The appointment of Barkers PR to work on Barclays’ personal savings
business is only the latest reminder of the opportunities for PR firms
working in the financial services sector.
Since last year the Government has been proactive in encouraging a wider
range of people to save, and in protecting consumers by naming and
shaming pension providers accused of mis-selling. In addition, new
businesses have entered the sector, with supermarkets, for example,
setting up banking services.
Financial specialists, like Lansons Communications, have been doing
The agency saw its fee income rise 14 per cent last year and has grown
into a pounds 2.3 million fee income business since its launch in
Understandably, other firms are moving in on this lucrative area.
Corporate and financial consultancy Grandfield, and full-service agency
Edelman PR Worldwide have both set up financial services teams this
year. Financial Dynamics, which already caters for the sector, plans to
take on new people to work on projects targeting specific groups of
consumers such as students or the retired.
Government activity in promoting financial self-reliance has given
financial services more opportunities to sell their products. Individual
Savings Accounts (ISAs) have been introduced to replace Personal Equity
Plans (PEPs) and Tax Exempt Special Savings Accounts (TESSAs), which are
held largely by the middle classes. ISAs are expected to reach a much
wider range of consumers. Last week the Government said savers would be
able to open ISA accounts by telephone or via the internet. In order to
take advantage of these changes, Lansons joint MD Tony Langham says
providers will have to focus on marketing their new products.
Julian Polhill, managing director of Polhill Communications, says
clients are now more sophisticated when it comes to press work, possibly
because an increasing number of marketing managers are coming into
financial services from FMCG backgrounds, where targeted marketing is
Where five years ago clients would have been satisfied with any
coverage, they now want coverage that hits particular audiences.
Polhill, for example, has been briefed to get financial product coverage
into computer trade magazines, to reach the IT staff whose earnings have
Lansons joint managing director Tony Langham argues that PR is a more
effective medium for financial services companies than advertising.
’People don’t read a magazine to decide what deodorant to buy, but they
accept more external influence in the buying decision for a financial
services product,’ he said.
Paul Burgin, divisional director of financial services at Ludgate
believes that financial services PR is more cost-effective than
advertising. Nonetheless, he argues that agencies and clients should do
more to monitor PR’s effectiveness, for example by asking customers who
call financial services firms whether they were prompted to do so by an
advertisement, a press article or some other source.
PR has a wider role to play than in just selling products. The
introduction of ISAs and the pensions mis-selling scandal have brought
what was previously a rather cosy sector blinking into the glare of the
political and media spotlight. And providers are waiting to see whether
the City watchdogs will prove more troublesome now that they have been
amalgamated into one super-regulator, the Financial Services
Burgin says the agency’s financial services and public affairs teams are
working increasingly closely together. Pensions and life assurance
provider Scottish Widows and investment management company Fidelity have
both turned to Shandwick’s public affairs arm for advice this year.
Another factor driving financial services providers’ use of PR is
increased competition. New and often more consumer-friendly players are
entering the market, and established players are diversifying into new
areas. Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Safeway, for example, are all now offering
bank accounts along with their more traditional grocery fare.
Sainsbury’s bank marketing director David Noble hired Dewe Rogerson in
March to help sustain media interest in the bank, which was launched in
February 1997. Companies known for their life and pensions products are
also now competing with the high street banks. Standard Life has
recently set up a banking operation.
With new entrants trying to grab market share while long-standing
players attempt to keep what they already have, money is being pumped
into marketing products and companies. Government emphasis on
self-reliance and intensified competition have led to a growing volume
of financial product newspaper advertising. That, in turn, has required
the production of more editorial, which means PR agencies can attract
more coverage for their clients.
However, agencies should not underestimate the task of selling the
sector to the media. Barclays has briefed its PR agency Barkers to
target mainstream consumer titles as well as personal finance pages. The
reason for this is that Barclays, along with other providers, is well
aware that despite extensive media coverage, many savers remain wary,
uninterested or just plain baffled by personal finance products.