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Spin city: Mastering the art of public relations
Kelly Spors, 08/23/2019
You may spend a lot of time and money promoting your business—from having an attractive and informative website to running ads across a number of mediums.
But are you missing out on a significant, credible opportunity to tell your story and attract new clients?
Public relations (PR) is the art of cultivating a good relationship with the public—usually by getting unpaid coverage in the media— and it can drive higher ROI than traditional advertising or marketing efforts.
"Getting an independent journalist to cover what you're doing adds tremendous credibility," says Joseph Giannone, senior manager of communications and public affairs for TD Ameritrade Institutional.
Consumers today are bombarded with ads and promotional social media. This has left many people skeptical and seeking more proof that a company is as reputable as it claims to be. "People are getting increasingly sophisticated about figuring out when someone in the news has an agenda," Giannone says.
The public is especially suspicious when it comes to financial companies, a byproduct of the reputational hit the sector took during the Great Recession. While the industry's reputation has rebounded from its lows, as of 2019, financial services remains the least-trusted sector measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual readout on consumer trust around the world.1
Being interviewed by a newspaper reporter or TV news anchor can help position an advisor as an expert on particular financial topics. It shows they have valuable experience and insight. Plus, many consumers consider media coverage a kind of vetting—a sign that the person being interviewed is established and highly credible.
There are more PR opportunities today than ever before, says Marie Swift, who runs a PR and marketing agency focused on the financial services industry. The growth of online-only publications, trade and specialty magazines, and podcasts means advisors have an expanding number of places in which to pitch their story or expertise. "But the field of advisors pitching is also noisier and more crowded," she adds. "There's more competition for coverage than ever before."
In other words, you have to know how to do it right.
Four key steps
So, how do you generate positive media coverage? Some advisors may assume that by simply making themselves available or pitching a story they want to tell, media outlets will be clamoring to interview them. But it doesn't usually work that way. Getting PR often takes time, patience and effort.
Here are some key steps to getting good PR:
Do your homework—and build relationships. You need to understand the perspective and goals of media outlets in order to find timely and interesting topics to pitch. Spend time researching outlets and their reporters to identify the ones that are most likely to feature your expertise and insight.
"An advisor seeking press coverage needs to understand what reporters are interested in and what they're looking for in a story—not just what is most convenient or most advantageous to the advisor," Giannone says. "They're probably not going to be interested in that new service you introduced or that you opened a new office somewhere."
Likewise, it's smart to keep up with national and local news and craft pitches around timely topics and develop "news hooks." If the Fed increases interest rates, for example, that can be a great opportunity for an advisor to be interviewed on what the rate hike means for investors.
Swift says one Cincinnati advisor she works with has scored a steady stream of interviews by closely following the coverage of local media outlets. One local TV news program featured a four-part series with him talking about fiduciary standards—a topic he specializes in—after he and Swift pitched the idea. "We studied them and figured out what would be appealing and then sent out a very specific pitch," she says. "We noticed they hadn't been talking about fiduciaries, so it was an opportunity."
Occasionally, you might have a newsworthy story to tell about your firm specifically. Giannone recalls two TD Ameritrade Institutional clients in Kansas who ended most of their existing relationships in order to refocus their firm around a specific niche. Though perhaps counterintuitive, the move led to sharp growth thanks to their greater focus around a targeted customer segment. Giannone pitched the story to a major national newspaper, which decided to feature it, including a large photo of the advisors. "That's just one example of how you might have an interesting story about your own experiences that would be interesting and relevant to other advisors," Giannone says.
Prepare to be presentable. Once you land an interview, you need to be fully ready for it. That includes predicting what questions the interviewer might ask you, both softball and hardball, and planning for how you'll answer them. "Prepare for the landmines—the tough questions on difficult subjects that the journalist might ask. 'No comment' is not an acceptable answer and just reveals you weren't prepared for a question," Giannone says.
Some advisors, he says, are naturally good at talking off the cuff and sounding eloquent, but others may need to brush up on their presentation and answering skills.
"If you're doing a video or TV interview, you'll want to make sure you know how to look good on camera and speak well, knowing how to enunciate words and stay on topic," Swift adds.
Be accessible. Once you're in a reporter's "Rolodex"—you've become a potential go-to source—it's important to make yourself highly accessible. You should answer their calls or emails promptly, so you don't get passed over for another expert. Many reporters are on deadline and looking to conduct interviews quickly. "If you're committed to managing your own public relations, you have to be the person who's willing to pick up the phone when a reporter calls," Giannone says.
Craft your message with honesty and transparency. Ultimately, any PR is an opportunity to tell the public what you and your firm are all about and what you stand for. Consider what topics make the most sense for you to talk about publicly that align with your firm's focus and mission. Be sure to be honest, candid and not overly self-promotional. "At the end of the day, you build credibility with the media if you're known as somebody who's a straight-shooter, always responds to their calls, and doesn't try to spin them," Giannone adds.
Taking it to the next level
Getting positive PR can have other long-term benefits beyond immediate coverage, Swift says. Since most media is now online, any coverage you get is shareable on social media and can essentially "live forever," she adds. It can also help with your firm's visibility on search engines, especially if the outlet will link back to your website.
Some advisors are pros at getting media coverage on their own, while others may want to enlist the help of a PR firm. Professional assistance can save you time when pursuing coverage opportunities and help you better prepare for interviews.
Staying active on social media can also help you garner more PR. Giannone recalls one advisor who bought Alexa voice assistants for vision-impaired clients. One of his clients thanked him on Twitter and the exchange piqued the interest of a reporter, who then wrote a story about the advisor. It was a good example of how social media engagement can lead to earned media coverage.
"At the end of the day, you just have to keep at it and know what makes you unique—why people should care about what you do," Giannone says. "There are plenty of advisors who've catapulted themselves into high prominence through media because they are really good at telling their story and offering relevant and timely insights."
1 "2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Financial Services," Edelman April 24, 2019. Found here.
TD Ameritrade, Inc. and the mentioned third parties are separate unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other's services or policies.
TD Ameritrade Institutional, Division of TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2019 TD Ameritrade.
Content provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be advice for any firm.
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