Top Tips for Financial Services PR Pros

This Sunday marks the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles’ American invasion. Of the hundreds of memorable songs recorded by the group, their trilogy to the almighty dollar – Taxman, Baby You’re a Rich Man and Money Can’t Buy Me Love underscores an eternal truth. Money is and has always been a hot topic. This is why it behooves PR practitioners specializing in financial services, e-commerce, and retail PR to stay on top of their game. Here are some essential tips.

Shoehorn your client into the discussion.  As the creators of Freakonomics often point out, there is an economic angle to any story. It is your job as PR reps for any financial services client to ferret out that angle coincident with any big news story (Valentine’s Day, the Olympics?) and fit your client in.

Know your trends. Be sure you speak “financial” and know what the trends are in your client’s industry sector. For example, if you represent a bank or other financial institution, know the latest info on the retail “breaches” and what is coming to replace the magnetic strip. You can prepare your client to speak to these trends and gather intel on the ones nobody knows about yet.

Scour Profnet and HARO. Through unscientific polling, we would wager that there are more journalists seeking interviews with personal finance experts than any other category in the PR “query” world. Make a compelling case for your client’s POV and respond quickly – the early bird strategy often pays off here.

Be willing to share the stage. Often the smartest PR person in the room is the one who appreciates the value of pairing the client with another, complementary expert for a more fully realized piece. Journalists will appreciate the effort and your client can also bask in the “halo effect.”

Merchandise those results. One of the first places a prospect may visit on a client website is “press coverage.” Press results legitimize a business, separate it from the pack and tell a bit about the company’s story in an unbiased way. Make sure press coverage is uploaded quickly, share via all social media platforms and even “hand-send” to specific industry peers and others. Of course the agency needs to merchandise all that coverage as well!

PR Agencies: Does Your Client’s Plan Include a Social Media Policy?

We’ve all seen examples of uncensored tweets, negative Facebook postings and disastrous Instagrams. From your friends, no problem, but from your client’s company accounts? That’s cause for alarm. One way to prevent such indiscretions is to create, maintain and enforce a strict social media policy as part of your overall PR plan.

A smart social media plan includes objectives, strategies, tactics and some type of calendarized schedule of deliverables just like a consumer or B2B PR plan, but with one noticeable and very important addition: a posting policy specific to your client’s business needs and corporate culture.

Assuming you have already covered the basics above, start by asking your client these important questions and build out a customized policy for each one to implement.

Which social networks will your client maintain a presence on? One size seldom fits all, and this is true for SM platforms. While it’s tempting to try to force fit every client onto every platform, it can backfire if the company sees little or no engagement from a network that makes no sense for them. For example, unless the company is very visually oriented and offers up interesting “DIY” interactions like recipes from Whole Foods or design tips from West Elm, Pinterest may not be ideal for them. Prepare a “pros and cons” list for each offering and make a strategic recommendation on what will perform best.

Who is authorized to post on your brand’s behalf? One company may benefit from several voices in different departments, which keeps posts fresh and stimulating; another may need the continuity of a singular, yet compelling POV. It is the agency’s job to present the best recommendation for the brand voice. Factor in your PR plan components as well as the company’s social history. Make sure everyone understands the ground rules.

What type of information can employees share? Assuming your client permits employee posting, an editorial calendar will help sort this out for most, but a company news event or external event impacting the industry can upend the day-to-day policy. Build in contingencies for such events and make sure there is a “pecking order” for responding to such news. Have some posts drafted in advance that can be tweaked to cover possible events such as a CEO stepping down or launch of a new product, but for the less predictable, such as a Grammy-winning producer wearing a hat that mimics your logo (Arby’s) be ready to punt!

How will you monitor conversations about your brand on social channels? The way one responds in 140 characters on Twitter will not necessarily be the same as the way one responds on Facebook, where a lengthy chat can ensue. For example, many companies have entirely separate “customer service” pages on Facebook to handle customer comments, freeing the main page to be more entertaining, engaging and fluid. A PR agency often takes responsibility for monitoring social media sites the same way staffers monitor news media each day. This way, they can provide recommendations and sample language in a timely fashion.

Who will respond to these conversations? Responding to conversations is sometimes more art than science. Situations that require responses in real time range from irate JetBlue travelers to other brands (as in Sunday’s Super Bowl), so a mix of content and customers service skills is required. The job of the communications strategist is to develop a game plan to make the interaction successful.

8 Shortcuts For Creating A Strategic PR Plan

Public relations has earned its stripes as part of the overall marketing mix; most marketers agree that a strategic PR plan can play a key role. Yet PR too often appears as a few tactics in a presentation deck: press releases, media interviews, executive speeches, media briefings. Even for PR practitioners, there can be a tendency to jump headfirst into publicity tactics. After all, earned media coverage is a tangible byproduct of a many PR programs, and the positive brand visibility supports other marketing functions.

But the best public relations planning is grounded in strategy. A thoughtful approach based on strategic business outcomes will add greater value, and the publicity results will be more on-target than with a shoot-from-the-hip approach.

Here are eight reminders for experienced practitioners when developing a sound PR plan.

Define the Role of Strategic PR in the Broader Marketing Mix
An easy way is to start is with a classic SWOT analysis and determine where a strategic PR program fits in reinforcing strengths vis-à-vis competitors or building allies in the event of sudden external developments. Another common guideline is that advertising drives frequency of message, which is nearly impossible to do with media relations, and the typical PR approach offers depth of message or story.

Before You Begin, Listen
Traditional market research isn’t sufficient as the basis for a PR plan incorporating traditional and social media. The strongest and most strategic programs are informed by what customers, prospects, and stakeholders are posting and tweeting about the brand online…or, as the case may be, what they’re not saying.

Define Your Differentiators
Marketing and advertising are very useful for informing customers of new products or services or innovations like price changes, but a good PR strategy often rests upon true brand differentiation or the ability to create it through borrowed interest strategies. Think about the narrative that will carry the program and what mix of tactics can best communicate that difference.

Identify Your Most Strategic Influencers
Social media and the “attention economy” have created a new class of influencers. In many cases, they deliver more sway, both pro and con, than in the past. Whereas the old school PR philosophy was to rent a celebrity for a product launch event, today’s approach is more likely to involve building real relationships with lesser known—but equally influential—bloggers or experts.

Plan Tactics in Quarterly Initiatives
The overall PR strategy, positioning, target audiences, and key messages are typically fixed elements of a plan, but tactics may require constant review and change. Unexpected internal developments, a change in the business environment, or a competitive move can require fresh tactics and flexibility in planning.

Build in Flexibility
It’s worth a separate point about the need for flexibility in PR. As digital and social media grow in influence, PR professionals and their clients need to be flexible to avoid missing opportunities. These may come in the form of “newsjacking”—tying your story into breaking news, trends, or publicity topics —or simply to meet individual media needs. Given the dynamic news environment in which we operate, building in contingencies for key announcements and tactics is only good sense.

Ensure Message Alignment
It’s a myth that PR, advertising, and direct marketing need to constantly push out the same message, but they do need to mesh rather than conflict. For example, paid media might be based on an innovative product technology while a PR program conveys category leadership. Distinct, yet aligned.

Always Track to Objectives
This goes without saying, but bear in mind that the objectives for a strategic PR program are often not conversions. PR doesn’t stand alone as a consistent tool for demand generation. Rather, it works best to build brand awareness over the long term, position a company as a preferred partner or employer, create a leadership positioning, or build support around a relevant topic or issue.

A version of this appeared on MENGBlend.