Financial PR needs to widen horizons

Throughout my working life one of the few rules in financial journalism has been that you should run a mile from any financial story offered up by a non-financial PR agency.

Anthony Hilton: 'As one FTSE 100 chairman put it, financial PR is good at what it does but it is too narrow and not proactive'
Anthony Hilton: 'As one FTSE 100 chairman put it, financial PR is good at what it does but it is too narrow and not proactive'

The logic was simple enough, even if its universal application was unfair. A client with something to hide would use a non-financial specialist because they were likely to be more naive about the workings of the financial world and easier to dupe.

But now perhaps the boot is on the other foot. Clearly these are tough times for financial PR because of the low levels of activity in the financial markets. According to the Centre for Economic and Business Research the total number of financial services jobs has slumped from 354,000 in 2007 to 250,000 this year.

And trading conditions seem to be getting worse. Derivatives trading is down by 20 per cent this year, domestic mergers and acquisitions activity by a third and cross-border deals even more.

The bigger issue is whether this is concealing a more fundamental structural problem for the industry. Financial PR has traditionally revolved around getting stock market-related information to key financial journalists, and picking up the financial advertising and print work that used to accompany results, stock market flotations and takeovers.

But these days neither the stock market nor financial columns are what they were. As one FTSE 100 chairman put it, financial PR is good at what it does but it is too narrow and not proactive.

At the higher level they worry about social media. Witness the comment from the chief executive of Unilever that if social media could bring down the government of Egypt, what could it do to his company Less apocalyptically, companies today need to articulate a vision of their corporate purpose.

The larger agencies have already widened their offer, but there are still a lot of smaller firms that do not have deep enough pockets. The brightest will continue to make a good living as niche operators. But you do have to worry what the future holds for the also-rans – some of which are really quite large businesses.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London’s Evening Standard

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