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Greg Joslyn: Journalists tend to be right-brained humanities types, liberal arts majors. Kind of the flip side of that though, is a lot of our financial services clients are quantitative and data-driven. They tend to shy away from telling stories. But journalists are storytellers. If you tell them about how you met with the management of a frontier market company in a yurt, that’s going to make it into the story.
Andy: That’s Greg Joslyn, Vice President, Media Relations and Client Management with the Lowe Group. We’re here with his insights and tips to have a better conversation with financial journalists. I’m Andy Azinger. This is The LoweDown Podcast.
Andy: Hello, Greg. Thanks for joining.
Greg: Hey, Andy.
Andy: Well, we’re talking about an article you wrote on the LoweDown blog on August 27 2020. And it just felt like it was important to bring that content forward. The original blog post was kind of two parts–a few characteristics financial journalists have in common and then, what actionable tips can a financial professional takeaway to have that better conversation. As always, it’s important for our audience to know why you think this is an important topic. So, Greg, why don’t we just start with that?
Greg: Sure. We want our clients to have successful outcomes. We want them to get quoted if it’s a print interview and we want them to get invited back if it’s a broadcast hit. And one thing we found is that educating them about reporters–what are their pet peeves? their idiosyncrasies? what motivates them, and makes them tick?–is really important to that.
Andy: Because I imagine the journalist has probably done their due diligence and their research on the financial professional they’re interviewing …
Greg: Yeah, and we encourage our clients to do likewise before they get on the phone with them or get on camera—and we can help with that. We can set them up and educate them–here’s the person’s background, here are some stories they’ve written recently. Because, you know, most of our clients wouldn’t dream of going to a meeting with a prospect or an investor without doing their homework. So they really need to do the same thing with these important media interviews and opportunities.
Andy: Right. Well, let’s step through these common characteristics. And you point to three of them. And one is, as we just talked about, learning about the journalist background and going even as deep as how they think. That’s deep, man.
Greg: Yes … deep. I might get in trouble, you know, stereotyping a little bit, but it’s definitely the case that many if not all, journalists are kind of right-brained humanities types, both by nature and by their education and training. I remember an article–it’s been some time–but there was an article about the New York Times newsroom. And it surprisingly, said that the most common college major among the New York Times reporting staff was American Studies.
Andy: Interesting. It really sounds like you really want to get to know these people well, because of the ability to work back and forth.
Greg: Yeah, it means that they sometimes are a little different from our financial services professional clients. They come at it from a little bit of a different angle. That also means it can be really good sounding boards. If you develop a relationship with them, they might have an interesting perspective on your industry. A lot of times, they know a lot about your markets. Even if they look at it from a slightly different angle, then maybe your members of your team or your peers do, so they can actually be really great resources for you if you develop a relationship with them.
Andy: And that kind of ties into this next characteristic is that these journalists are busy. I mean, theirs is a tough, tough business.
Greg: It is. You know, back in the day, reporters had a deadline they could work against and they would get super busy when that deadline was coming up. But you know, now with everything online, 24-hour broadcast schedules, their deadline is always NOW and so they’re busy. On top of that, newsroom staffs have been cut back dramatically. So, they’re sort of being asked to do twice as much with half as many people. And the nature of their jobs have changed. A print journalist, you know, they write a story it used to be you’d file your story and get it passed through. skeptical editor and that was it and you’re done and you could head off to the pub with your buddies. But now that’s just the beginning for a lot of reporters, they file a story it gets published, they might need to update it, if they’re a wire service reporter, minimally, they are expected now to go and promote it on social media on their own account. For many of them, part of their performance reviews is how many followers do they have on social and part of that is promoting their own stories. And then, sometimes they are even called on to do a video, right? So, a lot of reporters file a big story, and then they immediately follow that up by cutting a short video to go along with it. So yeah, they’re more busy than ever.
Andy: This last characteristic … I’ll just read verbatim from what you sent to me, which is, quote, “they tend to be skeptical, even hard-nosed–at least the good ones.” Can you explain that?
Greg: Sometimes our clients, you know, might expect a reporter to almost act as their stenographer, right? They’ve got a story to tell, and they’re going to do an interview with the reporter and assume that they can sort of dictate the outcome. But good reporters, aren’t stenographers? They’re skeptical. By nature, they ask hard questions. And there’s almost like a perverse inverse correlation, that the better they are at their job, that means the tougher they’re going to be on you in an interview, the more skeptical they’re going to be. But it also means that they probably have a pretty good following, because they’re good reporters. And so you want to respect that and be aware of that and not, you know, get bent out of shape if they ask you a tough question, because that’s their job. One other thing I’d say about that is that in financial media, where we spend most of our time reporters have kind of internalized efficient markets theory. And that’s a concept in finance that says, basically, you know, in the long run markets are efficient, they express all of the information available. And so what that means in the context of a reporter is that if you tell them, “I really like this stock, I just bought it,” well, somebody sold you that stock [who doesn’t like it]. And they know that so they’re going to ask you, you know, what do you know about this particular company that the guy who sold you the stock doesn’t realize? They’ve internalized that markets are efficient. And if you tell them, we have a new product, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and nobody’s ever done it before. They’re gonna press you on that, because they wonder, we know, markets are efficient, markets are intensely competitive–especially in banking and financial services–so why has nobody done this before? You really got to convince me.
Andy: Mm hmm. Interesting. Well, let’s take a brief break, and let some of these characteristics sink in. Before we get on to some of the actionable tips for having a better conversation with journalist. But I’m curious, what kind of research did you do on me?
Greg: Heh! I have not checked you out. I don’t want to lie.
Andy: HA! Well, you’re in good hands. And with that we will be right.
Greg: Yeah, that’s true. We, you know, we view our role as hopefully being a helpful intermediary between our clients and the media. And so part of that’s making sure that our clients are prepared for an interview, but also making sure that the reporters are prepared, that they have a an understanding of our clients and their business and what they are really good at talking about, and what areas where you know, they aren’t active. And so we’re in many ways we’re facilitators.
Andy: Well, if you’re just returning, we’re still talking to Greg. And in the break, I asked him what is the role the Lowe Group plays. So, thank you for that, Greg. Let’s go on then. And talk about these tips. All right. And the first tip you talked about goes back to again, learning about the journalist and maybe you can explain how?
Greg: Sure. So, we talked about how journalists tend to be right-brained humanities types, liberal arts majors. That means that you probably want to go slowly with them on mathematical concepts. Or definitely, if you do a mathematical illustration of what you’re talking about. They might say, “uh-huh, uh-huh,” but you don’t know. You can’t be sure that they’re following you. So you want to make sure that they’re following along. Go slowly with that sort of thing. Kind of the flip side of that, though, is a lot of our financial services clients are quantitative data driven, they tend to shy away from telling stories. But journalists are storytellers. They’re going to relate to a story. If you tell them about how you helped an elderly client diversify their portfolio and retire safely, or how you met with the management of a frontier market company in a yurt, that’s going to make it into the story. Your statistics from the trade group or your elegant mathematical model for picking stocks might not make it in. But if you tell them a good story, chances are they’re going to relate to that and they’re going to put it in their story. So that’s important. I guess the third upshot of the fact that journalists tend to be less quantitative is that you can really solidify your relationship with them by becoming a technical resource for them. So if you wrap up an interview, and it goes well, and you seem to be getting along, you can offer to help them in the future with things they’re working on. So, they might call you with a term sheet or a concept that they’re having trouble wrapping their brains around. And if you can be helpful, again, it’s just gonna engender goodwill. And you might get a peek at that term sheet that your competitor is circulating. So, it can be a win-win for everybody.
Andy: And the other thing, as you mentioned earlier, that a financial professional can do is really help them manage the tyranny of their time.
Greg: Yeah, that’s important. Journalists, as we said they do have deadlines, or at least they have soft deadlines for when they want to get a story to their editor. Try to be respectful of that. A lot of times, journalists is somebody in their early career, they’re in their early 20s. And we’ve set up an interview with the CEO of our client, and the CEO might feel like they can move that call around, or they can’t be available until next Wednesday. That’s a tough conversation, it puts us in a tough place to manage that. So if you can be responsive, if you’ve got good materials that will help them tell the story, that sort of thing can mean you get into the story, right? If you can’t talk to him till next Wednesday, you might not be in there.
Andy: And you also said that a journalist should be a skeptic, they should be willing to kind of push back or maybe it’s not even back, maybe it’s just push it a little deeper. And that really can only benefit a financial professional who’s doing an interview. Right, but how do they then prepare for, let’s say, the unexpected?
Greg: Well, I think you want to consider the toughest question, they could ask you and be ready with an answer to it. It also means not getting emotional, you probably wouldn’t get upset if prospective investor started asking you tough questions. So, don’t be upset when a reporter does the same thing.
Andy: How so?
Greg: We do work on a technique which is to pivot. You know, maybe you can’t talk about it for compliance reasons or competitive intelligence reasons. And you can’t be ham fisted about it right? Politicians sometimes, you know, get away with that in a debate, but you need to acknowledge the question you were asked, and you can let them know that it’s not something you’re really at liberty to speak about, but here’s what you can say on that subject.
Andy: Sure. And if this is the first episode of the LoweDown Podcast that anybody listens to, then the very next episode they should listen to is Episode 105, The Media Messaging Triangle Keeps You On Point. And that came from another partner there at the Lowe Group, Ben Bishop, the messaging triangle allows you to pivot and gives you the words to be prepared with. So, I would highly recommend that. Any final thoughts that you’d like to part with?
Greg: Well, that was a really good point you just made, Andy. The message triangle is a tool that we can equip you with to help you make that pivot when the questions aren’t exactly what you want to talk about. So that’s a really good point.
Andy: Well, thank you. As we wrap this episode up, when you’re working with clients, I’m sure that the coaching and consulting runs much deeper than what we’ve covered in this brief podcast. So, I’m going to invite our listeners to contact the Lowe Group for more information on this topic, or, any other services they might need. And they can keep up on the LoweDown, podcast and the blog, at lowecom.com. Until next time, Greg, hey, thank you.
Greg: That was fun, Andy! Thank you very much.
Andy: I’m Andy Azinger. Take care.