OPINION: Morphing the role of the financial PRO

Public relations consultan­cies and fund manage­ment groups do not have much in common, except one thing. Both seem to have a level of staffing that is way beyond what the business would usefully seem to need.

Anthony Hilton: City commentator, London’s <em>Evening Standard</em>
Anthony Hilton: City commentator, London’s Evening Standard

Fund managers, having bought their shares, should be forced to go on holiday for six months to give the ideas a chance to mature. Instead, they sit around, tinker and gradually destroy value.

With PR, and specifically financial PR, it is a different issue.

Given that there are few influential outlets for financial news these days – even including broadcast and the online services – there seems to be an awful lot of financial PROs around.

Traditionally, financial PR has been a conduit to move information from the client to the media and the markets. Now, a large part is devoted to sending information in the other direction. Many of the people I see as contributing to over-staffing are, in fact, gathering information about what is going on in the markets and media to feed back to clients.

What was once just a weekly cuttings service of specific client mentions has developed into a range of emailed summaries covering the morning’s news, specific sector analysis for specific clients, updates on mergers and acquisitions, political developments and general market intelligence. It goes out not once a week in a large manilla envelope, but electronically two or three times a day and more when the news flow demands it. It is sent not just to the ret­ained clients, but to all sorts of organisations – though invariably those where the PR firm wants to make a good impress­ion in the hope that business will be referred to it. Investment banks, lawyers, accountants and other advisers loom on the lists.

Even more interesting in small and mid-sized public companies space , the PR firm is usurping the role once filled by the corporate stockbroker.

These days, where trust between the City and companies is low, the PR consultant is being asked to be the chief executive’s trusted independent adviser, sitting alongside him or her, and on the opposite side of the table from the investment banks and others trying to sell their finan­cial products. The PRO as a trusted business adviser – now there’s a phrase I never thought I would write.


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