Developing quality content: The untamable beast for financial services marketers

December 11, 2013
award winning content

CONTENT IS KING: For financial services companies, the need for quality content has never been greater.

Originally published on

Content is king. But it’s also killer. That message was heard loud and clear last week, when I presented at The Future of Financial Services Communications: Case Studies and Round Tables.

Afterward in a series of round tables, we heard time again from marketing and communications professionals inside the ranks of financial services companies that while the need for content has never been greater, their enterprises have been slow to create the systems and infrastructure necessary to write and produce this material.

Some of it is institutional resistance. As one insider put it, “The organization now recognizes that content is key to fueling public relations and content marketing strategies, but we have yet to understand the talent and budget required to create content. We’re not writers and producers, we’re marketing people. Yet more and more, we are being tasked to create magazine-quality infographics, blog posts, guest posts, updates, white papers, byline columns, and press releases to feed an unrelenting drumbeat of informational needs.”

At the same time, others at the round table expressed the classic quandary with their internal subject matter experts. While these individuals are quite knowledgeable, harnessing their expertise is a challenge. First, their time is at a premium. Second, most don’t understand how to frame the messaging for our target audience. Third, many can’t write or communicate effectively.

Finally, most have little interest in supporting our podcasts, videos, and other marketing initiatives. Many subject matter experts see the content challenge as something that’s tedious and time-consuming — best left for others to accomplish.

Containing the content monster

As the sessions evolved, a number of recommendations surfaced among the 150 participants in the seminars — drawn from top-tier financial institutions, such as Legg Mason, Morgan Stanley, UBS, TD Ameritrade, and TIAA-CREF:

  1. Improve efficiencies. There is no way to scale content creation, but there are ways to streamline its production. Here at Gregory FCA, we have refined a process by which quality writers interview subject matter experts in blocks of 30 to 60 minutes once a month. The briefings are preceded by a scope of topics developed alongside with client input.The interviews are performed in the journalistic style, with no client prep time required. They are also digitally recorded and immediately transcribed. A team of financial services writers then works directly from the transcripts, converting conversations into compelling prose. Each briefing typically yields a byline column, or two to three blog posts and guest commentaries. White papers often require a series of two or three briefings to complete.
  2. Can the marketing speak and invoke the journalistic style. “Our clients are smarter than ever. They can sniff out the sell from a mile away,” lamented the PR head of a major financial services company. Consequently, organizations must come to realize that effective public relations and content creation requires real storytelling skills. “Internally, we’re charged with moving campaigns forward, but too many of us simply do not understand the premise of a good story, even when working with outside firms, consultants, and writers, so we fail to give them the direction they require to hit the right tone.” Many in the group suggested that their companies provide focused training on how to spot, develop, and encourage the development of quality content. “We need to be re-trained like journalists in order to understand it’s not about telling, rather it’s about understanding the audience and developing content that is ruthlessly relevant to them.”
  3. Complying with compliance. It remains a great hurdle for financial services companies — how to get content approved in time for it to be relevant. “It takes three weeks to get a tweet approved by compliance, after which it is no longer relevant to the conversation,” said one round table participant, begrudgingly. Solutions? Compliance needs training on new digital and social media in order to understand the real risks and not perceived risks based on false assumptions about digital communications. At the same time, many PR practitioners suggested that a special channel to compliance needs to be open within their organization, that flows directly from communications to a designated compliance officer.

Let’s face it: New digital and social media is not going away. It will be a part of our marketing campaigns for years into the future. In order to optimize its potential, our organizations must understand its potential and limitations and become more nimble in how we communicate with the world as it is today, not as it was last year.

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