COMMENT PLATFORM: Leave financial PR to the professionals - Financial PR agencies which aren’t able to offer strategic advice at all levels won’t survive long in today’s market , says Dick Saunders

We all know what financial PR companies are about: the dimmer sort of retired army officer, with the carnation in the buttonhole and the gin and tonic ever to hand, hand in glove with a reptilian elite who specialise in something called the Friday night drop. Oh, and a few hot tips from inside the market for when the lunchtime conversation starts to pall.

We all know what financial PR companies are about: the dimmer sort

of retired army officer, with the carnation in the buttonhole and the

gin and tonic ever to hand, hand in glove with a reptilian elite who

specialise in something called the Friday night drop. Oh, and a few hot

tips from inside the market for when the lunchtime conversation starts

to pall.



Now, on top of this myth, Chris Matthews tells us (Platform 30 October)

that financial PR is in danger of becoming an underserviced commodity,

with inexperienced klutzes telling clients things they already know and

sending out press releases which could have been distributed more

cheaply in-house; or smooth talking directors who wow clients at pitches

and are never seen again - a key point of the pitch of course having

been the promise that that would never happen and ’what you see is what

you get’.



Financial PR is changing. But is changing in a way which is bringing the

best agencies closer to their clients. Fifteen years ago the first of my

caricatures may have had at least a grain of truth.



Maybe the second can be found somewhere, but not among those agencies

which expect to make a real contribution to their clients and enjoy a

long term relationship with them.



These days, quoted clients are more than ever aware that they stand or

fall by the effectiveness of their communications to the market.

Financial PR addresses the major issues facing public companies.



If an agency is to add value, it must be more than just a channel of

communication. It must help to shape the message and develop the

strategy for communicating it. To do that it has to be part of the inner

counsels of the client, winning the trust and confidence of the

management. That clearly means the chief executive, but it must also

include the in-house communications people - where they exist (which

they may not for smaller clients). In short, the agency must become part

of the team.



So what does an agency offer that an in-house PR and investor relations

function can’t? Frequently it is that invaluable independent

opinion.



Even the most effective in-house director of communications may

sometimes feel constrained by what internal politics allow him to say; a

key role for the external agency is often to think the unthinkable and

say the unsayable.



The closer the relationship, the easier it is for uncomfortable truths

to be heard and acted upon. And the agency can bring a different

perspective from its relationship with clients across the spectrum ,

rather like a non-executive director.



This strategic advisory role has to be underpinned by a thoroughly

efficient and professional support service, ranging from the issue of

press releases to researching opinion among top rated analysts. There is

no room for financial PR companies which do not offer all levels of

service. Just as senior people will not be fobbed off with juniors or

trite comment and advice, so they will become impatient if the wise

words are not followed through with top notch execution.



The modern financial PR agency has to combine a number of roles, from

friend and mentor to lightning conductor. Maybe there are some that fit

the caricatures at the beginning of this article. If they do, they need

to adapt or they will wither on the vine. But the real operators know

better and have long since moved to a higher level of professional

client-oriented service.



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