COVID 19 has forced the cancellation, at least for the near term, of most in-person conferences and events. Both Schwab and Morningstar’s massive advisor conferences will now be online. This isn’t all bad. Early feedback on other well-attended events that have been held virtually is promising. Apple’s virtual conference is likely to attract many more people than would otherwise have attended in person, and hosts are finding new ways to keep virtual audiences engaged.
The upside of watching Chuck Schwab in your jammies and not missing your kid’s baseball games comes at a cost – less opportunity to network and connect with the audiences you want to reach. The sheer awareness your people and products get just by attending key events is not insignificant. For us, conference are great ways to connect with media in person.
So what can you do to stay in front of key contacts or media with conferences cancelled? How can you reallocate your time and budget dollars to keep your brand out there?
Make the most of new virtual events.
Soon after the pandemic hit, many asset managers put significant time into market updates and webinars. While portfolio managers and executives were swamped dealing with market turmoil, many made time to share their perspectives. Others used the time to bring in experts to discuss the implications of the virus such as PhD scientists who could help broader audiences understand the trajectory of the illness and plan for what it might mean for their business.
I’ve personally attended more webinars and trainings than in the past. Less travel and in-person meetings has opened up time on my calendar to listen in on these events. The best ones have multiple reminders and easy links to join the meeting. They also share effective digital decks and follow up with materials and graphics I can share or refer back to.
Consider doing some original research
Because this pandemic and the resulting economic tumult are unlike anything we’ve seen, everyone is hungry for data on how investors and organizations are reacting. Surveys are a great way to capture meaningful information about what decision makers or investors are thinking. Just weeks into the pandemic, The Plan Sponsor Council of America launched a survey to measure 401(k) plan sponsors intentions and it garnered significant media coverage. The National Foundation for Financial Education shared a survey that found 88% of Americans surveyed were feeling financial stress due to the pandemic. Send any research you undertake to your customers. Publish it on your website and social and release it to the media.
Invest in digital and social
Extra time and reallocated budget may make the website refresh you had planned for 2021 a priority this year. Or you might consider investing in some freed-up marketing dollars in digital advertising. We’ve experimented ourselves with both targeted LinkedIn ads as well as a campaign targeting certain search terms on Google.
If your key leaders are not active on LinkedIn, bring in someone to help them with their LinkedIn profile and provide training on how they can more actively engage with their contacts over social media. Not active on Twitter? Now might be time to select a thought leader on your team and start sharing your content and growing your following.
Reach out to the media
We’ve seen so much smart content being created to help investors understand this new environment. Share these pieces with media who cover your space. Some publications and media sites may even want to post your article to share with their readers provided it is truly educational and not self-serving or too salesy.
In the depths of the first weeks of the pandemic, media were particularly hungry for COVID related content. Reporters told us they were posting 30 to 50% more stories at that time and many were searching for both information and smart sources willing to talk.
Many of our clients have continued to talk with media, even though they’re swamped and especially when they have information that sheds a light on the pandemic. Smart market strategists willing to make sense of the market volatility, PhD analysts who can provide both useful investment and scientific insights on the virus, personal finance and estate planning experts who can address both fears and the changing planning environment have seen an uptick in media attention.
Start a podcast
While it seems like there are more podcasts out there than listeners to hear them, we continue to see a lot of interest in podcasts. Now can be a good time to experiment with a targeted podcast to reach both existing clients and new prospects.
Some are hesitant to launch a regular podcast given the potentially huge time commitment. In addition to scheduling time to record weekly discussions, you need to plan out the topics and edit the material to produce a professional outcome.
Instead, test out whether a podcast could work for you by creating a limited series – 4 or 5 podcasts on a useful topic you know your audiences is interested in. Using a higher-end computer headset—likely one that connects to your computer via the USB port—may give you solid audio quality. If you can, layer in some intro music.
Give it a try, share it on your website and social media. Email it to your contacts. If you find it to be a helpful way to engage with your clients, consider launching a second season or series sometime down the road when you have time and enough interesting things to say to justify it. There is nothing saying you have to commit to a weekly podcast. Some of the best podcasts I listen to are only published occasionally (See Michael Lewis’s Against the Rules and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History).
Evaluate your materials
With more time on your hands, take stock of your materials. Is your company brochure fully reflective of your firm today? Does your pitch deck reflect today’s market challenges? Are your fact sheets or quarterly client communications in need of a face lift? Take time to inventory your materials, check which ones are most and least read (and potentially shelve those that are going unread), and make sure all of your materials reflect our new normal. Undertake a brand audit to see how your materials compare with those of key competitors and whether your brand attributes are properly reflected in your materials.
Create contingency or succession communication plans
Many advisory firms and small asset managers are led by one or just a handful of leaders. The pace and nature of the COVID virus has caused many of us to think about what would happen if anyone on our teams got the virus let alone our leaders. If you don’t have a succession plan, get one. If you do, think about creating a communication plan to make sure you are ready to get the word out if something were to happen to a key leader of your firm. These plans should include messaging around who will lead the firm, draft materials and a list of all of the constituencies who will need to know.
Invest in education
Like conferences, training and other in-person education is also on ice. Encourage your staff to research and attend online training. Perhaps there is a credential that is meaningful for your staff. Many CFPs and advisors are investing in more specialized training like the Certified Socially Responsible Investing Counsellor, Certified Life Planner or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst credentials. Other staffers may want to gain a new skill or improve their communications tactics by undergoing media training.
Let’s hope that a vaccine and more effective treatments will slow the spread of COVID 19 sooner rather than later. We miss the opportunity to attend conferences and connect with journalists, clients and prospects face to face. But given a conference vacuum this year and likely well into the next, it may be time to reallocate your budget and divert attention to other important brand building activities.