I entered the investment marketing arena through the side door, which has proved to be to my advantage. With decades of experience in investment analysis for several stockbroking firms and some time spent in financial media, it was a logical step to move into investment marketing. This has taken several forms for me, from investment marketing for asset management companies to communications for financial service companies and investor relations.
Let me share with you some of the things I’ve learnt with you over the years.
Know and understand your client – a fellow investor relations practitioner once said to me that “You don’t have to know your client’s business, you just have to know about communication”. Those words have stuck with me, but here’s the thing – I don’t believe she was correct.
It’s a given that, if you are practicing marketing and communication, you need to know and understand the field. But I believe that it is essential to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of your client’s business and the environment in which it operates as well. You can tell your client’s story so much better if you understand the business and its key drivers. You will have a better grasp of the target audiences, the appropriate media for those audiences and how to craft messages that will resonate with them.
With the communication industry saturated with women, having specific industry knowledge can be a key differentiating factor. So develop a wonderful depth of sector understanding and a keen interest in your clients’ businesses – it can take you far. For example, when I pitched for a client in the retirement fund space, it helped that I had already read the Pensions Fund Act. An understanding of the stock market and how it works is invaluable when dealing with buy-side analysts.
Find your niche and specialise – the more specialised and differentiated you are, the more it will benefit you. People who are recognised as specialists have greater pricing power and are more resistant to market vagaries.
Figure out what it is that you can be incredibly good at, hone those skills and develop a competitive advantage. Become the best supplier of your services. The more distinctive your offering, the fewer substitutes will be available. This leads to market power – the ability to charge a premium for your services – and the ability to earn above-average profits in the long run.
This strategy can be applied in an individual context (such as your personal branding) or to your business. The key is that the more you narrow your focus, the greater the potential rewards will be.
Stay on top of trends – Trends lead to opportunities. The business environment is changing at lightning speed and it’s critical to remain current. Stay curious. Be able to extract the essence of change and make sense of it, and do so on a continuous basis. This means you should commit to lifelong learning – as Steven Covey advised us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we need to “sharpen the saw” and that applies as much to business as to anything else.
Scanning the environment and accurately identifying long-term trends will provide important, actionable insights into the business environment, identify new business opportunities and assist in positioning an organization for the future. From this base, strategies and counter-strategies can be devised to maximise the opportunities and overcome the threats posed to a business.
I have, for example, watched the polarization of the communication industry into “digital” agencies and “traditional” agencies. In reality, the skills required are the same, yet some practitioners are simply not acknowledging the trend towards converged media – the concept that earned, owned, and paid media should dance together.
Network actively – never underestimate the power of networking. Much of the business that I have gained has been through referrals by contacts and connections that I have. In fact, research by the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) showed that the top two sources of new business for member agencies were “Referrals from existing clients” (88%) and “Personal contacts” (81%). Trailing way behind in third place was “Enquiries from my corporate website” (26%).
Relationships not only lead to better and increased business, they can enhance knowledge and idea sharing, which often leads to innovation and greater success. Networking can also expose you to partnership and joint venture possibilities, or simple associations, which can open other doors for you and your business. It is also useful for building your reputation.
But note that networking is about sharing and reciprocity – it’s a two-way street and you need to be prepared to put into relationships as much as you are taking out of them.
Stay ethical – there may be a temptation to flout ethics and this can be particularly relevant when it comes to investments, but it is vital to remain professional at all times. The ability to maintain confidentiality and to communicate honestly are put to the test in this business. Act with integrity in all your dealings and maintain fairness and honesty. When a conflict of interests arises, it needs to be dealt with openly and whatever steps necessary should be taken to avoid it.
There are no gray areas when it comes to ethical behaviour. There is only one North on a moral compass so make sure that is where yours is directed.
Marketing investments and practicing investor relations has been extremely rewarding and great fun. Warren Buffett advised people to “Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning.” Happily, that is exactly what I have found. As a good friend once said, “It isn’t work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”
This post first appeared in Top Women in Business & Government, 11th Publication