The media can be a powerful ally for planners looking to raise their profile, but few have mastered dealing with the press.
Consumer brands are adept at employing PR for a host of products and services and increasingly professional services firms - such as legal practices and accountants - are using the media to promote themselves.
Nevertheless, members of the Australian financial services industry – and advisers in particular – could be doing more to boost their public image via professional media channels, according to some experts.
“Generally speaking, I think the financial services industry as a whole is aware of the value of having open communications with the media,” says Claudia Pritchitt, an independent PR professional who counts financial advisers among her clients. “Having said that, there is always scope for more involvement by those in the industry – [they could] take part in the debate.
“Financial planners could take better advantage of the benefits of publicity to assist their own businesses,” she adds.
Julie Bennett, principal of financial services PR house 64 Media, also believes many advisers could do more when it comes to media relations. “Many are either not clued up to the benefits or are simply too busy, consumed by the running of their business,” she says.
Bennett suggests a segment of the industry may be wary of speaking to journalists in response to the mainstream media’s preoccupation with a small minority of planners who have acted illegally or unethically. In order to counteract this negative imagery, advisers have to “get on the front foot,” she says.
But while there may be more scope to get involved, what benefits does media engagement bring?
First, being quoted in or contributing to media outlets can improve both an organisation’s public and its professional profile, helping a financial planner to position themselves as an expert in an area of specialisation.
As Pritchitt explains, “media relations can add credibility to a financial planning brand”. Most reputable news organisations won’t accept unqualified advertorial or do ‘cash for comment’. So in most cases, if you are being interviewed for a news story or having an article you have written published, the perception is that you’re probably worth listening to.
Second, the media can help you reach your target prospective clients. Like financial planning businesses, many media outlets are pitched at different audiences. Pritchitt and Bennett both advise that you identity those publications that reach your intended client base – local newspapers, for example. “Media relations is really about communicating to existing and potential clients,” says Bennett.
Third, unlike most marketing tools, press coverage is essentially free – or at least “cost effective,” as Pritchitt describes it. The only costs associated with successfully obtaining coverage are the labour costs of participating in an interview, conducting research or penning an article and perhaps the cost of an occasional coffee or alcoholic beverage (to which journalists, historically, have been partial).
So it’s fairly clear there is a bottom-line benefit from engaging with the media. But how should you go about it? “It starts at home,” says Bennett, advising that planners should attend community events, such as chamber of commerce meetings, that local journalists are likely to attend and to begin developing relationships with the media.
Pritchitt also emphasises the importance of the ‘friendship factor,’ reminding her clients that media engagement is not “one-way communication”. The best way to commence a media relations campaign is simply to pick up the phone, speak with journalists and begin a dialogue, suggesting story ideas and informing them of news.
Alternatively, blogging is a relatively new media phenomenon that allows advisers to be seen as experts, providing their opinion on a range of topics and responding to news in the industry – but on terms that they can dictate themselves.
At the same time, effective media contributors will know what a publication and its audience want and need. In fact, that knowledge should form the foundation of any media campaign. As Bennett warns, “just because you are excited about your new website doesn’t mean a journalist will be”.
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