A well-conceived public relations strategy can fuel asset growth and retention by increasing a firm's visibility, credibility, and brand with investors. For boutique firms, it's also a great way to raise your public profile and strengthen your reputation with sophisticated investors. However, in an attempt to generate news coverage, many firms perform their own version of public relations, which sometimes falls flat and doesn't deliver the expected impact.
| Dan Sondhelm
What mistakes do PR pros make the most?
Let's peel the onion starting with mistakes made with public relations strategy.
PR in a Vacuum
It's difficult to manage an effective public relations program when you spend more time planning which journalist to pitch than what business results you want to achieve. Have clearly defined goals and a strategy to determine where, when, and how you are going to proceed. A good story, detailed tactics
and timelines need to be developed. More importantly, understand your firm's overall sales and marketing goals and strategy and how public relations fits in to the mix. Then be sure to collaborate with those other teams regularly. Think of ways you can help them and how they can help you.
If you are like most firms, you have a disciplined investment process and a strong track record. That gets you in the door. Now how do you get invited to the board room? Think about your story and how it's different (or told differently) than the competition. Why is that differentiator important? Be specific. If
you come up against a name brand in the sales process often, compare and contrast your strategy and expected results against that name brand. Also, position your story within broader industry trends and news events. For example, instead of focusing on your strategy, think about how your strategy works within a larger portfolio, during volatile times or in a trade war. Use credible examples and data to support your story.
Some mistakes happen when reaching out to journalists.
More is Better
In the old days, public relations measurement focused on the quantity, instead of quality, of news clips. Remember when more was better and public relations firms showed off that quote in Bloomberg which appeared in hundreds of newspapers? Today, emphasis is more on the business impact of the resulting news clips. Does the message of the story move your business forward? Is the story published in a
credible publication? Is it written by a journalist with influence? Does it create buzz (and investor demand) from the original circulation and even more from using it in your other sales and marketing efforts? More on that last point later.
Waiting by the Phone
OMG! A journalist from Barron's called and wants to talk to your portfolio manager tomorrow about how he is making money for investors. It will be part of a story that comes out this weekend. That's great when it happens. But consider receiving a call from a different writer and you realize you are not a good fit for the story. Or you don't get another journalist call for many months. If your program is based on a reactive process, you aren’t in control of what story you want to tell, which journalists you speak to and the timing of the potential story. With a proactive effort, having a good story and targeting and pitching a journalist inevitably leads to higher quality coverage and stronger relationships than waiting. A good wholesaler wouldn't be passive and neither should a PR pro.
When asked about any relationships they might have with top tier financial media, a marketing executive said they have one with CNBC. The problem is the last time anyone from the firm was on the cable show was 2014, just before their favorite producer left for graduate school. One of the major keys
to a successful public relations strategy is building and maintaining meaningful relationships with key journalists. Ideally, you can contact them when you want to share what's important to you and they can contact you when they believe you could add value to their story. You may also be able to brainstorm with them "off-the-record" to shape the story and get honest feedback. Journalists often switch beats and publications. So be sure to stay in contact with your existing relationships on LinkedIn.
You could have the most newsworthy angle on a timely subject, but if you pitch it to the wrong journalist, it is a complete waste of time, for you and them. A pitch about your bottom-up stock picker to a journalist who covers the economy likely won’t be a fit. And if you are scheduling a New York media tour, be sure your targets are actually in New York. A Washington DC-based financial journalist once told me she declined more than four meals per month from PR pros asking her to meet with their clients or portfolio managers on New York media tours. Just this week, CNBC's personal finance editor Jim Pavia tweeted, "I just got this PR pitch: a look at America’s scariest haunted houses. The only thing scary to me is how little research the flak put into this."
Press Releases in Bulk
Some firms are over reliant on press releases. Issuing a press release once a quarter or monthly as one firm recently admitted isn't good public relations. While it keeps PR pros busy and shows that work is being done, it really just keeps journalists and investors away. Firms likely don't have that much real
news to share so the "hook" has to be manufactured. Made up news diminishes credibility with your firm, portfolio managers and PR pros. If your releases do not consistently earn interest from journalists via newswire services alone or targeted phone calls, try something else.
Other mistakes happen after the journalist agrees to a story or a meeting.
Rogue Portfolio Managers
You finally get the big interview with a journalist you've been targeting for several months, but your portfolio manager blew it. He just talked and talked and talked the whole time. The reporter stopped taking notes half way through the ordeal. Next time, help your portfolio manager prepare. Help him understand his responsibilities in the process, the publication, your relationship with the reporter and what he's interested in discussing. Then help your portfolio manager develop three key points he will want to get across. Finally, simulate the interview in advance and repeat.
Not Enough Eyeballs
You spend a lot of time and money developing good content such as commentaries and white papers to educate shareholders. But you only post them to your website or send out emails to investors. Consider getting more return on your effort by including your PR pro in the process. It's likely the largest news sites for financial advisors get more targeted traffic than your website. Attempt to place your timely
content there. Many of these publications read by sophisticated investors — and some retail investor ones too — offer opportunities to publish your excellent content.
Not Repurposing Reprints
Earning positive news coverage is great. However, allowing it to dissipate without taking full advantage of it should be criminal. It's one thing to get coverage. It's an entirely different thing to reuse it throughout your sales and marketing strategy. It should be the centerpiece of timely content added to your website’s home page and the "In the News" section, used in email campaigns and used by your sales team. Bring copies to your Schwab Impact exhibit to hand out and add a news section to your institutional deck or RFP.
What other mistakes do PR pros make? What else do you do to earn stronger PR results?
Dan Sondhelm is the CEO of Sondhelm Partners. He helps asset managers, mutual funds, ETFs, and wealth managers grow through sales, marketing, and public relations strategies.
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