Marketing & Strategy Consultant
Marketing managers who work in financial services rarely have to deal with mass media directly as usually this is the responsibility of the PR or media relations department, besides financial services firms usually strictly control exposure to mass media. Despite this however, sooner or later comes the moment when a marketing manager has to deal with PR directly. For example, there may appear a need to announce the new product or service launch (press release, press conference), write an article on product benefits as part of a wider marketing campaign, distribute information kits to the mass media with the aim of publicity, prepare and publish interview with the firm's top management, let journalists have a closer experience with the product or service ("day in life") and even counteract the rival attack (the so called "black PR"). At the moment anti-crisis PR may also be on the agenda as financial services firms may want to emphasize their reliability and stability and disprove potential rumours.
Some of these tasks are handled by the PR or media relations department if the firm has got them and they have resources to service the retail division. However some of the tasks, such as preparing press release on the launch of a new product or writing product articles as part of a wider marketing campaign, will inevitably be assigned to the marketing manager, as a specialist most familiar with the products, services and their benefits.
Press release is easy - PR or media relations guys usually deal with them much more willingly, as they deal with them on a regular basis and template can be used for its preparation (I never said that). The article is a much trickier bit.
There are a number of considerations. First, whether the article can be published for free. It's possible in the West. The most recent example - news about launch of the new credit card for rich Kazakhstanis picked up by Financial Times and widely cited in the Western mass media. Financial Times must have been so stunned by this news (with the world financial crisis and national defaults making the news) that gave this news extensive free coverage (or so they say). But Financial Times is not Kazakhstani mass media. From my experience in Kazakhstani market, there were no such examples. We have to pay no matter how interesting the subject is. If the article looks like it's been published for free, it's either negative or very, very expensive. Perhaps, this is the reason why marketing managers in our country use PR on a very limited basis.
After s/he knows the article will be published on a paid basis and after checking with his/ her marketing or advertising budget, the marketing manager has to take one more decision - where to place the article. "Good" marketing managers would measure effectiveness of various mass media, for example look at circulation, target audience profile, whether it's a nationwide or regional edition, in what language, general or specialised, check medium's profile with the target audience profile and brand values, and as a result try to take the most effective decision. Under "effective", the "good" marketing manager will understand the number of views or share of target audience who might have read the article, per dollar or tenge spent.
Nothing comes easy in Kazakhstan though. Real circulations of local editions are not obvious. Quite often the decision has to be taken based on the best guess. It's no surprise the marketing manager of a financial services firm usually takes decision about placement in this or that medium based on: 1) affinity of this medium with the firm, 2) PR or media relations department's preferences (based on affinity or loyalty), 3) advice of an advertising or media buying agency, if there is one.
Next decision is the one that usually is pain in the neck for the marketing managers - how to write an article, or whether to assign it to the advertising agency, own PR department or journalists from the selected mass media. The article must sell the product, speak about its benefits, translate them into consumers' language and be interesting. To find the advertising agency that would have specialists understanding financial services, even if only retail, and capable of creative copywriting, from my experience, in Kazakhstan is mission impossible. Creative people in our country still live outside of the boring world of numbers, financial nuances and legal terms. PR or media relations department would either be too busy or familiar with the product only in general terms. So the last option is usually chosen - to assign the article to a journalist, as the article has been paid for, inclusive of copywriting. Unfortunately, the marketing manager will still end up writing most of the article. And here's why.
Based on the example of revolving credit cards, below are the issues that the marketing manager will face when working with journalists on the financial services article.
1) Kazakhstan journalists rarely understand nuances of card products, i.e. in other words they don't understand what they are writing about. Many of them don't know the difference between the charge and revolving credit cards, what is grace period and how to compare credit cards from different banks. Partially banks may be to blame. How many journalists I wonder are revolving credit cardholders at the moment?
2) Kazakhstan journalists rarely know financial terminology which is based on legislation. How many journalists writing articles on the payment card market will be able to answer the question of why legally "cardholder" is correct and "card owner" is not? This lack of knowledge inevitable leads to marketing manager having to check and edit the article before it going into print.
3) Our journalists rarely research the product's or firm's background before they write an article. Product names, brands are written incorrectly.
4) Kazakhstan journalists write about financial products in a boring way. Moreover, as most of the time they are not familiar with the product, they end up describing its features, without really translating them into what benefits these mean for the consumer. Resulting is the boring bleak article which does not sell the product.
5) Our journalists don't know the market of financial services. They most probably will not be able to compare your product with those of your rivals, you will need to provide them with the market research findings and explain everything.
6) Our journalists can't advise on how to write an article about product, so the marketing manager has edit himself or herself. Besides this being extra work on the article that has been paid for, this does not let the marketing manager to check him or herself - there is just nobody to get advice from. As a result, marketing managers have to use Russian or Western articles as a guide and write almost the whole article.
7) Finally, the most important bit - articles of our journalists don't sell the product. When I am writing an article (for a yet another journalist who failed), I am often inspired by the article in one of the Russian editions where American Express traveller's checks were advertised. This article was about different cases of people losing cash and only in the very end there was a brief note about traveller's checks. The article was convincing, interesting, real, well written - you can sell through PR and this is how it should be done! It's reassuring that Russian PR specialists or copywriters can write like this, if I had a bigger budget, would have been ordering from them.
The article and facts above are based on the personal professional experience of the author. If you know any journalists in Kazakhstan who can write an interesting, real, effective article on financial services, please send me their contacts via BizMedia. Many thanks in advance!