Today’s interviewee, Michael Gaughan, gives us a insight into communications within the financial services sector. The chief executive of FWD Group explains the agency’s outlook, from how to get clients’ messages across in an economically challenging environment to working with trade journalists on a personal level.
About the agency
What industry sectors does FWD specialise in?
FWD is a specialist financial services agency and is based in Leadenhall Street in The City. We have a range of clients from the insurance and asset management sectors and they are usually based in London.
What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?
Every PR agency is only as good as the people that they have and who deal with the clients day by day. We look for people who have a passion for looking after clients and have the relevant financial services experience.
How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?
This is down to careful planning with clients and setting clear objectives and clear messages that they want to communicate. Once we have the overall plan in place with key messages it is then our job to make sure it gets pushed out to the target audiences in a controlled and continuous fashion. Working with clients in financial services means that we have to be fully aware of all the various compliance issues from regulators and our clients tend to be cautious in this regard.
What qualities do you look for in new recruits?
We look for people who have a combination of experience in PR and in financial services and who have a sharp brain and an eye for detail. Some join us from in-house whilst others come from an agency background so we have a great mix of people in the office.
What has been the biggest challenge for the agency?
The biggest challenge has been to guide clients towards solid key messages in an economic climate that is challenging to say the least. We do a fair bit of crisis work with clients just simply because of the scale of their activities and that is always a challenging aspect when there is a major issue on the go.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing PR today?
Maintaining a professional reputation is one that I would put up at the top of the list. Clients have varied opinions on the media and also the value that a PR agency can actually bring to them, but it is very pleasing to see those opinions turn positive with a client when you help them develop their thinking on messages and achieve the desired coverage. Other key challenges at this time are to stand firm in terms of the value you bring to an organisation and reflect this in the fee that you agree and to invest in training the professionals of tomorrow.
Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
If I was to pick four at the moment it would be Xchanging, Skandia, Sterling and EFMA.
Tell us about one of your clients you are working with at the moment. What campaign do you have planned?
Client confidentiality would prevent me from discussing this in detail, but one area that crops up regularly and where we are particularly skilled is where a client launches a new division or product. This requires knowledge of the specific business lines in which our clients operate. We would work with the person leading the team or product in order to identify their key messages, target audience, their geographical scope and their favourite way of working. We then look at every option of promotion, whether it is trade media, national media, verticals or all of them together. We have team members skilled in particular business lines, territories and media types and they will combine to really get the project working. At the centre of it is openness and regular concise dialogue with clients and the media.
Do you target social media often in your campaigns? Do you find it a useful tool, or is traditional PR more effective?
In our marketplace – which is a B2B environment – traditional PR is very effective. There is a very strong trade press in financial services that is widely read and the hard copy formats are surviving well despite the obvious growth of digital. Much of the news is simple online these days but the detail and analysis is often what makes the hard copy version stand out.
Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?
Not particularly. We have a wide range of clients and regularly pick up new clients so the freshness is always there.
What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?
Journalists want access to clients and that is what we give them. We are happy to brief them on the background to the company, but most trade journalists will have done their research in advance and are then looking to get an insight from a spokesperson for the company.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?
We take the time to get to know the journalists on a personal level and we have a lot of opportunities to meet them at industry events. Most publishers are very active in the event and seminar space and this matches with what our clients are trying to do as well, so it means that we have regular contact with them. It is important to understand the boundaries between the roles and to remember that the journalist has their job to do whilst we must always offer the best advice to our clients. Having an open and honest relationship with journalists is the basic ingredient of success.
In your experience, do you think the relationship between journalists and PRs is always harmonious, or is it more of a love-hate affair?
It’s not a love-hate affair in our market but there are times when separate objectives clash. We would like to think that we have an excellent reputation with journalists for being reliable and straight and for also understanding the pressures that they are under on a day-to-day basis.
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
The Times, Insurance Day, Post Magazine and Insurance Times.
Are you involved in any other projects?
I spend a lot of my time looking at ways to develop the company either in terms of attracting new people, teams or making selected acquisitions.
How useful do you find social media?
Social media is vital with regard to monitoring current live issues. It is also useful for monitoring media activity, distributing information and consolidating relationships with the media and prospective clients. It is an essential communications channel for an agency like ours, but there is still a lot to be done to define its role in the business community and some sites like LinkedIn are more important than Facebook, for example. Everyone in the agency needs to constantly develop their understanding of digital and build skills in this area.
Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?
Networking is a fundamental part of what we do. I went to three events last week including a client party at Café de Paris.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t give up.
[lnk|http://www.fwdpr.co.uk/|_blank|FWD PR website]