It has been in existence for 26 years and currently works with more than 250,000 personal investors. But considering many of its rivals include divisions of global banking giants, The Share Centre faces a challenge in getting its name above the pack.
This is partly why CEO Richard Stone, who celebrates 10 years at the predominately online retail stockbroker this year, sees PR as "an essential part of our marketing strategy".
He says: "We don’t have the same brand awareness or high street presence of those banks and PR plays an important role in increasing brand awareness and positioning The Share Centre as a trustworthy expert in our field. As in all financial services, trust is a key element of the customer’s decision-making process when selecting a provider. PR helps establish that trust and enables us to be positioned favourably alongside bigger brands."
The fact it is not tainted with the name of an institution that has been through the reputational mill since the banking crisis may have helped it gain trust compared with rivals. But the comms operation is crucial for raising its profile.
For Stone, PR is an important part of the firm’s campaign work on behalf of personal investors on subjects that have included the role of personal shareholders in corporate governance and the right of investors to participate in the RBS and Royal Mail sell-offs.
"[PR] also enables us to establish credibility through being the expert whose views are sought on economic and company issues. We spend substantial amounts on marketing and PR helps reinforce brand awareness," he says. This means that The Share Centre is usually cited as an expert commentator.
Stone says The Share Centre is "well treated" by the media, a situation "helped significantly" by its campaign work – and the fact it is "never shy to hold an opinion". Its opinions are often informed by feedback from customers. For example, The Share Centre recently received significant coverage for its survey of customers’ views on the EU referendum.
This is typical, and Stone says the company "often creates content that journalists appreciate". The "pinnacle" is its quarterly profit watch report produced with PR agency TeamSpirit, which examines results and trends in revenues, profits and performance.
The reports alone have amassed more than 400 pieces of coverage since inception in May 2013. This includes more than 100 pieces of national coverage, with three front pages in national media (including City AM’s front page on supermarket sales, below) and interviews on the Today programme, BBC News, CNBC and Radio 4.
The Share Centre’s media operation involves a three-strong in-house PR team, which co-ordinates output and lines up spokespeople. TeamSpirit works on personal finance PR, advising on content generation and distributing content; another agency, KTZ Communications, handles corporate PR for parent firm Share Plc. "This ensures the team remains focused on promoting our brand to the retail investment market," says Stone. He says PR agencies play a "key role" and "enable us to punch above our weight".
Web-based media are unsurprisingly important for The Share Centre – "that is where individuals are getting an increasing amount of their information from," says Stone.
Nevertheless, more traditional publications, particularly printed national papers and investment-specific magazines, "continue to be vitally important". Stone doubts there is "one single trigger" behind customers choosing The Share Centre; what matters is the "interplay between the marketing and PR efforts across a range of channels".
Given the media focus, it is useful Stone admits he enjoys talking to journalists: "I see my role to be to represent the views of customers and our sector more broadly. I enjoy talking about the challenges our customers face. I studied PPE at university and have a natural interest in politics and economics, so I also enjoy debating the issues of the day with anyone who’ll listen."