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The financial services industry has traditionally been good at using public relations. Most companies in the area understand the importance and value of communication with clients and influencers, and make a commitment to public relations in their marketing budget. In addition, the industry is well-serviced by a range of media outlets that reach key audiences, as well as some excellent specialist consultants.
The challenge, therefore, is one of being heard – with so many other organisations talking to the same audiences of, for instance, personal investors or financial advisers, how do you get your messages across?
In my view, nothing beats consistency over a period of time – a regular program of continuous activity that creates its own momentum. This slow and steady approach, rather than relying on irregular “big bang” events, may take time but it is the most effective.
The key elements to public relations success include:
- Long-term commitment – a program is not going to take effect in a matter of weeks. It may take a year or two to get your messages and positioning understood. In media relations, the aim is that your company is seen as reliable, consistent and approachable by journalists, which is reflected in the articles they write for target audiences – but this won’t happen overnight
- Good spokespeople – those people put forward as media spokespeople must be up to the task. It can only take one bad experience for a journalist – a spokesperson that exaggerates or tries to deceive, a person who is clearly not interested in talking with them, or even phone calls not returned – for the entire company to be tainted. Spokespeople don’t need to be outgoing, charming and exciting (although it can help!) but they do need to be engaged, knowledgeable, helpful and intelligent
- Multiple points of contact – this can be difficult for some companies, particularly smaller ones, but it’s important to show depth of experience, knowledge and specialist expertise. Putting forward one person as the sole spokesperson can result in that person becoming more recognised and valued than the company they represent, and can lead to ‘key person’ risk. It can also result in that spokesperson ending up believing they can comment on anything, even if they don’t know a lot about it, leading to miscommunication as well as potential ego problems
- Staying focussed – it’s virtually impossible to be all things to all people. The best public relations programs stay focussed on those activities that are going to deliver the most benefit. For example, it may be tempting to have the managing director appear on a morning TV program, but if none of your target audiences watch that program, it’s a waste of time and effort that would almost certainly be better spent elsewhere. As I say to clients, do the easy things first and the hard things become easier. Which brings me to my next point …
- Don’t overthink it – sometimes executives not experienced in media relations feel that their release or their conversation with a journalist must include some ground-breaking, brand new information to interest them. The reality is, sometimes it doesn’t! Trying to come up with a “big idea” that hasn’t been thought through when talking to journalists is the sort of thing that can lead to trouble. Generally, it’s the journalist’s job to develop a good story, not the interviewee’s. A release can contain information that has been said before, but it is presented in a new way – e.g. with a Christmas or New Year link. It’s better to have a regular program of information distribution and contact than it is to have one big bang – and then nothing
- “Me too” announcements – just because it’s important to you, it might not be important to anyone else. Companies can get overexcited about a development that could be critical to their success, but if other organisations are already doing it, being second, third or fourth is less likely to be newsworthy. The reverse also applies. Something may not seem interesting to you, but it may be to the media and their audience. Identifying the best opportunities is where external professional advice can be most valuable
- Specialist advice – financial services is a specialist area and needs specialist knowledge. The same is true of the public relations advisers – the best results will come from using consultants that are specialists in the area. They are dealing with the journalists all the time and can relate to them better because they understand the issues. But don’t just take my word for it – if you’re looking for a consultant ask a journalist writing in your area who they think does a good job for their clients.
Each company needs its own public relations approach, and has its own opportunities challenges and issues. But if you’re getting elements such as those outlined right, then you’re more likely to be successful.