Financial communications is arguably the most successful part of the global public relations industry.
Practitioners earn the most and consultancies charge the biggest fees. Quality of execution is invariably very high.
Yet I see a sector that is too opaque, doesn’t sufficiently reflect society and too often puts risk mitigation ahead of reputation management.
In short, it is a sector needing not one but three revolutions, if it is to provide organisations and clients with the advice and service they seek.
Wherever we look, we see professional communicators becoming part of the story. This can be for the clients they work for, the fees they charge, their closeness to Government or what they did for their clients. To survive and thrive in this age of greater scrutiny and to avoid embarrassing our clients, we need to provide greater transparency as consultancies. That means openness about who we work for (or won’t work for), what we do, and what our professional standards are.
The financial communications world is the capital markets world – a world of CEOs, CFOs, bankers, lawyers, brokers and accountants. This world lives with an uncomfortable truth. Despite all the talk, it lags behind society’s expectations on diversity of background, gender, and racial equality. Financial communications practitioners and consultancies tend to do the same.
In this year of focus on ESG (environment, society, governance), many business sectors are fighting for their licence to operate and to speak. So it’s more important than ever that the advisers to our major corporations can bring the perspectives of the outside world into the board room.
They will only do this if they embrace ESG themselves and get ahead of their clients on diversity, gender equality, combatting climate change, ethics, and contributing to society.
Recently, for the PRCA’s first financial comms conference, I played a game of taking the chief executives' comments from annual results statements and mixing them up – the first paragraph from one with the second paragraph from another, etc. They were all beautifully crafted but, in most cases, it didn’t make any difference, because they’re all largely the same.
Now this approach is fine from a risk mitigation point of view, but it doesn’t engage with entrepreneurs who want to differentiate themselves or young people, or people outside the business world, or politicians.
Risk mitigation is a crucial part of what we do, but it’s not reputation management, which considers equally when it’s time to be bold, creative and expansive – and when to mitigate risk.
The danger for organisations comes when the financial communications programme subsumes corporate comms and the balance between reputation management and risk mitigation is out of kilter. All too often this is the case.
So the final, and most important, revolution needed in the financial communications world is to genuinely transform into reputation management.