimate they’d like to celebrate – for example, the departure of a supervisory board member who has provided exceptional support over many years – they might invite that person to close the market, and then have drinks and dinner.’

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) also built on its cultural heritage when it launched a new market opening ceremony at the start of this year.

Companies are invited to the HKEx Trading Hall, where they can strike a traditional Chinese gong with strikers draped in red cloth, a color symbolizing good fortune and joy in Chinese culture.

HKEx opening the market
Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing hosts the inaugural market opening ceremony at the HKEx on the first trading day in 2012

Over the last decade, the HKEx has become a global leader for IPOs – in each of the last three years it has raised more capital from new listings than any other trading venue – so it made sense to bring in a grand opening ceremony to showcase the number of listings pouring through.

Companies are able to take part in the ceremony to celebrate IPOs, IPO anniversaries and other corporate milestones. As with other market opening ceremonies, videos and photos of the day are posted online and distributed to media outlets, and can be placed on company websites.

New York, New York

While Europe and Asia are trying to up their game, arguably the biggest and boldest ceremonies are taking place in the US.

At the NYSE, the bell ringing ceremony is an iconic event where today you’ll often find celebrities in addition to corporate executives opening or closing the market. High-profile guests from the last 12 months include the singer Usher and the cast of TV show Mad Men.

Anyone ringing the bell must be part of the NYSE community, however, points out Marisa Ricciardi, senior vice president of global marketing and branding at NYSE Euronext. Mad Men, for example, is produced by NYSE-listed Lionsgate.

Bell ringing at the NYSE was first introduced in the 1870s; before that, a Chinese gong marked the start of trading. The exchange now has four bells in active service, one in each of the four trading areas.

LinkedIn's CEO at the NYSE
LinkedIn’s CEO (second left) being interviewed on the trading floor at the NYSE during the social media company’s 2011 IPO

In recent years, the NYSE has been developing ‘surrounding activities’ to further promote its bell ringing event, focusing in particular on social media. The events are now tweeted, promoted with pictures on NYSE’s Facebook page and mentioned on LinkedIn.

The exchange has also gone beyond basic social media promotion and is engaging in paid-for advertising. For the IPO of apparel designer Michael Kors last December, the Big Board bought promoted tweets on Twitter that appear at the top of relevant search results. The NYSE also offered 30 minutes of free in-flight WiFi through Gogo in order to promote Bankrate’s IPO in June 2011.

Not to be outdone, NASDAQ has also been developing its social media marketing. For the IPO of Jive Software in December 2011, NASDAQ worked with the company to post a live feed of incoming tweets on the exchange’s MarketSite tower in Times Square, which has a seven-story electronic display.

Jive in Times Square
Jive management celebrates the firm’s IPO in front of NASDAQ’s MarketSite tower in Times Square in December 2011

‘This was a great example of a company leveraging the social media and marketing opportunities that NASDAQ has to offer,’ says David Wicks, vice president of NASDAQ OMX and head of MarketSite.

The MarketSite tower is at the center of NASDAQ’s opening and closing bell ceremonies. The venue, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, has a broadcast center that provides a backdrop to the bell ringing events.

Shows produced at the headquarters include CNBC’s Fast Money, BFM’s Le Grand Journal and New Delhi Television’s NASDAQ Live.

Like the NYSE, NASDAQ also distributes news through social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. ‘Social media are something you will continue to see incorporated into our ceremonies, and other changes are in the works,’ says Wicks.

The world will be particularly interested to see how the Facebook float is handled. NASDAQ triumphed over the NYSE earlier this year to bag the social media giant’s long-awaited IPO.

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