A note about this series:

There comes a time in every professional’s life when you want to impart what you’ve learned to those coming up behind you. Fortunately, that’s part of our job description at the Lowe Group—we train financial communicators! Today we begin a series of posts welcoming those fresh college graduates fortunate enough to score a job in the investment industry. If you’re new to a PR, digital marketing or content marketing job for an asset management, RIA or fintech firm, we’re here for you with a blend of our reminiscences and practical suggestions for how to fast-track a successful career. 

Special note to the newcomers’ managers: Lowe Group offers workshops in all three disciplines: PR, digital marketing and content marketing. Send us an email and we’ll be happy to share the details, including the ability to customize the agenda.

College graduation season is upon us, and it is fun to reminisce about how much has changed since I graduated and started my first job in financial services. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in December with econ and poli sci majors just in time for Christmas and literally began work on December 26. My new employer was growing and wanted all of their college grads to start right away, so I took no time off. While I was anxious to begin, I regret not taking a vacation to celebrate and transition.  

I began work as employee number 36 at an asset management firm that would quickly double and triple. My initial client service job later led to roles as a team leader, a junior member of the marketing team responsible for direct mail and the manager of PR. Much later I even did a brief stint leading the HR function! I still cherish the opportunity I was given to learn the asset management industry from the ground up.  

The good old days of financial news 

It was the PR role that led to my 35+ year career in financial communications. When I first began, all of our interactions with reporters were over the phone. I’d get a little pink message slip with the name and phone number of a reporter. I’d call back and talk with each journalist about their story. No email. No websites with information on our products or funds. If the reporter needed background information, we’d mail or FedEx the information!  

I subscribed to and read a stack of financial publications and kept lists of reporters who covered our industry. We subscribed to a news clipping service called Burrelles that scoured the media for clips about our company. I’d get a big envelope each week with copies of those articles. CNBC didn’t exist. Our portfolio managers did a few broadcast interviews with local TV stations when the markets were up—or down—big. The only financially focused TV show was Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street, a show with a cult following that aired on PBS every Friday night. PBS’s Nightly Business Report would also occasionally cover investing and the markets. But that was pretty much it.  

While ETFs and index mutual funds were yet to take off, interest in traditional mutual funds was growing exponentially. Before the web destroyed print media, the Wall Street Journal was delivered in three thick sections, and the markets section included a daily column on mutual funds. Personal finance magazines like Money, Kiplinger and the now defunct Smart Money sported cover stories featuring rock star mutual fund portfolio managers. One major feature could drive millions in cash flows into mutual funds.  

Compared to today’s non-stop media ecosystem where consumers are bombarded with information choices, investors mainly relied on newspapers and magazines for their financial information. And many read and paid closer attention to this news. For us, that meant there were many more opportunities for deeper and richer profiles, and you could build your brand with longer, more in-depth opportunities that connected with a wider group of people. Our marketing team would seek to extend the impact of these by producing beautiful color reprints they would send via first class mail to customers. 

PR in the information age 

Building awareness of financial brands today requires a different toolset that taps a number of skills to help build awareness. Today’s brand mosaic is made up of thousands of tiny mentions across traditional print and broadcast media as well as myriad online news organizations and ubiquitous social media. It is much harder to land the in-depth profile stories that used to be the bread and butter of PR, but there are more opportunities to build and extend your messages in the multiverse (see this post about how digital marketing partners up with PR to make the post of earned media).  

So here is my advice to PR professionals entering the financial services industry today: 

Think about messaging. As you work to elevate your firm’s reputation, you need to be disciplined about defining, elevating and repeating the core messages that matter. We’ve written about media messaging in the past. Think carefully about who you need to reach and what messages are salient to them. Then work to train your spokespeople to reiterate those key points. Embed the messages in your news releases, content and social media.  

Give away your knowledge. The same concepts that drive authority marketing apply to PR. Help your experts demonstrate their expertise with educational content. Help them participate in educational discussions on the topics they are expert in. Help them create thought pieces that showcase their knowledge and use that content to get reporters’ attention. The most successful educational content—and the most valued by media–is broad and about more than just the product they are marketing.  

Become an expert yourself. While at first it will feel like a firehose of information, spend at least 10 percent of your day learning. Sign up for and read industry emails. Spend time studying the complex financial products and services your organization sells. Read up on what your key competitors are doing. If you don’t understand something, ask someone to explain it.  

Speak up. While at first it will feel uncomfortable when everyone around you seems to know more than you do, ask questions and eventually start sharing your ideas. If you work to build your own knowledge by becoming an expert, it will have a secondary benefit of helping you build your own confidence. And with that confidence, you can offer opinions and bring forward ideas. This is how you build respect within your organization.  

Be helpful. With your growing knowledge, try to be patient and helpful with reporters. Your ability to help a reporter understand a complex topic will help you to grow relationships and build respect. If your expert is unable or unavailable to comment, provide a link to information online that may be helpful. You may even want to refer the reporter to an industry group or other outside resources. Reporters respect helpful sources and will come back to you in the future.  

Pay attention to what other companies do right … and wrong. Watch the news with your PR hat on. When news breaks, watch for the official statement from the company in the article. Look up the relevant news release to see how the company positioned the news. Form opinions on what worked and what didn’t. Store away those examples and revisit and learn from when you face a similar challenge.  

Do you need a degree in PR? 

When I started college, I chose a political science major, thinking that maybe I’d someday go to law school. I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I later picked up an economics major after falling in love with macroeconomics during my freshman year.  

I’m grateful for my liberal arts education and never felt I needed a business or public relations degree to do my job. In fact, I was among a handful of professionals at my firm who spent time recruiting new grads, and I regularly visited the colleges of letters and sciences at our top schools to find students who chose the liberal arts. While most of the graduates we hired still had business degrees, I regularly found a few smart, hard-working grads who had chosen to study history or English or economics.  

The truth is that most of the skills you will need in your new PR career you will learn on the job. This is particularly true of communications roles where you will be schooled in AP-style writing and will learn to use media databases like Cision and news release services like BusinessWire. Skills like being a quick learner and the ability to synthesize information and reflect it in clear and concise writing are valued.  

I’ve recruited and hired many liberal arts grads over the years with those skills. The successful liberal arts grad has had exposure to a wide range of subjects, has done a lot of writing and has demonstrated a concentrated interest in a few areas. We often look for solid internships, too, either in the financial field or PR. I’ll add that the most successful grads are readers and lifelong learners. The ability to teach yourself a new subject is truly valuable in a constantly changing world.  

That’s not to say we haven’t valued the pre-professional skills that those with PR, communications or business majors bring, but the most important pre-requisites for the PR professional are curiosity, news instinct and strong writing skills.  

Get interested … and excited. As your knowledge grows, double down on your growing expertise. Get involved in relevant groups that help you continue to grow. Get curious about how you can expand your impact and get excited about the results you are able to get. We regularly track and celebrate the “home runs” we secure for our clients. 

Leverage technology to increase value. As AI rapidly changes our business (see post), it is clear that value will come from people with unique and differentiated voices. Stay abreast of technology and help your organization put forward robust content and ideas that stand out.  

Say yes. One thing I learned when I started at that small but rapidly growing company was to say, “sure I can try that” whenever I was asked to take on a new responsibility. I learned so much early in my career, and that knowledge paid off later as I quickly gained additional responsibility. I wasn’t good at everything, but I learned early what I was good at and what I enjoyed by trying things out.   

It has never been a better time to start your career in financial services PR. I may sound like I’m waxing nostalgic for my earlier PR days. But today’s industry has become more mainstream, faster moving and exciting with many more people engaged and aware of the financial news. Investment stories even make front page headlines and there are broader educational efforts to democratize finance and engage more people with smart technologies feeding new apps and tools that engage a broader swath of the population. Good luck to you as you enter a promising career! 

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