PR To Boost Your Visibility 

October 13, 2017

SunStar Strategic Presenters: 

Hibre Teklemariam, Vice President & Partner

Marilyn Dale, Vice President, Director, Creative Services & Digital Marketing

 pdfDownload the Slides 

Hibre: SunStar Strategic has been in the PR business for over 25 years and our specialty is working with financial firms, money managers, and mutual fund companies. As a result, we have a thorough understanding of the compliance requirements of firm space today.               

Tip 1: Get your messaging right from the start.                      

Marilyn: Let’s just jump right into the first tip. Getting your message right from the start. Don’t most mutual fund managers already know what their key messages are?

Hibre: What we’ve found by working with portfolios managers is when we get them all in the same room, and this is managers from the same firm, to articulate their key messages, whether it’s about the firm, the products, or their expertise, you find that you’ll get different answers from different folks within the same firm. The goal is to figure out what the key messages are, and then tell that story consistently with the aim to inspire, attract, and educate.

Additionally, portfolio managers are steeped in the research that they do day-to-day, and as part of managing their portfolios. When they’re presenting, sometimes it can sound a little obtuse to the average investor. But in terms of getting the messages right, I’ll give you some examples. Let’s say you get managers in the same room. One might say, our investment process involves finding value companies. And then another manager might say, we like companies – we buy companies at a discount to intrinsic value.

Then a third manager may say we like growth companies at a significant discount. They’re all trying to say the same things, but they’re saying it in a different way. What we’d like is to have a more consistent way of getting your message across, and saying what it is that you’re trying to say so that all the managers are articulating in a similar fashion. And of course part of that is preparing in advance for a meeting.

Marilyn: Well, I’m right with you. I’m all for keeping it simple. But as you said, portfolio managers seem to live and breathe the research statistics, so isn’t really what the advisors and investors want to hear.

Hibre: Yes. But at the end of the day, think about who you’re talking to. You’re talking to people. So speaking in plain English is really important. Think about pension board for example. This is made up of ordinary citizens, moms, dads, etc. Of course, for a sophisticated audience, for example, if you’re trying to get on the Pershing platform, of course you’ll be articulating your story in a more in-depth fashion.

But keeping it simple is really best in most scenarios. As you can imagine, for example, financial advisors, they’re not necessarily as well versed in the jargon as it appears. Their real job is managing relationships, and selling portfolios. So they are looking for benefits, and ways to quote you to their clients in a way that their clients can understand. And they may nod, and they may say yes, and it may seem that they are understanding you, but that may not necessarily be the case.

So this is just something to keep in mind as you are speaking to investors. You have nothing to lose by keeping it simple and easy to understand. But by making it more sophisticated, you may lose some people, and it may go over their heads.

Marilyn: I like the last point here, Hibre. Tell it to your mom. If your mom can understand it, then, ideally, almost anybody can. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t use the investment jargon, and the kind of specific descriptions that we need to use as we talk about our investment philosophy, and the work that we do, it’s just a matter of pausing for a moment, and putting it in plain English, throwing in a piece of jargon, and then explaining it.

Tip 2: Once a year media exposure is not enough.

A lot of people are embarrassed to admit that they don’t understand what you’re talking about, and losing them isn’t going to do them any good. So I think those are points well-taken. Let’s move onto tip number two. Once a year, media exposure is not enough. So how much is?

Hibre: You know, there’s so much to be gained from momentum. Take advantage of it, build on existing relationships. By staying relevant through timely consistent regular media opportunities, for example, to showcase your firm, your products, and your thought leadership. We suggest a minimum of a quarterly outreach, however, more frequent is better. It allows you to build credibility, and gain exposure for your thought leaders.

You can showcase your expertise, educate financial advisors, get timely content out as advisors are always looking for timely information to share with their clients. Because the market is fluid, as we all know, it changes all the time. And your investors need to know what you are thinking -- what are you thinking about what’s happening right now? Staying relevant is really important, and it helps them to know that you’re thinking about what’s happening, so that you can adjust their portfolios accordingly.

Another opportunity that frequent outreach gives you is relationship-building. For example, like any relationship, think about it, whether it’s dating, friendships, business relationships, or advisors, relationship building takes time and effort. So frequent contact builds that relationship. And why do you want that relationship?

Obviously, it’s so that when a reporter is looking to do a story, they’ll call you, and they’ll want to include you in their story. Or when an advisor is rebalancing, you want to be on their radar. So, boring your audience is an excellent goal, we think.

Marilyn: Well, that’s a very strange thing for you to say, Hibre. What do you really mean by that?

Hibre: Well, we want them to readily recognize you and your story, if that makes sense. That’s what we mean. For example, this is an excellent example of what we’re talking about--the E*TRADE baby. I’m sure everyone on this call knows the E*TRADE baby. This is a successful campaign by E*TRADE. It’s easy to understand. Even a baby can do it. And it makes the audience comfortable. It’s memorable.

Now, this is an ad, but the same concept applies. Giving a message with a simple concept, and making it attractive in the way that it’s presented, makes it easy to understand and palatable. And the message here is consistent, right, and it’s easy to understand. And everyone who sees the E*TRADE baby knows this and understands this.

And it gives your audience confidence that you’re not waffling. You’re not timing the market. That you have conviction. And all that makes you a credible source, whether it’s a story for a reporter who wants to quote you, or an advisor that wants to recommend you to their client.

Marilyn: I think when we talk about repeating the story, we’re not saying it has to be said in exactly the same words each and every time. But the concepts have to be the same.

Hibre: Absolutely. And what it does is, it solidifies your story.

Marilyn: Let’s get back to talking about how we can talk to the press. You know, as we’re hoping that all of our audiences are living and breathing, and hanging on our every word, I think we have to acknowledge that that’s probably not the case. They’re catching us out of the corner of their eye, or they’re quickly reading a story on their phone, and picking up every fourth word or something. So we’re going to keep that level of consistency so we get that recognition, but how is the manager supposed to keep his energy up if he’s always saying the same thing?

Hibre: That’s true, Marilyn. It can get boring for the manager, however, there are ways you can do that. And, also, it helps to articulate your story. One of the most important concepts we teach in media training is how you tie a current theme, or what’s happening in the market with how you are making money, and how that’s tied to your investment process. It could be an interesting asset class, or a strategy. It could be your performance at that time; a timely topic given the economic and marketing backdrop.

And all of that is – are very different ways that you can weave into a story. For example, right now, cash reform is back in the news. You can talk about how that affects your investment strategy. How should investors allocate money now? How does it affect the portfolio makeup? Certain industries that will benefit, or small caps versus large caps. Which companies in your portfolio will be affected, or not affected?

Which ones are you avoiding, and which ones are you adding to? We like to tell our clients that they should also tell a story because stories make sense. People can identify with them, and it’s really memorable.

So, for example, you can say, oh – and, you know, this is – but we want it to be based on facts. For example, if you have Japan fund, or you have companies in Japan, you can say, you know, I was in Japan a month ago, and I met with the CEO of XYZ company in my portfolio. And from meeting with them and looking at the Japanese market, you know, what’s happening with North Korea is not really affecting this product and this company. And, therefore, this company is still very strong in the Japanese market. Not only will we keep it in our portfolio, but we’ve decided to allocate more money towards this company because we feel there’s a long way for this company to grow within the Japanese market.

So telling a story that actually applies to you, whether it’s meeting a CEO, or maybe one of your colleagues was traveling, or you met with or, actually, let’s say you were on a conference call with a company, senior management as well, stories that you can share really make it memorable, and easy to understand your story and how you’re investing.

Tip 3: 15 minutes of fame is just that.

Marilyn: Great. Well, I’m sure everybody is ready to get their 15 minutes of fame, as they say, but 15 minutes of fame is just that.

Hibre: You know, it is. It is. Although, we wish you could get 15 minutes of fame. For example, on CNBC, you’re lucky if you get 30-90 seconds.

Marilyn: Wow. That doesn’t sound worthwhile.

Hibre: Well, you’d be surprised. A few seconds on these major national financial networks get millions of eyeballs. And in turn, that means that your website hits spike during these times. However, it is just one time. What about the rest of the time? You know, do you go dark? TV opportunities come about once in a while. If investors are not seeing you on a consistent basis, it’s out of sight, out of mind. You know-what have you done for me lately?

People forget, and especially now with limited time, and everyone is busy. People are becoming more discerning and selective in what they’re reading and watching. You’ve got to stay in front of them, and be on the platforms where they’re getting their information. We believe that PR and marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Building your brand takes time and dedication. And, really, success relies on a sustained approach.

And like learning golf, for example, or learning to play the piano, or another instrument, it takes time. The same truth applies to PR and marketing. And, in fact, we recommend a strategy that leverages the preparation you do before speaking with the press.

The PESO Model: Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned.

Marilyn: Let’s talk a little bit about the PESO model. And the reason I want to bring this up is you get your 15 minutes of fame, but what do you do with it to really take advantage of it? How can you put together a campaign that’s based on a theme that you’ve developed, some time and energy that you’ve spent, some research that you’ve done? So the PESO model is kind of a term, a bit of jargon, that’s very popular in marketing circles these days.

It stands for P, for paid. And these are ads you might buy on Morning Star, or other online or print publications. E is for earned. That’s the press coverage that you get. We’ve talked a little bit about so far. It’s free, and it’s an implied third-party endorsement, so you can’t go wrong. S is for shared. That’s what people are passing around about your firm on social media, whether you’ve initiated or they’ve initiated it. It could be Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and so, so many others that I can’t even capture all the names of.

O stands for owned. And that’s the content that you’re creating on your own, that you’re publishing on your website, or your blog. Maybe creating special landing pages or newsletters. It even includes all of your marketing collateral. The PESO model is a great guide to leveraging each piece of content that you develop. Let’s take a look at this scenario. Let’s assume that you write a position paper on the proposed tax reforms, and how they’ll likely affect your asset class.

You can leverage that time and energy that you’ve spent by doing some paid advertising that will lead advisors or investors to your website. You could have a special landing page. You could collect names and use them for leads later follow-up. Alternatively, you could create some bullets out of the key points, and craft a pitch that would be used to entice reporters or TV anchors to interview you. This coverage, ideally, will be earned. You’ll show up on the CNBCs, the Wall Street Journals, the Barrons, etc.

Then next, you’ll be able to take these appearances, and, yes, you’ll have to abide by all the compliance requirements, but it can be done. And these stories, these actual clips from these TV appearances can be posted to your website. You can send out links to your clients and prospects. You can get permission to get some of them reprinted on paper, pass them out at trade shows. They can go a long way. I also mentioned using social media.

So consider this paper that you’ve written, cull through it, lift out a couple of short segments with your salient points, and you can use them as teasers on Twitter or LinkedIn; again, driving people back to your website so they can learn more. In fact, with even just an iPhone in your offices, you could make 20 or 30-second videos of the key points, and post those on social media and your website. Finally, take all of these things, and over a period of a month or two, parse them out one at a time.

Send them out in e-mails to your clients and prospects. It gives you a significant amount of exposure from what was initially just a paper, but now it’s got a much broader distribution, and longer shelf life. So instead of once and done, you’re able to create a comprehensive campaign, and it’s a consistent one that's easy to roll out. And consistency does matter, which brings us to our next tip. Hibre?

Tip 4: Consistency Matters.

Hibre: Thank you, Marilyn. Those were excellent tips and points. As you can see from these statistics, consistency and repetition matter. It’s important to always be putting out relevant content to your audience, as Marilyn just spoke about. Let’s talk about the first stat here. 47 percent of buyers view three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales representative. I thought that was so interesting.

And that’s exactly what we’re talking about. You know, investors need to see you multiple times before they can gain that confidence in your brand and in your team, and in your firm before they’ll actually begin to consider. And most of you who’ve had to go in, and talk to these folks, and having to sell your firm and your strategies, understand exactly this concept. And, the second statistic, 96 percent of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.

I love this one because most fund firms, just by the nature of the business, have the thought leaders internally, whether it’s the leadership, whether it’s the portfolio managers, whether it’s the analysts. You have them, so why not use them? They could be creating beautiful, relevant, timely content, whether it’s the whitepaper, commentary, a one-pager, a Q&A, a video, whatever it is, a podcast. They can be creating it. They should be creating it. It’s really important.

Marilyn: You know, those are pretty impressive statistics. It sure does reflect what I do before I buy anything these days. But it makes the job of creating content sound rather overwhelming. Fund managers would be spending a lot of their time writing instead of managing the money, wouldn’t they? It kind of sounds like a catch-22.

Hibre: Many of the firms want to do the writing themselves, and it’s not that it’s not possible. It is possible, and it can be done, but it is a tall order. Firms have to be realistic. If you have the time and resources, you need to make a commitment to it, and it can happen. It’s important to know there are outside resources, like SunStar for example, who specialize in this.

So while we are not portfolio managers, we do work closely with you on the frontend and learn, and help shape your story. And then we craft pitches, websites, collateral material, and many other pieces of content for you. It’s important to know that there are firms you can partner with out there that can help you with this because, again, a lot of firms are short staffed, and they just don’t have the resources to be able to do that. So just something to keep in mind.

Marilyn: How can we ensure that there is consistency, especially if you are using a number of outside resources in addition to your internal people?

Hibre: Well, there are a lot of moving pieces beyond writing. So be attentive to branding, etcetera. You know, as you do this, pay attention to static messages that we talked about earlier in the presentation. Be visible and present on a consistent basis. It’s really important. And have designated spokespeople and professional collateral, and have that at the ready. It all goes together.

Consistency is not only doing PR and marketing ongoing, but it’s also aligning your collateral materials to line up with what you’re saying on TV, or in print, or in meetings with investors. Keep it simple, keep it the same as much as possible, as you’re articulating your messages. And those messages should not change.

Marilyn: You know, I think what we’re talking about may really sound like a tall order if you’re a firm of a relatively smaller-medium size. You know, we’re not talking about fidelity here, or any of the really huge firms. Is it possible for firms to do this themselves, create their own PR programs?

Tip 5: DIY (Do-it-yourself).

Hibre: That’s a good question. There are firms that try to pull this off on their own. And it depends – your success depends on if you have a dedicated team or a person internally that can do this for you. If a firm is willing to put in the work, if you have a team or a person who’s dedicated to it, do-it-yourself PR and marketing campaigns can be very successful. But if you do not have a dedicated person or team, it is quite cumbersome, to be truthful.

Marilyn: Let’s take a look at this last slide here that talks about what it really does take, so that we’re transparent.

Hibre: What it takes is pitching daily, scouring the news, scouring for reporters to learn what’s timely, who’s writing what, creating target lists of publications and reporters. Crafting a pitch that is thematic and timely to line up with current market and economic backdrops. Doing outreach to get in front of those reporters to be included in those stories. This requires tenacious pitching and follow-up.

For example, a client just this week literally just said to us, “you know, I’ve been pitching Barron’s for a long time,and they’ll respond and say thank you for the information or what have you, but they would never give him the time of day.” And he asked, “ho were you all able to get us this interview?” And, really, it had to do with the fact that we have a dedicated team in-house that can do that. It’s very difficult when you have a few people on staff, and you’re kind of doing it here and there.

And, of course, the years and years of relationship-building are critical. Like many things, it comes down to relationships. You have to have, internally, the professional designers. You have to have IT staff, and great writers. You have to be willing to put in the time to build those relationships with the press that are crucial, and getting noticed and included in stories they’re writing.

The third-party endorsement you get from talking to the press goes a long, long way, more than ads do, more than you touting how good you are, or even e-mailing folks. That’s why we like it. But, again, unfortunately, some firms just are short-staffed, and don’t have the staff to do this.

Marilyn: Yeah, it sounds like anything that you want to do that’s worth doing, you can do it if you set your mind to it. We don’t want to disparage any firms from taking this on, on their own, just take it on with eyes wide open, and be prepared to stick with it. I think that’s one of the most important things we can use as a takeaway.

Hibre:    Absolutely. That’s correct.

Marilyn: Can you recap the five tips?  

Hibre: Tip number one: get your messaging right from the start. Company executives need to tell the same story in a simple and easy to understand way. Number two: once-a-year media coverage is not enough. You must stay present and relevant, and stay in front of your audience through various ways. Number three: 15 minutes of fame is just that. Out of sight is out of mind. Don’t get lazy. Continue to market your firm, your thought leaders and your content, on an ongoing basis.

Number four: consistency matters. You saw the steps we showed you. Most people take their time, and review several pieces of content prior to a purchase. They have to see you on a regular basis. Number five: do it yourself. It’s very time-consuming, and requires full engagement, so have a dedicated person or team internally that can do this for you. If you do not, we recommend that you partner with a PR and marketing firm with an expertise in the financial industry. Let’s now take questions.       

Q&A

Question: What would be the typical cost of PR program? While it may be difficult to articulate, how about if a firm was to try to do internally versus maybe outsourcing that particular type of program.

Hibre: As you can imagine, the cost depends on the firm, the size of the firm, the number of thought leaders they have internally, the type of campaign they’d like to do, whether it’s a new fund launch, or whether they have existing products that are maybe four and five-star products that no one has ever heard of before. Then you have to ask how many spokespeople they have in-house? How aggressive will they want to be?

Pricing is tailored to each firm depending on how aggressive they’d like to be, depending on the size of the business, and the number of products that we’re promoting. So it’s really just dependent, and we tailor it to each individual client.

Question:  Generally speaking, what types of publications are you, or other  firms, typically targeting to try to get included in?

Hibre: We obviously target the major financial national press and broadcast, whether that’s CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg Television, or the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, or, the very business-focused publications, such as Barron’s or Kiplinger’s, that are more tailored to a retail audience. And then you have the advisor publications that are specifically targeting financial advisors. So it really just depends, again, on the target audience that we are trying to reach. It’s very tailored.

Question:  If a firm is considering a PR program, how important is it to go through a media training in preparation for the execution of that PR program?

Hibre: We think the media training is critical. It’s more a communications workshop, we like to call it because, number one, it’s critical that, as we spoke about during the presentation, that all of the key executives within a firm are articulating their story in a similar fashion, and that different people are not saying different things. And also that we understand the firm, the background of the firm, the history of the firm, why they have a certain culture.

We need to understand that and get on the same page. And, also, how they’re investing, how they’re selecting companies, what makes them different than all the thousands of other firms out there. And similar firms like them -- what differentiates them? What makes them different? What makes them unique? Why should these key publications, quote a thought leader from this firm versus another firm? Why should an investor pick this particular strategy versus a similar strategy from a different firm?

A media workshop helps us learn the answers to these questions.  So we think it’s critical because it helps everybody get on the same page.

Question:  How does social media fit into a PR program? I know that when we’re working with our clients, you know, special media and digital presence is a very big part of that. How are you, or how should companies, in general, be thinking about integrating social media into their PR program?

Marilyn: Social media has been difficult for financial companies to get into because of all the regulations. And of course the compliance companies have been looking very carefully at these issues, and trying to work with clients and with us to get this ball rolling because it’s here to stay. Most of us are on social media on a very regular basis. So we do think it’s important.

The whole concept of sharing and endorsements before people make purchases is getting bigger and bigger. While most firms are trying to get into the advisor market, in addition to the retail market, advisors are people. So they’re spending time on Facebook and Twitter, and so on, as well. And of course, President Trump has given a huge boost to Twitter, and really put it on the map more than it ever was before.

So there are ways to make it work. We have to be cautious with our language, as we are with all advertising, and this just falls under the advertising rules. I think it’s important to realize it’s doable, and just put our minds to it, and cull through the right words and the right disclosures, and get it done because it’s not going away anytime soon.