Good communicators needed more than ever in finance companies’ PR departments
The demands on those handling public relations and media communications in the banking and finance sector have never been greater. The global upheavals in the financial world over the past six years – and the subsequent finger-pointing – have meant the industry is under more scrutiny than ever.
The public and legislators demand greater transparency, while having a greater distrust of those who are not forthcoming.
PR professionals working for the banks and financial institutions also have to translate an increasing volume of highly technical information into everyday language, and manage the image of their companies across a constantly growing and evolving range of media platforms.
Yvonne Hung, senior consultant, banking, at recruitment specialists Randstad Hong Kong, has seen how the changing environment has affected the sort of candidates her clients are looking to hire. “There has been a significant increase in demand for talent in risk and compliance,” she says. “Banks are looking for candidates with a high level of technical expertise, who can communicate complex issues effectively with the media, the public and their employees.
“Banks and financial companies are highly discerning when they make hiring decisions. The PR manager is often the business’s first point of contact with the media, and is responsible for positioning the company’s brand, both internally a nd externally. More than ever, banks are looking for PR and media managers who have a strong background in issues management, and who can comfortably and expertly deal with the media while under pressure.”
These attributes are increasingly valued, she says. “The rewards have risen at this time of critical talent shortage. Candidates can get up to a 20 per cent pay rise when they change jobs.”
Lyanna Chan, communications vice-president at Swiss Reinsurance, shares some of her insights into what the busy day-to-day working life of a professional in this field is like. “My key role is being the regional coordinator for media initiatives for Asia, where I work closely with my media-relations counterparts on a regular basis,” Chan says. “Since I am based in Hong Kong, I cover both local and international media relations.”
Her role also involves putting together campaigns and media plans based on her company’s business strategy. “This includes acting as an adviser to the business and management team to implement marketing communications plans and strategies to add value to their business needs.
“In addition, I am responsible for writing, customising and distributing press releases on behalf of the organisation to the media network, covering quarterly results and the announcement or launch of a publication.”
She adds that when promoting thought-leadership pieces, she looks to pitch key messages that add value to the news article and the reporter, while at the same time cultivating a good working relationship with the media.
“For media events, I need to prepare media kits for the journalists. These include the speaker’s bio, the press release, and a factsheet or relevant publication,” she says. “On a regular basis, I collect media coverage from the region to analyse our media performance in our industry.”
Chan finds managing a 153-year-old brand both challenging and rewarding. “You risk losing the heritage and the strength of the brand if you go too far in modernising it. So the challenge is how to manage and maintain our brand and its reputation – how to position it within the industry, while at the same time differentiating our brand from our competitors.”
Based on her experience, Chan pinpoints some of the prime attributes required for a successful career in PR and media-related positions in the financial services industry.
“In terms of personalities, being an extrovert helps,” she says. “You definitely need to be proactive, persuasive – both when it comes to pitching media interviews and when communicating with your business partners internally – and you need to genuinely like working with people. Also, you can’t be afraid of asking questions or stepping up to meet new challenges, such as in a crisis.”
She adds that, in terms of skill sets and experience, a high level of professionalism is required, as is some experience in media relations. It is also important to have a good feel for strategy and planning, and the ability to communicate a good and persuasive strategy that top management can buy into and execute.
She adds that while creativity is very important, “you need to be able to translate brain power into hands-on, content creation”.
Candidates also need to have a strong sense of current market trends and topical issues to be able to come up with interesting and relevant stories for journalists.
“The key to that is knowing how to use your communications ideas to bring value to the business.