A miss-stated figure in an announcement can shatter a share price. A phrase overheard can scuttle a deal.
Information which has unexpectedly reached the ears of a competitor can have even more devastating consequences. To compound the challenge, reactions can be almost instantaneous.
Specialised financial services PR agencies are both trumpeters and guardians of clients’ information. We most both shout and safeguard what we know.
This is made more difficult by the reality that one of our most important competitive advantages is that we know our sector inside out, fed by associations which reach far beyond our client base.
We often know what our clients’ competitors are up to, because those competitors are often also our clients. That could yield serious conflicts of interest.
It is inevitable that, almost every day, we know something that one client would like to know about another.
Sometimes that information is part of what they buy from us.
For example, when preparing a market report, possessing more knowledge than a client might about their own narrow area of business (because we know, sometimes first-hand, what their competitors are up to) is a critical component of the offerings of specialised financial services PR agencies.
It’s the way we add value greater than the simple sum of our skills in language, presentation, and comms strategy.
Disclosure is an obvious necessity, but it doesn’t go far enough to manage potential conflicts of interest.
To achieve that, we apply a much greater, much less tangible characteristic: integrity.
It must be in evidence in our character and our every action. We as an industry must not tolerate anyone among us who does not possess the integrity to respect the potentially explosive commodity in our care.
Our advice is based on a thorough understanding of our clients, their needs, and their sectors.
But knowing inherently the boundaries of disclosure, and possessing the integrity to respect them, is the key to handling conflicts of interest within financial services PR.
One of a set of simple reflective tests delineates the boundary: would client A want client B to know this fact? Is my action for client C based on knowledge of client D, which the former does not have? Can client E be damaged by my knowledge of Client F?
If ever the answer is yes, we must possess and exercise the integrity to halt.
Preferably, we know the answers instinctively, without having to ask the questions.
The key to failure is to attempt to please everyone. And while in financial services the delivery of a piece of information about a competitor generally pleases, we must recognise that we cannot always provide that easy win, for it rarely leads to those win-win-win situations which ultimately deliver the biggest payoffs in business.
That demands integrity, an all-too-rare commodity.
I don’t know the key to success, but finding, developing, and exercising integrity is surely an essential.
Damian Beeley is a partner at Haggie Partners