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Going Digital With PR

Technology has enabled the transition to digital PR with interviews by phone and video technology. Are you taking advantage?

 

Melissa Murphy is Executive Vice President and Partner with SunStar. She has been helping fund companies grow through PR programs since 2001. Her comments will center around how reporters and guests have successfully transitioned to this digital environment. 

 

Today I'm going to cover the landscape for financial PR in 2020, and it's largely predicated on the experiences of myself and my colleagues here at SunStar as we have worked with the business and financial press, print and broadcast on behalf of our clients for many, many years, and also throughout this tumultuous time. I'm going to present a glass half full perspective. I'm going to share some of the silver linings of this transition to a more digital PR format. I'm going to specifically address the goings on, working with the print media, and that's defined as wire services, newspapers, magazines, financial websites, anything in the written word within that press format.

 

I'll next discuss the in's and out's of the broadcast media in 2020, and that's of course our networks like CNBC, Fox Business Network, Bloomberg Television, as well as live radio, recorded radio podcasting, live video streaming and formats where video would be recorded and then later disseminated. So there's a lot of different opportunities. I'm going to delve into home studio best practices. So you can see my setting. I will talk about what a great studio would look like if you are to engage in a broadcast interview for your home, but also obviously it would apply to presentations like this to any meetings that you might have with current and perspective clients during this time. I'll give some takeaways and then we'll have some type of questions. So with that, I'm going to share my presentation. Let's see, here. Alright, that way we can all see it.

 

So again, PR in the time of Coronavirus. So 2020, it has been a year to pivot and adapt. Typically we make our strategic marketing plans toward the end of the year prior. So 2019 we mapped out objectives, goals for 2020 and began the year. As we all know, January and February seemed pretty much on target. By the very end of February, beginning of March I think we had some concerns about developments with the virus. And of course most of us know by circa March 15, economic shutdown on travel, events cancelled or postponed, and if they weren't cancelled that time they were certainly cancelled later or moved into a virtual format such as conferences like this. We all experienced both personally and professionally the economic shutdown and the impact of that on our lives. We obviously are experiencing working in this industry, market turmoil and how that feels to us both personally and professionally.

 

We've lived it. We are in it together on some level. But again, any time there's volatility in the market and challenges therein, it's an opportunity for thought leaders, and these are executives of financial firms – whether they be asset managers or other types of organizations within this industry or the financial services sector. There's a chance to provide your thought leadership, to provide perspective, to talk about your views – hopefully those views are differentiated and unique. Hopefully they provide a perspective beyond what everyone else is talking about and that they are generally unique.

 

Really this year we believe it is important now more than ever if you are already engaged in a PR strategy, if you're already working with a business and financial press to continue that strategy, it is not a faucet that should be turned on and off based on market conditions or factors that are not planned for. And if you haven't already began a PR strategy, we think it's also a good time to implement that strategy. There are competitive forces. This is a very competitive business. You do not want to be left behind. If your competition is visible, you really do need to be as well. We are huge advocates obviously for PR, but definitely starting a strategy and continuing it through difficult times is really very critical.

 

We have adapted to this environment on many levels, but your message at its core, it remains fairly stationary, but it adapts around the edges to market circumstances. Being able to discuss timely views based on what's happening is a very important part of how you can communicate during this time. We like turtles here at SunStar. I don't know if you know that. It's an unofficial mascot. If your strategy is out of favor, you need to address why that is. Discuss why you are still relevant. Your messages need to describe why it's still important to invest in your strategy, in your investment category and you need to assure investors during tumultuous times, and this is really the opportunity for someone to provide perspective and to say the world is not ending. This is how we can navigate through this period of time.

 

We talk a lot about thought leadership, and I've mentioned it before and other people have discussed it throughout this afternoon. In a time like this, we think that it is best to have that sort of broader insight, that you're thinking on the market, you're thinking on the economy, you're thinking on news-driving topics, and then transition those views to how you are positioned, what your investment strategy is and what you can offer to investors. It’s context leadership first and then product. Not the other way around. That's the best way to success in working with the business and financial press, and I think just generally as a marketing strategy overall.

 

As promised, silver linings. We are incredibly fortunate, and I do not let this be forgotten any day that I'm able to do my job, we have transitioned almost seamlessly from a world where when we were in New York on a regular basis, meeting with the business and financial press. It's the headquarters of most of these major media organizations, seeing reports face-to-face, bringing our clients to studios for in-person interviews where they'd sit a few feet from hosts and anchors. Those are still incredible things to do, and when the time is right transitioning back to that will make a lot of sense. But we do have technologies, and I'm not going to pretend the phone is a new technology. Maybe if we asked a human 150 years ago that would be very avantgarde. But really, having the phone as an opportunity to connect with a reporter in lieu of being able to see them face-to-face has been a very good thing for us and for our clients.

 

Transitioning interviews to Skype, Zoom or any other technology, and I'll talk a little bit more about that soon, that has been extremely advantageous. It's been something that we haven't been able to do in any large scale capacity prior to 2020. We are very aware of that transition and its importance. Travel, for those road warriors, it's both something you enjoy and something that you may not enjoy when it becomes a major part of your job. I'm presenting it here as a silver lining. It certainly will take less of your time to do interviews if you don't have to travel to New York for it, if you don't happen to be in New York or major financial markets. Certainly not having to spend that time and that money on travel has been a silver lining in 2020. We typically have for our clients arranged interviews in the format that we call a media tour, and that would be interviews throughout the day on one specific day or two specific days.

 

And if an interview target, if a reporter or an editor or a news outlet for broadcast opportunity, television/radio, if they didn't have an opening or you couldn't fit it in that day, it just wouldn't happen. Now we can spread the interviews out over the course of days, over the course of weeks. We can work with everyone's schedule in a way that will make it advantageous to all parties. And just a little caveat here, the financial impact of the pandemic is an important topic but it's not the most important angle. We are obviously very focused on public health as part of this curative time that we're all living through.

 

A little bit about the print media. Again, I'm defining this as your newspapers published daily or weekly some of them, magazines – some are published weekly, most are published monthly, the wire services that would then in turn be published on financial websites and newspapers throughout the country, and then just generally the financial websites. Reporters are scattered, just like the rest of us, working from home or from some other location. I talked to a reporter yesterday who left New York and bought a car and is now in Memphis. Everybody scattered, just like the rest of us. The bureaus are shut down. The latest I heard, just as an example, Ritters has said that they may start bringing five percent of their staff back to their bureau in January, but probably not. Those are the kind of things that we're going to have to consider into the future without a real sort of end date to this.

 

Reporters – they are notoriously difficult to track down on a good day, on a slow news day, in a normal kind of market environment. It is more difficult now than ever. Just like anybody else in a trying to reach someone in a sales function. If you're a mutual fund company trying to reach a financial advisor, if you're an institutional asset manager trying to reach a gatekeeper or a family office or some sort of entity, everyone is hard to catch right now. You’ve got to be very tenacious. I don't want to plug too much of what we do, but certainly having a profession whose job is to find these people, to track them down, I think it's more important now than ever to have somebody devoted to that effort.

 

I mentioned this before about thought leadership. It's really important to tie your views, your experts' thoughts to key drivers of the new cycle. Not everything is germane. We know that most of our clients pursue a very long-term investment strategy and to talk about what may drive the market today or this week is not necessary poor to how they think. But if you want to have that visibility and you want to have that exposure, and if you want to create your brand identity and get your name out into the business and financial marketplace as a conduit to your current investors, to potential investors, to advisors, then playing along with that dynamic is a really important part of the process.

 

One of the things that we talk a lot about in our media training and message development workshop, and I think this is something Hibre broached during her presentation, is just talking a lot about how important it is to message and to know who your messages are, to know what your messages are, to know how you are differentiated. We help our clients define all of those elements within our workshop format, which historically had been done in person together. Now we've moved those workshops virtually. But we really spent a lot of time on the answer the question that the reporter has asked and then used that as an opportunity after you've addressed the question, given your views, given your insight to bridge, to transition to how your investing, how your portfolios are positioned, to even potentially why either your investment strategy approach makes sense in this market.

 

There’s all kinds of ways to do that. It's a technique that it can be coached and can be learned. It's not necessarily natural to everyone, but certainly it's something that we refine, we coach over time and people get very, very good at doing that. And another real quick thing about print media in 2020 is we are finding more and more interviews being done via email. The reporter will send questions and the client will write answers or we'll write answers on their behalf and they'll give approval to that, and that is a great way. Warren discussed about marketing and how it's 100 percent controllable. One element of marketing that is not 100 percent controllable is PR, and that's specifically as it pertains to the news media. Because you can talk to a reporter, your expert, your portfolio, your CEO for 30 minutes and they're going to use one sentence from that conversation in their story and you don't get to decide what that's going to be.

 

When you have an email interview, you really have an opportunity to say how in each question can I add something about me that's different than my competition and that's really uniquely me, really uniquely core to who I am. I think you'd have a better, I guess, sort of answer/message dynamic – or a quote/message dynamic, so it's a quote that would also include a message, which is a homerun to us.

 

The broadcast media – this is where really 2020 has been very exciting for people in my role. We are seeing from mid-March anchors reporting from home, anchors reporting from empty studios, I have CNBC streaming above me most of the day and I try to switch to the different networks. But they have a thing where they like to have people standing outside somewhere – not in a new setting, but just outside. They're doing a lot of different kind of formats for how they're showing on camera, both their internal employees and their hosts and anchors and their guests as well. Guests are not allowed in studio. This is obviously a COVID-relate guideline. Most of the remote studio, prior to mid-March if a guest was going to take a live interview on a network and you couldn't be where the network was broadcast from, so generally the New York City area, they would require the guest to be in a remote studio that had the same sort of professional cameraman, the professional studio setting, the lighting, the audio, the fiberoptic connection – a remote studio that was just as strong of a feed as it would be if the guest was in studio. Those are largely, and there are probably some examples where they are operating, but for all of my clients, and they are scattered throughout the country, they're not taking guests from remote studios.

 

Long story short the opportunity here is guests are being interviewed via these technologies, these streaming technologies like Zoom. The networks will send a Zoom link and the guests can click on that link to connect for an interview. They will connect via Skype. Google Hangouts is another one that we are seeing being used. And then if all else fails, if the connection is not strong enough or if there's some issue with the connection, they will convert the interview to the telephone. You can see up here – and all is not lost. The insight from the voice is the same as it would be if you were on screen. They will display your expert's photo, name, title, fund name if that is applicable in that circumstance. And then you can also see a backdrop here, and this would be – the one on the bottom here is a feed that was provided by one of the professional office cameras that have always been another option, but they do come at quite a significant cost. But if anybody's interested in more about that, I can tell you about who the service providers are in that realm as well.

 

I think many of us probably have a very good sense of some of these home studio best practices. And again, and I'd like to say most of us are probably not going to appear on CNN any time soon. I could be wrong, but some of us will and it's really important to really think about how you're presenting yourselves, and also think about how if you're doing a presentation or a meeting like this, current prospective clients, how you can really look your very best within that conversation or within that presentation. I think about the overall composition of the shot, how high you are or low you are on the screen, how you're centered on the screen, where the camera is, what's behind you, what the lighting is. You have to think about all these different factors. You want to have high-quality audio. I have some clients that have purchased lavalier microphones that they would pin or clip to their jacket or shirt. That definitely gives them more high-quality audio experience.

 

I personally am not a huge fan of headsets or headphones. I don't think for television that looks as great as it can. That being said, I just scheduled a client for a live interview, a live video interview on Friday and part of the guidelines from that network was they wanted the client to have a headset or earbuds. You have to kind of play along with the guidelines from the specific networks, but generally speaking I think if you were in a place where outside noise is nonexistent or very, very limited you're going to have a good enough quality audio, especially if your computer device is at least fairly new.

 

Good lighting is really important. I am personally using a zoom light. I think many of us do when we're on camera and I highly, highly recommend it. Did I say zoom light? I meant ring light if I didn't say it like that. A ring light. I can tell you the best quality of lighting that I've seen for a client doing live broadcast television has been a gaming camera. It clips to the top of a laptop and it's given the most even, best complexion kind of lighting, so that is something to consider as well, whether or not you do any gaming.

 

I believe the camera should be up a little bit, angled slightly down. I've hoisted my laptop up about six inches on my desk- it's basically eye-level or slightly above. And then all the other things – look professional, sit up straight, be relaxed, smile a little bit. It is infotainment after all, definitely giving a high-energy experience to the viewer will be really important. And then just be ready to go live by phone just in case. They will have all the information they need to do that. Make sure your phone is nearby with the ringer off just in case of any issues connecting. Those are my best practices I have coached enumerable clients on how to do this, and I think it just really applies to many ways that we're communicating and connecting during this time.

 

Key takeaways – I think that 2020 remains a year that most of us wants to forget. I'll put that out there. It's gone both extremely fast and tediously slow simultaneously. With that said, there are opportunities and we've been able to transition the work that we do to using technology. We are fortunate to be able to do that and to have these opportunities. We really, really believe that the financial media is an excellent conduit to creating brand awareness, identity, to connect with clients, to connect with perspective clients. It gives you that third party credibility that cannot be obtained in traditional marketing formats. If you haven't thought about this, adding this to your marketing strategy, we certainly would be happy to speak with you about it, but it's also something to just consider doing as we head into the future.

 

Again, we've pivoted, we've adapted, but this time in our human history we will pass and maybe we'll be able to continue using some of these technologies, even when the world goes back to whatever the new normal will be. Real quick about SunStar. Our mission for the past 30 years has been to strengthen companies' brands, specifically within the financial services sector. We have a core focus on asset managers, but we have worked with and we do work with all sorts of different kinds of financial organizations. We help you define your message, we help you identify what's unique and differentiated about you and then we help take that out into the marketplace using an entire array of marketing tactics and strategies. We want your experts to become thought leaders. Those thought leaders can be really excellent resources for the business and financial press, print and broadcast. Very, again, powerful tool. That endorsement, that third party credibility that comes with it, it's something that can't be matched using other marketing techniques.

 

And in the end, it's about growing your business. And we want to help you attract new clients, to attract investors, to retain your current investors and to just overall yet again to grow. For questions, if you haven't already submitted them, I'm going to stop sharing so I can go to that icon.

 

Q&A

 

How does one manage reflections on eyeglasses?

 Take them off. Just kidding. I would say you gotta just manage the camera angle. We've worked with another person who's giving a presentation today about the little ring glare on his light, on his eyeglasses before, and some of it is just moving the light up around – moving the ring light around. Some of it is moving the camera to a different angle so it is less visible. And occasionally it's just not possible to do it. You have to do your best to sort of maneuver around that lighting situation.

 

How can we get greater visibility? It seems like interviews on TV last about two minutes, and then they are gone.

 That is an excellent question and it's a concern that is broached by many of our clients. And yes, certainly an interview can happen. You may be part of a four-minute segment where there's two hosts and two guests and you get one and a half questions and you have maybe 90 seconds of total airtime and yeah, then it's gone. This is where we really, really highly recommend that you leverage these opportunities by linking to your clips. Most of the media outlets will post parts or interviews in their entirety to their websites and then you can link to those websites. Everything has a compliance overlay, right? I just want to make sure that is part of that process, especially if you are a mutual fund manager that you understand that you can't just throw it on your website, that you can go through the whole process of review and compliance and approval and then post those clips and use them as leverage.

 

And you've seen – I think Hibre showed a few websites, including the folks at Villere who do an excellent job leveraging the price that they get. And then it lives on. Whether somebody watches it or not isn't necessarily the point. The point is, it's there, it shows that you are sought after as expert resources by the business and financial press, and therefore you have that credibility.

 

Has SunStar seen a decline in interview opportunities?

 Many opportunities are client-specific and the thing about opportunity is it's like sales. It's not like people are going to just knock on your door and say how can I invest with you. You have to tell them who you are and what you do and you have to be visible. On some level it's all about how we are proactive for our clients. We go to those journalists, we do everything we can, we use ever arrow in our quiver to reach those people, to connect with them, to try to get them interested in speaking with our clients. I would say there hasn't been a decline per se. But if you're not out there proactively engaging with these journalists you're probably not going to get any attention. The decline would be if you're not being proactive or have an agency being proactive on your behalf.

 

The struggling economy has left us struggling, too. How do you message around poor performance?

 This is one thing – this is a great question. This is something I think that was addressed by Warren's presentation, by others throughout this afternoon. I think the idea is, and this is how I've always presented my clients, the focus needs to be on strategy, process, positioning – and that's when performance is good and that's when performance is bad. As long as an investor has a sense of who you are, what you do in the different market conditions and you understand it, I think you're going to have a much better opportunity to retain them when performance isn't going your way. It’s really about focusing – let me just go back to it – on that strategy, on how you are different and how you approach your area of expertise differently and better than others.

 

How much of the experience is lost when you're not seeing journalists face-to-face?

 Throughout my career – my long career at this point – a real huge focus of what we've done has been going to New York, meeting with reporters, taking them to lunch, having coffee with them, getting to know them not just as people doing a specific job that we find very important, but also just as human beings. You do miss out on a little bit of that opportunity. That said, most of them are still taking interviews by phone, and you kind of like anything you have to read the room. If they don't seem overly burdened on a time schedule I think it's okay to ask them what else they're working on, or maybe read some of their stories prior to speaking with them and ask a question about a specific story or give a quick compliment.

 

I think you can really still get to know them, still build rapport, and the biggest way to build rapport honestly is by being available to them immediately when they need someone. A lot of these deadlines are yesterday. There's no such thing as this long news cycle anymore. Everything is very quick and fast. Being available, being helpful, answering their questions, giving that insight, giving your experience will benefit greatly.