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
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
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
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