Advisors should go all-in to make PR worthwhile – otherwise, steer clear
Becoming a journalistic source takes planning, time, commitment and an enjoyment of the process
Brooke’s Note: There are some journalists who believe that the public relations industry was put in place to make their lives miserable. But I have learned that good PR people, like good journalists and good sources, take the long view. They are interested in delivering quality information – albeit not a big juicy negative story – to the public, not impeding its progress. This article by Jason Lahita gives a behind-the-scenes look at how a PR professional looks to bring financial advisory sources out of their shells in a thoughtful fashion – to the benefit of everyone.
I’ve been helping advisors with their public relations initiatives for some time now, from directing national communications efforts at a leading RIA/advisory firm-acquirer to, more broadly, a PR agency focused on financial services, and I can tell you that the PR process is a roller coaster ride – big ups and downs, intense, exhilarating, and sometimes, as with a roller coaster ride, you may even throw up from the experience. See also: Behind the PR man’s curtain: how RIAs can successfully deal with the media.
It is simply not for everyone, and probably not for the majority of you. Having someone proactively pitch your message and your story to the media can be very worthwhile, but it takes a commitment. Advisors who wonder if this may be for them need to think carefully and consider whether they can say “yes” to possessing the following components: full engagement and proper preparation.
Let’s break those down further.
Before you endeavor to elevate yourself and your practice to a higher profile, you should know what will be expected of you. Whether you do PR yourself, use an agency or are using an in-house staff member, you should understand that PR is time-consuming.
You need to be available for interviews; you will need to draft press releases if you have newsworthy topics for the media; you will need to prepare for those interviews; and you must take the time to send around any news coverage you get to boost visibility further.
Your PR person will need to spend considerable time refining your message and then presenting that message and news consistently to key members of the media who cover your space or reach a readership you want to address.
Following up on interviews takes time as well. Journalists will ask you for pictures, clarifications, quote checks, follow-up calls, additional interviews with spokespeople relevant to the story and more. You need to ask yourself how much time you can commit to this process. Also, will you assign someone internally to spearhead the media approach or will you be the point person? Advisors can be busy enough as it is without this added bandwidth drain.
Three-month acid test
You should also believe, instinctually at first, and then with a fair degree of certainty fairly soon into the process, that this will be good for your business – you should “feel” the value fairly quickly. By that I mean that you should sense within the first three months whether or not this is something that adds value to you and your practice, and if not, have the ability to turn off the tap with a month’s notice.
You are either going to realize PR is a good thing and that you like working with your PR reps and journalists or you won’t. If you work with an agency or have an internal person assigned this job, you should feel that they know their craft and that they are passionate and knowledgeable about your business.
Another key indicator of whether PR is the right route for you is how much you enjoy the process. You should look forward to speaking with the media, telling your story, discussing how you differentiate and voicing your opinion. When you are covered by trade press, national press, appear on television or show up in a local column on finance, you should feel good about it, provided the message is accurate and you are quoted properly and within context.
If you do not enjoy all this, the effort is doomed from day one. If the good feeling fades the day after you’ve received coverage, or you have a high degree of anxiety about speaking to journalists – which will naturally impede your concentration and productivity on other things – STOP. You are an advisor presumably because you like helping people and you enjoy going to the office each day and making a difference – imagine if you hated it? No matter what you did to mask that feeling, it would creep into everything you did, and poison the well. This applies to your PR efforts as well.
Proper preparation and process
So you have made the time, believe this could be good for your business, are prepared to give it a short period to prove it’s worth, look forward to it and find you truly enjoy the process.
But if you are horribly disorganized, have not thought about your key messages, do not prepare for interviews, do not follow up on or use the coverage you get and do not review and refine your approach and the success of your strategy against defined targets regularly, you are doomed. Get out now, because no matter how engaged you are, this will not end well. Preparing and having a good PR process is crucial, particularly for financial services firms.
Step one is to review your key messages to the market. Who are you, as a person, a professional and a company? What are you saying to those who might consider your services? How do you differentiate?
Think long and hard about these questions and take the time to refine the words and get your messages right. They are the foundation of your foray into the public eye. Typically, three core messages are sufficient, otherwise things start to get muddled – these should be repeated out loud by you until you love the way they sound when you repeat them. While you’re at it, jot down a 30- second elevator pitch, and start saying the same thing every time someone asks you who you are and what you do.
During media interviews, you need to address the topic at hand, but it is also perfectly acceptable to link back to your key messaging in good PR form. Practice linking back to your messages frequently – eventually it will become second nature.
Step two is to recognize that this is an organized process, not a wild goose chase. You should have a defined-target media list and know the journalists who cover your space and address your client audience. Define success at the beginning of the PR campaign: How many times per month do you want to speak to the media? What PR levers will you and/or your PR representative use to get you good coverage (i.e. press releases, contributed content, client or industry surveys, topical interviews, expert source quotes for articles, and many more)? Are you frequently reviewing your progress in engaging the media against your goals? Are you tracking your coverage monthly? Reviewing your messages?
Failure to do any of these indicates that your PR process is not squared away. The reason preparation is vital, and adhering to a defined process necessary, is because of the roller-coaster characteristics of PR we identified at the beginning. You need to neutralize some of these up-and-down elements, and will only succeed in doing so if you have a good framework in which to operate.
There are some things you can do to begin to consider a PR process, after which you will need to decide whether to pursue an in-house effort or examine working with a PR representative/agency.
The first action I would recommend would be to do some surveillance. Which publications do you value most? Obviously RIABiz is one of them. Which journalists do you highly regard in the advisory space? Which publications do you believe speak to your target audience? Within those publications, which contributors or journalists do you admire? Make a list of the top-five media outlets you want to follow – and eventually appear in – in the following three categories: Advisor-focused, national broader business and local/regional media.
Secondly, begin to take note of what these publications are writing about with frequency and see if you have anything to add to the discussions or if your business has anything unique to contribute that you feel is not being addressed. The key to a good PR effort is to add value not just for yourself or your practice, but for the publications and their readers as well. If you take the time to carefully consider your messages, research the publications you are speaking to, add meaningful and insightful contribution and adhere to a good process, your efforts will not be wasted. You will be adding to your credibility and increasing the likelihood of getting additional chances to contribute your thoughts.
PR can add great value, do nothing at all, or in the worst case, damage your practice if not process-driven and taken seriously. Because of this, I encourage you to start it only if you are ready to fully engage and properly prepare. If you cannot or will not commit to this, then do yourself a favor and table PR until you can give it the time, energy and focus it deserves.
At some point if you are serious about getting good media coverage, you will want to explore professional help. It is similar to going to court — sure, you can represent yourself but above a certain level you’ll probably be outmatched and under-prepared for the experience. Plus, a third party can say things for you and about you that you couldn’t, with a straight face, say yourself.
In the meantime, take the time to carefully consider if PR is right for you. PR is all about “credibility marketing.” The primary job of those who are assigned the task of telling your story and conveying your messages (which includes you) is to act as both champions and guardians of your credibility, using all available, reputable means at their disposal to do so.
If you do choose to go down this path, I wish you great success, and I hope you enjoy the ride.
Should I Do PR?
1. You have the time or will make the time, and/or will assign a staff member to the process
2. You believe there will be value and once engaged, you feel the value-add to your business
3. You are enjoying yourself, and the coverage you are receiving
1. You have reviewed, and refined, your key messages
2. You have a good process for PR, internally, and/or via your PR rep
To Do Now:
1. Define your key media
2. Listen to and analyze the conversation for opportunities to contribute
Jason Lahita is the Managing Partner at FiComm Partners, LLC, a specialist communications firm that works with advisers and advisory oriented B2B firms to raise their profile, put forth their messages and market their hard-fought credibility. www.ficommpartners.com
Known for his high 'emotional quotient,' Jason Lahita rides solo, again, as a PR guru; this time, he's selective and looking for a few good non-robots
The Los Angeles RIA PR pro is launching a company called StreetCred from a backyard outbuilding with a mindset of finding clients who click with him
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Melinda M. Staab
Very wise words Jason! Thanks so much for putting this out there – kudos!
Davina K. Brewer
Some good advice that works for other industries as well. A good campaign requires a lot of time and effort, research, well-trained experts comfortable with transparency and disclosure, and absolutely requires tracking success, measurement after the 'clip’ or story. My only quibble .. this is primarily focused on media relations and IMO, PR is more than just publicity. For what it’s worth.
Melinda M. Staab
Very wise words Jason! Thanks so much for putting this out there – kudos!