Monday, November 29, 2010

The future is here...thank goodness!

As a client pointed out to me last week, I'm not exactly a prolific blogger. Sorry about that - clients, as you may appreciate, and team, generally come first! Frequency is blogger best practice number one...ooops.

And I don't really do a huge amount of cross promotion (almost none). That would be blogger best practice number two down the drain. Here's one to make up for that at least...

Recently I've been fortunate to have a series of conversations with Huron Inan of Bienalto.

Bienalto essentially help their client with online "stuff" such as customer experience and "dialogue" (eg marketing!). Why do I think I'm fortunate to have talked with them? Because they have what we see as the
holy grail of marketing and communication - real data and analytics to power decision making.

That's decision making about anything online - which most marketing is or soon will be.

Some smart marketers and their CEOs are there already.

Some are still grappling with our industry's traditional change aversion. There is something apparently scary about "new" that sometimes stops senior decision makers in our industry adopting successful marketing models which have already been pioneered in other, similar, industries.  

If we'd waited for the business case (as requested in the 90s) on whether or not to have a website, we (and most financials services corporates) still wouldn't have one.

Firms such as Bienalto, and the data-driven, intuitive way they can help all of us evolve our communication to the end customer, are the way of the future.

Certainly PR firms, and others in professional services, can learn much from thinking in (say) consumer goods or travel, about service design.

Hurol's blog about service design is exactly what financial services organisations organisations who care about their sustainability should be reading. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Trusted adviser, supplier or sucker?

"The Trusted Adviser", written by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford in 2001 remains one of the most influential books in professional services.

Why? Well the thinking in it was clear, it captured and crystallised a notional that hadn't previously been well named...and cynically? It also played to the egos, insecurities and genuine intentions of many in professional services.

It struck more than a chord - it struck a raw nerve.

The heart of the matter
That raw nerve is called self-doubt. The kind of self-doubt that has us asking ourselves things like: Could we have done that better? Did we phrase that advice the right way? Did our client hear us or not? Is the client being reasonable? Did we do our very best work? Was it good enough?

Someone I spoke to recently, and who had six years in a top global consulting firm, described consultants as "insecure overachievers".
Why the angst? Well simply because professional services is, at it's heart, about relationships. Relationships that are professional, bound to some extent by certain expected formalities and niceties and on occasion, almost unreadable. And in my experience, good, or great, professional services types really, really want to do good, or great, work. And to do that we need good, or great, clients. And good, or great, relationships with those clients.

So professional services providers can find themselves looking inside for answers they'd really like from their clients, but cannot always ask for.

Simply asking the wrong question might jepardise a relationship. Asking some questions too early could ensure you actually never make it to be a trusted adviser. Asking others could get you fired. Not asking yet another sort of question could see you fail completely to deliver real value.

Trusted adviser, supplier or sucker?
One of those interesting questions for a professional services provider is "Can we be a trusted adviser here? Or will we be a mere supplier? Worse, are they taking us for suckers?"

Sometimes the answer to that question is years in the making. Almost always it's an answer that's determined both by client and service provider behaviour. That behaviour can be as finely balanced and delicate as the minuet in courtship, or as set as the lifelong patterns of a 50 year marriage.

Trusted adviser
So what does it look like or feel like when you're a trusted adviser? One clue is that the professional service provider probably isn't suffering too much angst. In those relationships we know we're delivering good advice, to the right people, the right way. Our clients might even thank us for our work, our ability to challenge their thinking appropriately, and include us in their long-range thinking and planning. These are the clients we want long-term, We'll invest our discretionary time and effort to build such a long-term relationship, and both parties feel comfortable to have the more difficult conversations.

What of the "supplier" spot? Well it feels pretty transactional. We both know this is about delivering "commercial result A" for "consideration B" and that as likely as not, we're then through. Maybe we can make this a longer term, and richer, relationship on both sides? Or maybe we just both get want we want then get out.

Sometimes client, or consultant (for example), can feel taken advantage of. Maybe there was an unexpected bill or the value wasn't there for the fee paid. Maybe there were endless conversations or meetings where advice was given and yet no formal engagement or fee was forthcoming. Either way, someone feels sucked in, whether deliberate or inadvertent. And trust can be damaged irreparably.

Sometimes merely advice given the wrong way, or questions asked too bluntly, can produce that "Am I the sucker here?" thought-bubble for a client (I've been there!). Or on the other hand, the request to start work before any formal engagement is agreed can do the same (and I've been there too!).

Our aim
I'm relatively new to consulting and professional services - I've really only been at it for seven years, since just before we started BlueChip Communication. In large organisations I gave advice, but it wasn't consulting as I define it now. I've still got a lot to learn from others, including my capable colleagues, and our great clients, about consulting.

One thing I do know: the superb team I work with, and I, want to do our best work. With clients we respect, and where we are respected - we are are already, or can become, trusted advisers.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Ogilvy PR's 360 top 5 on social media measurement

A PR industry conference could be a day in hell...or prove truly illuminating.

On the 'illumination' scale I'm giving the PRIA an 8 out of ten so far.

Today I'm attending the Public Relations Institute of Australia's Registered Consultancy Group conference, and sharing some of the more interesting presentations via twitter (@carden).

We just heard from the person who for many years authored Malcolm Turnbull's 'dog blog'. Apparently it attracted the greatest traffic of all areas of the website. And I really thought it was from the dogs...

Here's a perspective from Ogilvy's 360 group on social media measurement.

1. Define goals w the client (business)
2. Check historical metrics
3. Select your tools at the beginning
4. Agree upon report template and timing
5. Decide on an optimisation approach

The speaker made some great points - one was that regardless of which provider you use to measure social media (radiant, neilson, buzz numbers etc) bear in mind they all have weaknesses. And the human component of measurement still matters - no automated tool can necessarily 'get' Australian irony.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What to do when you can't NOT communicate - Day 1 of the PAICR conference

Communication 101

Communication is a learned skill. We’re all born with the ability but it takes real practice to be good at it. So opined David Grossman, Founder of the Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago PR firm.

Do I agree? Oh yes.

So what’s the upside of good communication asks David Grossman? Well it helps put strategy into action.

Done poorly? Misunderstanding, skepticism and damage to reputation

Why aren’t we doing it better?

Because we have beliefs that get in the way of working on the skills needed to be really good at communicating. Holding us back from greatness are beliefs and fear…
  •  We believe we are born good at it…therefore don’t practice…and don’t get better
  • We’re afraid of failing…and that fear stops us trying and learning new things or skills…or overcoming our blind spots
  • A belief that good communication is all “common sense”

Common sense it may be, but common practice it is not, says Grossman.

The ‘what does your boss want” question?

For example, ask yourself this…is your boss a “no news is good news” or “no news is bad news”? If you don’t know the answer Grossman says, you better find out. Your future, and theirs, may rely on it.

So how can it go wrong? In the “boss” example, if you have it wrong you’ll be working at cross purposes. Your manager may value, and want, one kind of communication but be getting something quite different from you.

Let’s say you’re an extrovert. Typically says Grossman, extroverts do a lot of talking. Extrovert = quantity of communication high, quality low (ouch).

Or an introvert? You’re likely to be communicating a lot less than you think you really are. Introvert = quantity is low, quality is high. But is everyone hearing you??

Game changers

Grossman offers three “game changers” particularly useful for leaders and communication people. They are understanding that:

  • 1.       Everything communicates…so being purposeful is critical
  • You can’t lead without communicating (really well). Or in other words, to be a leader you need followers!
  • Engagement is how you differentiate yourself…or “the boss makes the weather”…understanding how “watched” you are as a leader gives you the chance to control the consequences of your behavior and achieve greater engagement from colleagues.

So what’s the “new norm” for those seeking to communicate? 

From “me” to “we”

For employees we have to answer these questions…in order from 1 to 8.

In a way Grossman is suggesting it’s a goal to earn the right to answer the “we” questions.

  1. 1.       What’s my job?
  2. 2.       How am I doing?
  3.  Does anyone care about me?

  1. 4.       What’s going on?

  1. 5.       What’s our business strategy?
  2. 6.       How are we doing?
  3. 7.       What’s our vision and values?
  4. 8.       How can I help?

…and thus engagement results.

Great eight
There are “the Great eight basics” to help us as we communicate says Grossman...
  • 1.       Understand your audience
  • 2.       Make your messages clear, compelling and relevant
  • 3.       Plan your communication
  • 4.       Set context and make information relevant – something only the leader can do – answering the “why” we’re doing what we’re doing
  • 5.       Listen and check for understanding
  • 6.       Select the right vehicle
  • 7.       Communicate with truth and integrity
  • 8.       Match words and actions

A final tip for young players...

Conflict escalates faster and lasts longer on email than verbally. So STOP using “reply all”. Pick up the phone or walk the few feet up or down the hallway to “talk”. Yes Millennials and Gen Ys, there is a place for person-to-person communication. Walk & talk.

Fact or fiction?

Myths hold us back...according to Grossman they are:
  • 1.       Don’t have time to communicate
  • 2.       People won’t interpret…at BlueChip we call this the “people make stuff up in a vacuum” rule
  • 3.       Talking is communication…or put another way it really doesn’t matter what you say…it matters what they (our audience) hear

David Grossman has a bunch of ebooks and a blog. Based on what I heard today they’re worth a look.

Strategic Marketing in Asset Management - Day 1 of the PAICR conference

Great presentation today by Jeffrey Margolis based on his white paper “Inside a Successful Asset Management Firm: Building and Executing a Premier Marketing Strategy and Organization.”


Despite the lengthy title, Jeffrey’s workshop made the potentially complex, simple. I wanted to share some of his very practical comments with you because I know many of our clients (and other readers) have questions about how marketing can, and should, work within their asset management firms.


It’s not a bad guide for other areas of financial services marketing as well!


First of all, how does Margolis define strategic marketing in asset management? Well it includes (and apologies for any liberties here as my notes are not be perfect) the following:


-          A definition of the firm’s capabilities and offerings: the core of what you do

-          Outlines the firm’s investment philosophy which must be:

o   Clearly articulated inside AND outside the firm

o   Understandable and repeatable

o   Provide a solid foundation from which strategies and offerings are developed

-          Defines the firm’s brand – who it is and what it offers – which evolves from soundly defined capabilities and offerings


Why bother with strategic marketing? According to Margolis we should evolve (and no one today felt they were there yet) to this way of managing marketing because…


1.       investment performance is no longer enough for success – strategic marketing is now crucial in the “new normal” market

2.       Articulated through a well-crafted plan, it helps managers reach goals

3.       It guides firms towards stated objectives – but beware marketing is only as strong as its continuous assessment against benchmarks and goals

4.       Designed to propel firms from good to great


Done well, Margolis believes a good marketing strategy can propel a firm from good to great.


So how to create such a strategy?


Start with a SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats assessment. Then, make sure you cover off the right plan elements:

1.       Strengths and weaknesses plus overall risks to the business

2.       Marketplace environment

3.       Product growth and retention projections

4.       Necessary resources


“Disciplined yet flexible” are words that came up again and again. Ideally the marketing plan is disciplined enough to set a strong direction and stop impulse decisions (hooray) but flexible enough to adapt to changes in market conditions, competitor activity or marketing context.


And Margolis’s top tip for improving the standing of the marketing function within the firm?


Do competitor analysis.


That analysis can include databases with investment statistics and track record, reviewing competitor presentation materials or RFPs (if you can get them!), looking at where the competition are, or are not competing. Then, bring those materials and the analysis, to the investment and sales team


Tips from participants?


-          Use SharePoint as a common platform for all inside the firm to share materials  – slide decks, previous RFP questionnaire,  and potentially current marketing materials

-          Talk to your peers – others in similar roles can stretch past the boundaries of competition to help with advice or experience around all sorts of topics


My favourite quote?


“Part of marketing’s responsibility is to really understand your audience.”




You can read the whole white paper on Jeffrey Margolis’s website.


Jeffrey was kind enough to offer to take PAICR members’ calls at any time for advice – I’m guessing that’s a somewhat limited offer in our time zone.

Global Trends in Asset Management - Day 1 of the PAICR conference

Day 1 of the PAICR conference in New York opened with a presentation by Kevin Quirk, Partner at Casey Quirk.


It suggests fundamental changes are altering how asset managers, the world over, do business.


Casey Quirk is a management consultant to investment managers, so well placed to comment on trends. While somewhat US-centric for Australian firms there was plenty of value in Quirk’s comment.


Six key trends will shape institutional asset management in future, he says:


1.       Demand for outcomes

2.       New investment frameworks

3.       Shifting asset allocations

4.       Target-date fund growth

5.       An emphasis on alignment

6.       Globalising clientele


Again this year we heard the plenary speaker talk about the “two camp” split in asset management. Last year it was described as commodity/utility providers versus boutiques or value add. This year it was described as “solution providers” versus “component providers”.


“Solution providers” in the Casey Quirk world, are those who emphasise portfolio constriction; achieve multiple objectives and use more balance-sheet wrappers. “Component providers” are those who emphasise specialist alpha; focus solely on return and provide returns within other packaged products


Other key themes:


-          Total portfolio outsourcing is on the rise for institutions globally

-          Demand for outcomes will lead to a multi-faceted investment approach (and challenges to conventional thinking such as CAPM & portfolio theory)

-          Investors & consultants are re-thinking traditional asset allocation frameworks – expected to mean, among other things, more money going to hedge funds

-          Demand is rising for non-correlated alpha and inflation-fighting product sets

-          Long-only, US equity-focussed allocations are in decline

-          Fixed Income may present opportunities for smaller managers

-          Target date fund growth will drive demand for additional asset classes

-          Investment management firms with lower staff turnover generally perform better

-          Similarly, Quirk’s numbers show better staff alignment results in significantly better revenue growth performance

-          Strong alignment has become a critical selection criteria for gatekeepers


…and more.


Quirk’s 19 slides were each very relevant to Australian investment managers and those who work with them.


Here I’ve only covered about two of the 19 in detail. This presentation alone is worth sharing more in person – and I will be doing so in Sydney and Melbourne before year’s end. Drop me a line if you’re interested in hearing more.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

PR measurement...why counting dollars is like playing poker with matchsticks

ASR - the Emperor's new clothes?

If you're a capable PR person short on a laugh, read this article on mumbrella. Media Monitors have just launched a new measure of PR effectiveness. It's based, to the horror of some, on advertising value.

Note it's NOT called AVE - advertising value equivalent. It's called ASR - advertising space rates.

After I stopped laughing at the spin I had to admire what they've done.

PR professionals may not like it but if I were betting I'd say it will be a winner. Here's why.

PR measurement is, to say the least, somewhat vexed as a subject.

The summary sometimes sounds like is this: to AVE (advertising value equivalent) or not? 

The longer version includes a whole bunch of conversations about support from stakeholders, building reputation and some other stuff.

To the CEO that can sound like "blah blah blah...really, PR matters...blah blah blah". Often what the C-suite will judge PR success or failure on is the credibility of the people doing it and whether or not their peers are mentioning their media coverage.

Of course that's an exaggeration but it does bring us to the ugly subject of how should we really measure public relations success - and how Media Monitors are proposing to.

Now I am well aware that the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) prohibits using AVE as a measure.

As the MD of a PR firm where excellence and integrity are core values, I've stuck by that code of ethics. We defend, and use, other forms of measurement.

BUT, and it's a big but, I do have some very positive experiences of working in a very large listed Australian entity and using AVE to superb effect.

How so? It's simple. A large number gets a large amount of attention. It focuses senior executives on the value of the reputation building work done by the media team, and it gives the team a benchmark.

Not a value - simply a benchmark.

So, like playing poker with matchsticks, the currency is somewhat meaningless.

What is meaningful is a single number that is:
- measured in a consistent manner
- objectively assessed and
- provides the C-suite (and the media team) with a simple way to measure PR effectiveness.

Of course until the PRIA allows some form of dollar measurement, we most likely won't use it.

We''ll keep measuring, for example, impressions. And hoping the debate moves on, towards a single, industry-wide agreed metric.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Strengths - and why they matter in your communication

Fresh from a recent Strengths workshop with Marcus Buckingham I'm looking at the world slightly differently.

Marcus Buckingham's book "Go put your strengths to work" and one of his recent Sydney seminars was all about how playing to our strengths at work makes us happier and more productive.

And who among us doesn't want that??

This evening I tore the little cards out of the back of Buckingham's book, and started to obediently document when I'd recently "felt strong" (at home, kneading work, meeting an interesting CEO for the first time) and "felt weak" (at home, washing work, in a very routine meeting).

The exercise bears a startling resemblance to the planning methodology we use with clients.

Invariably we look for both organisational strengths and weaknesses. Strategies, messaging and actions plans are most usually based around the company's areas of relative advantage - in Buckinham's world that equates to strengths.

Risk management, and what we might call "preventative" messaging or actions, come from real or potential areas of weakness.

How much time do we focus on strengths versus weaknesses in a client's PR program? About 90% on strengths and about 10% on weaknesses - unless we're engaged on issues or crisis management.

While there are no little coloured cards we fill out for a client, we usually do overtly partner with clients via a planning process or during an engagement to uncover, articulate and promote areas of relative strength - often these are sources of sustainable competitive advantage as well as key levers in a communication program.

Other times the organisational strengths we uncover with clients might be defined entirely by current news or a particular context. For example in internal communication a strength that you want to dial up may well be defined by the culture or current internal climate, as well as the relative allure of other employers and status of the job market.

Buckingham's work makes a strong case for organising our jobs, no matter at what level, around our strengths, rather than around minimising our weaknesses.

I'd suggest, very simply, the same works in public relations. If firms have their value proposition right (for clients, employees or investors) then communicationg strengths allows stakeholders to find themselves a good match - the service or product provider, employer or investment that best meets their particular needs. The organisation that gives them something they need, and value.

Just as playing to our strengths, and helping others play to theirs, enables diverse work mates to co-exist. When we get it right, as teams or service providers, there's a nice symbiosis between one person's weaknesses and the next's strengths.
With that in mind I'm going to check on the bread...I "felt strong" kneading the dough but it might take a better baker than I am to achieve a good loaf.

To skip from the personal to the professional, and in particular the practice of public relations, good communication helps us find that work team, client or service provider who "completes" us.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top 3 things you should know about your PR firm...

What people say about PR firms...
Catching up with some C-suite colleagues today I heard some recurring themes about PR firms.

Sadly for the PR profession they were not particularly flattering.

"They're just not that smart"
"They don't get the business"
"Appalling to deal with"
"Would never hire them"

You get the general picture. While it's tempting to defend the good work done by many great PR people, I thought it might be more constructive, from inside a consultancy, to offer some ideas about how to sort the truly terrible firms from the potentially great ones.

Top 3 things to ask your PR firm
Here are things I'd now want to know about my PR firm if I was in house, hiring a consultant again. These are not, in my experience, the usual pitch-type questions you probably already know, and ask.

1. Do you have any client satisfaction data you can share with us?
Yes, you and everyone else can show us great results....but how good are you at managing the relationship? Do you have proof that you do it well across all clients? Actual numbers or client survey data?

2. What do journalists say about you? Can we talk to them?
As revealing as media feedback might be, the list of journos NOT offered, especially in a small industry trade media circle, may be as revealing as the names of those who are offered as potential referees.

3. How do you manage your team?
PR firms, like other consultancies, can be demanding (and rewarding) places to work. Ideally your chosen partner gives a lot of thought and resources to developing and looking after the people who will work with you. Their happiness, and how well they are supported, will have a big impact on your results.

These are just three of many possible questions. My team, reading this, will most likely have even better questions - some of which would be way more searching than my suggestions.

Aiming for excellence
Our team shares a value of excellence - in our world that doesn't mean just hitting a certain standard - it also means continually lifting the bar to deliver ever better results or improve how we work.

Asking ourselves the hard questions is one way of continuing to improve - what we do, and how.

I'd be interested to hear other ideas...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

R.E.S.P.E.C.T...what it means to me

R.E.S.P.E.C.T…what it means to me

To paraphrase Aretha, my team has a very particular meaning for the word respect. Several meanings in fact.

First, “respect” (in our business) means seeking first to understand, before seeking to be understood.

Often, that simply means listening. It also means asking questions, before jumping in with solutions.

It’s not something that came naturally to me when I started as a consultant in 2003. In fact, I was pretty confident that whatever the problem was, I had a solution, and sometimes before my client had finished their sentence. Funnily enough, seven years later, with way more consulting experience I am often less sure of the communication solution. Ad I spend way less time talking.

My listening skills, however, have improved remarkably with practice.

And thus the solutions I recommend are enriched by a far deeper understanding of what’s really going on for our clients’ businesses – whether that be with respect to their clients, colleagues, investors, media or industry gatekeepers.

In practice as communication consultants that means seeking to understand not only our clients but also our clients’ audiences. And we encourage our clients to also think deeply about what exactly is going in for those audiences before any of us start trying to talk to them.  We talk about “getting inside their skin”.

Data helps but personal experience is essential.

The most sophisticated market research is no match for a frank conversation about what really matters to individual clients.

I’ve recently had some experiences with consultants that caused me to reflect on the whole notion of listening. These consultants have plenty of things to tell me. Some of the wisdom they offer is confronting, some exciting, and almost all they have to say is useful.

But whether or not I use what they have to say has everything to do with whether I feel listened to or not.

In one case, I felt listened to… right up until the point a young guy who hasn’t run his own business or been a communication consultant started to tell me (with absolute certainty) how I should spend my time, and what BlueChip Communication should be doing about strategy, pricing and a few other bits and pieces.

In another case, I’ve had some very constructive conversations with a wiser and more experienced consultant. That person took the time to do their research, get to know more than the superficial facts, and only then engage in a conversation…or at least that’s what it felt like even though it was advice. I felt listened to.

 Which brings me back to respect. 

If, as consultants, we listen well enough, we should be able to pick up the verbal and non-verbal cues from clients. It’s not our job to tell clients what they want to hear. But it is our job to find a way to tell them what (in our best judgment) we think they need to hear.

So in seeking first to understand (to listen well) we can then be of most use to our valued clients.

It’s basic but even the big firms don’t necessarily have it right.

With that, I’m off to continue practicing my listening skills.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Breakfast with the Prime Minister today

Squeezed tightly between two clients I listened intently to Kevin Rudd talk this morning.

I say "squeezed tightly" because the sold-out event drew the financial services industry in force to the Shangri-La ballroom in Sydney to hear Chris Bowen, Minister for Financial Services, Craig Dunne, AMP CEO, John Brogden IFSA CEO and the Prime Minster.

Chris Bowen told a great story about a Prime Minister who began a national savings system yet left the office before he could complete the vision. He went on, of course, to say that last weekend another Labor Prime Minster finished the job by announcing the phase in of a 12% Superannuation Guarantee Charge.

The Prime Minster positioned super as a buffer that helped Australia avoid the worst of the global economic slowdown, and as one of our greatest national strengths - contributing both to the nation's economy and the security of Australian families.

Certainly there wasn't a lot of talk about banks today - as the PM went on to say super gave depth to domestic investment markets, diversification in the financial system and provided a source of capital for business.

What he didn't say was that all the talk about retail term deposits being granted concessional tax status, of say 15%, came to nothing. There was a firm view, pre-Henry announcement, that we would see a product created that enjoyed the same tax benefits as super and also provided a ready pool of onshore bank funding.

The Prime Minster also talked about Australia in 2009 and painted a picture of a nation that, in 2009, remained an attractive source of capital globally, with a strong financial sector making up the single largest sector of our economy.

Australians' expertise in funds management, risk analysis and financial markets, he argued, should encourage us to take what we have learned here and apply it in the region to make Australia (and Sydney) a regional hub for financial markets.

Continuing challenges for super? Adequacy, fairness and efficiency.

So what of the future for super? 

Many in the industry have called for regulatory certainty around super in order to give investors full confidence in the system - and the impetus to invest more with certainty.

Short term, it sounds as though the Government plan is to let the dust will settle.

I'm sure I heard an assurance there would be no more changes to super in next week's Federal Budget.

Longer term the promise is for "a fair system" that is "simpler and more efficient".

And I'll still be interested to see if that much-written about long term deposit product appears on Tuesday night in the Treasurer's speech.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fear versus cautious confidence - how context changes everything

As 2010 proceeds at a cracker pace it's interesting to reflect on the difference a year makes. The context (although not all the content) is completely different.

In financial services public relations, marketing and communication the game has changed - along with the context.

Last year the context was fear. This year it's cautious confidence. One can be paralysing, the other galvanising.

As professional communicators we hold true that "context" is everything

The same statement can mean opposite things depending purely on context. Context (in our world) includes how the audiences is thinking & feeling and what they already believe. It includes, in financial services, what markets and economies are doing, and what we hear respected colleagues say about their business and their expectations for the future.

Last year the context was like a dark blanket thrown over us all - with a few weak pinpricks of light shining through.

Late in 2008 and throughout 2009 I talked with many of you about fear.

Even naming it felt brave.

We all felt it, but (almost to a person) no one wanted to say it out loud. And yet when we finally talked about it, senior executives were palpably relieved that the real context had been named...and we could get on with business...with the emotion out of the way.

Once named, fear lost some of its power

Once explored, we could use our understanding of that context to work out how to communicate properly -to industry colleagues, consumers, media, government and our own people.

The context (in this case a strong shared emotion) was only a problem when it wasn't acknowledged and planned for.

This year's context is completely different
Fear is taking a back seat to cautious confidence. To generalise about what we've seen in 2010 (okay it won't reflect everyone's experience!) in financial services communication:

1. Decisions are being made - both off the back of a long process (delayed from 2009)
2. Aggressive growth plans in are play again - supported by a greater focus on acquisitory (as opposed to retention) marketing
3. Money is moving in retail and wholesale (and the moves have to be explained)
4. Retention is still a focus - although on an industry basis the quality of client communication is highly variable
5. Internal communication is rising in importance - to help keep valued people and to ensure they know how (and want to) execute on strategy.

Markets are up, bonuses may be back and portfolios look vastly improved.

Cautious confidence

Cautious confidence seems the right description for what we seeing though retail investor research and hearing in institutional funds management. It also describes the vibe we hear from consumer financial companies through to industry participants dealing only with others in financial services.

And fear?

As for fear, well it's not left us completely. It's just sitting in the back seat.

With cautious confidence as the context, our messages, tone of voice and methods of public relations and communication have subtly changed.


The bias to act (rather than hold on) is back.

Communication is now less reactive to world economic events and more proactive.

Forwards, with purpose. But ever so carefully.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 - the year of video & online PR

As we all know predictions are a dangerous game. Particularly when it comes to social media.

Last year and my colleagues and I listened to people who know better than us, we heard some interesting things.

This included:

1. The mobile device is set to soar thanks to iPhone
2. Video popularity and accessibility would follow as bandwidth and download speeds improved (particularly on mobile phones)
3. Social media and content marketing really do matter in financial services - both retail and institutional.

And here we are, barely into 2010 (January often doesn't count in Australia), yet flooded with requests for help with, guess what? Video. Online PR strategy and campaigns. Content. And a serve of social media monitoring on the side please.

The parts of financial services looking at social media is interesting - and completely diverse. We expected large consumer brands to lead whereas we've now seen everyone from industry institutional asset managers to retail direct players take up online PR or more social-media-friendly forms of online communication and engagement .

When my favourite monolithic bank added an iPhone app to their existing mobile banking platform on the holidays I was a little surprised and delighted. Yes, the functionality is rubbish but it does look good. I'm sure version 1.1 is just around the corner.

Apparently the predictions were right. Of course it's early days so it will be interesting to see if the increased investment in interactive communication and online PR holds until the next holiday season.

We suspect it will.