Economic pressures are redefining agencies' approach to financial communications, thus posing new challenges and opportunities for recruitment within a firm's financial practice group.
External market factors, including increased regulatory scrutiny and weakened short-term financial numbers over the past 12 to 14 months, have required that agencies hire people with "hardcore financial expertise," explains Rich Myers, EVP of Edelman Financial. "It's a tougher sell for companies to get their positive story out. We're looking for people who can do more than write a pretty quote, so now we need IR and PR people who are capable of telling [the company's] story in the context of the current financial numbers."
Edelman began beefing up its finance team 12 months ago, with former in-house IR professionals, a security analyst from USB, and PR people from exchanges, securities firms, and agencies. "We're looking within the financial sector itself, [but] we're not necessarily looking for financial people who can do PR," Myers says. "We're looking for communications people who have a strong grasp of the financial sector and community."
Bud Grebey, SVP and GM of Waggener Edstrom's New York corporate office, attributes the change in financial communications and recruitment to a shift in equity marketing. He explains that agencies must now be in tune not only with the "sell side" of equity marketing, but also with buyer expectations, requiring that agencies create more senior-level, research-oriented positions.
"In today's market, what's really required is an experienced person with an integrated view of how to position a company [beyond usual stakeholders]," Grebey says, citing a recent VP-level hire.
He also notes, however, that recent industry issues, prompting bigger financial institutions to downsize, have opened the door for junior-level agency positions.
"It's a [great] time to look for talent due to pullback in the amount of deal activity and over-hiring through the boom time of the last five years or so," agrees Paul Jensen, GM and EVP at Weber Shandwick New York. He explains that there's an influx of junior-level candidates with digital skills, and the growing supply balances an increasing client demand to expand their digital presence.
"Clients are interested in people who can use updated and impactful methods of reaching stakeholders in financial services," Jensen says. "It gives an edge to some of the younger players."
Clients are also dictating that agencies hire people with global experience and an understanding of the international regulatory environments, as international organizations seek to invest in the US capital market and vice versa, explains Grebey.
Many clients want multinational news coverage, Myers says. "[Our Brazilian clients] don't consider themselves a Brazilian or Latin American private equity firm. They're looking for quality investment dollars and transactions anywhere they can find it, so they want to be present in a number of financial centers."
Industry experts agree that, as the current state of the market continues to provide agencies with both new demands and talent, the future of financial communications will see a heightened focus on international capabilities and virtual communication.
"It's a great time to recruit," Jensen says.
It's a good time to harness junior talent due to over-hiring at large financial institutions
Candidates must grasp international financial regulations in an increasingly global market
Senior-level positions are more research-oriented as agencies increase focus on buyer expectations