When a company chooses your PR firm to handle its professional services account, you should take the charge very seriously. The reputation of that corporation becomes a great responsibility because its fate could rest in your hands.
A knowledgeable company will select a marketing or PR firm well-versed in handling professional services accounts for its public and media relations.
The PR executive seasoned in the services industries will intuitively know when the time is right to issue a statement on company events to the media and, conversely, when leadership should lie back for a while and refrain from commenting.
While it’s usually the best course of action to be transparent with the public on company matters, internal disagreements or small changes in the health of executives—which have no immediate effect on stakeholders and shareholders—are sometimes best kept private for the moment and there is no legal justification for disclosing such matters immediately.
Professional services firms should look for their PR representatives to judge the nuances involved with taking matters public.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Aug. Financial PR/IR & Professional Services PR Magazine
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In addition to being a great judge of timing, the expert PR practitioner will also know the types of media to which each company message should be communicated.
Unless your company—whether it be in insurance, wealth management, accounting, etc.—is an industry leader such as Ernst & Young, executive moves, C-Suite hires and announcements of new departments and added disciplines are best conveyed to media that covers that particular industry, a.k.a. trade publications.
But if your staff is truly reinventing the wheel in your field, with new technology or unprecedented leaps in profits or services, then the right publicist will know the names of the leading journalists in your industry with whom to be in contact at such top-tier players as Bloomberg, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.
A PR veteran in professional services can best gauge whether the business editor of the Washington Post, for example, would be interested in speaking with you about your new technology or development and whether such an exchange would lead to stories that would be beneficial to your company’s reputation.
Not all press is good press. If your client’s new insurance product doesn’t offer substantial added protection from earlier versions, do you really want the spokesperson to be quoted everywhere about its implementation?
The corporation, working with its PR staff, should strategically plan which company departments and/or new service offerings or products should court the media. Which are most effective and innovative, and of which are you most proud?
Another key concern for communications experts to consider when working with professional services companies is: Do you have permission to approve an interview or send out a statement from your client’s compliance department?
A compliance department is the division of a financial services company that approves what can or can’t be said by individuals employed by that concern. Whether it be for an insurance company, a wealth management firm or a government entity, compliance needs to receive all preliminary communications documents for review.
Compliance will look to ensure that a business conforms with external rules and any internal guidelines that upper management has set forth. Financial services companies, and thus their PR representatives, have to have the rights and needs of investors at top of mind and must make sure that they don’t impede the fair and transparent movement of markets with any announcements or releases.
Picture it: As a PR professional, you’re chomping at the bit to get your wealth manager client to comment on a new rule set forth for 401Ks. After all, your client has spent decades studying retirement vehicles and he or she pays you to secure media coverage.
But before you send that email or pick up the phone to call a reporter, you must think about what to send to earn clearance from the compliance department. Does your client’s analysis include both the pros and cons of the new rule or is it heavily biased for investing in 401Ks in the old manner? Does the statement include outright opinion or is it just a careful examination of the new parameters? Make sure that you don’t lobby for investing one way or the other when breaking down the change for the average viewer or reader.
These are just some of the issues that compliance will consider when deciding whether you are free to issue the statement or set up a corresponding interview.
Common compliance risks categories include antitrust, trade sanctions, government contracting, securities, ESG concerns, sexual harassment parameters including LGBTQ+ matters, cybersecurity laws and general ethics.
It’s crucial for the compliance department to work in conjunction with the board of directors and C-Suite of any company to make sure the corporation moves ahead with a united front. But many of the risk categories that come under compliance department consideration are external, as described above.
The seasoned corporate communications executive must follow the lead of the compliance department. But the successful corporate PR person will learn to make executive commentary interesting and topical without violating any code of conduct prescribed by compliance.
Frank Tortorici is Director of Media Relations at Marketing Maven and leads the financial/IR and professional services PR from their NY office. He can be reached at [email protected].
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