Why Presentation Training is Critical to Your Content Strategy

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
gr8communications.com
PAICR Board of Directors member

The appetite for content in the investment management industry has exploded in recent years, and so many firms have invested significantly to build out their content capabilities and to diversify the mix of communications channels they use to reach their target audiences.

But how many firms have invested in their most important communications asset: the ability of their investment professionals (and other market-facing ambassadors) to tell their story clearly, engagingly and succinctly?

My guess would be not so many!

But if your firm is savvy enough to be doing such training, or contemplating it, here are 5 steps I recommend you follow to increase your chances of a solid ROI.

Check the patient’s medical history in advance

I’m only kidding about the medical history—but I hope you get what I mean.

  • You need to know, from the outset, the level of experience the participant has—be that in the industry, their current role, previous roles, previous presenting experience, and the nature of that experience (audience, frequency, solo or partnered.)
  • More specifically, you need to know why the person is being asked to participate in the training—especially if they’ve had previous presentation training and/or would be viewed as a seasoned presenter or member of the team. The latter could be an indication that you are dealing with a protracted problem that previous training failed to resolve—and if that is the case, you need to know why.
  • Also find out from the participant any specific concerns they may have about their presenting ability, which they would like to address during their session. (Remember, the training has the potential to broaden the person’s skillset, not just for the role they currently occupy, but for the benefit of the business more broadly.)

Set clear objectives and realistic expectations

You need to know who is behind the decision to do the training and what they want the business (and each of the participant’s) to get out of it. And how will they measure its success?

  • If you believe the expectations voiced by the person are unrealistic, you need to say so, or somebody is going to be very disappointed when the job is done! For example—if one of the people to be trained has had training numerous times before to address the same issue, it would be unreasonable (and unrealistic) to expect that they will suddenly see the light after one more session with another trainer! There’s a strong chance that a more fundamental issue is at the heart of the problem than the person’s skills as a presenter—and it’s likely to be something a trainer has no power to change!
  • Regardless of the issue that needs to be addressed with each presenter, the person requesting that the training be done needs to understand that one training session can only help the participant achieve so much. Sustainable improvement in their presentation skills will only come from presenting regularly.

Timing isn’t everything … but boy can it make a big difference

If you have the flexibility, schedule the training so that each of the participants has an opportunity to put into practice what they learn from their session very soon after—ideally at an external meeting within a week to 10 days (for which they should prep for in-house beforehand.) The sooner they get to use the pointers they’ve been given, the better.  And the more frequently you can get them to meetings subsequently the better also. Practice may not make it perfect, but it will make a difference.

  • Use familiar content for the training sessions: Unless the purpose of the training is to test-drive a completely new presentation, I recommend that you get each participant to use presentation material for their coaching session with which they are reasonably familiar/possibly have presented before. If they don’t, then any presentation weakness you identify is as likely to come from their lack of familiarity with the material, as their core ability to present.
  • Capture it on video: The best way for a presenter to understand the errors they are making, is to watch themselves on video doing just that. And you don’t need any expensive equipment to capture that. Many investment professionals use iPads or similar tablets for work, which can be easily mounted on an inexpensive tripod stand to record the session. And they get to take the prize home with them J But seriously … it really does make a difference when they can see the things you are pointing out to them.

So when it comes to developing your content strategy, don’t forget about investing a bit of your time and budget in the people you depend on to deliver your message and secure the client. Ultimately, the face time a client gets with them may be the deciding factor in choosing you as their manager—and not the brochure they found on your website.

Ready, set, go! Eh … maybe! Overcoming Writer’s Block

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
gr8communications.com
PAICR Board of Directors member

As anybody who does a lot of writing in their job will tell you, writer’s block isn’t the exclusive domain of blockbuster novelists. We’ve all had those days … those projects … when we know we’ve got to get our head down and write, but we just can’t seem to make it happen. It’s painful. Like pulling teeth without anesthetic!

We obviously find a way around it, or we wouldn’t still be in the job. But what works for you? What helps you get “in the zone?” There is no silver bullet—but here are a few things that I have found have worked for me over the years.

Procrastinate some more

You may think that’s terrible advice, but quite frankly if you’re really struggling to get into “the zone” you just might be better off to defer starting the job/project until your head is in the right space … assuming you’ve got some breathing room on the delivery date. There’s nothing more disheartening than making numerous efforts to start a writing project and finding yourself constantly canning the copy you’ve written. Also, some people write best when they are “under the gun”. If you’re someone who regularly crammed for exams at school and university, this might prove your go-to option. It’s not my preferred option … but if it works for you, go with it! But if you do that, and you are partnering with a colleague on the project, please give them a heads up that that’s how you roll. One less meltdown might be spared.

Send or leave yourself a message

Have you ever been working on another project, or been in a meeting, or been in bed … and found yourself getting inspiration as to how to approach another project? It happens regularly to me, and I find if I don’t capture the idea in some way or form I’ll probably forget it. So I keep a notepad by my bed … regularly jot down ideas on my phone … or email the ideas to myself. Maybe talk to Siri and ask her to take a note. Those little nuggets could prove to be the key to unlocking your writer’s block.

Create an outline … any outline

Some of you may be wagging your finger at me at this point, but when you’re at zero, the most important thing is breaking the ice in some way. Now obviously, if you’re right up against the wire on delivery you’re going to have to be more thoughtful about the outline you create. But if you’re really just looking for a way to get your creative juices flowing, take a blank sheet of paper and start jotting down some ideas.

  • For me the title for the piece often comes first. Probably because it’s one place where I can often have a little fun with the content … but also set up the broad premise for the story I’m about to write.
  • Then I often note graphics and charts I really want to bring into the story. I still may not be sure how or where I want to incorporate them … but at least they’re on my shopping list.
  • If I’m drawing on industry or client content to create some new content, I always keep my eyes open for what I call the “zinger” statement, which I will more than likely want to use somehow, in some format. Those zinger statements often lend themselves to being great “callouts” in the copy, and can be an essential part of the story’s takeaway.

Just start writing … anything related to the topic

If you are down to the wire, and still struggling—despite an outline—you’ve got to take the bull by the horns. And that means getting something down on paper! And you don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning. So, for example, if you know exactly what you want to say on a specific point, but it’s likely to come on the second or third page … write it. And you can apply that same principle to other sections of the copy as well.  Just get your first cut down on paper (you can refine it later).

As you create more pieces of the content jigsaw, it will become clearer what needs to go where, what link copy needs to be created to connect all the pieces, and how you might close out the story. Mind you, if you have some idea of what the ending should be before you have another piece of copy thought out, write it down too!

Slán go fóill

(That’s Irish for “Goodbye for now.”)

RFPs – All the Things You Didn’t Know You Need to Know

By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones
PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.

Welcome to the second installment of our round-up from May’s RFP Symposium, in which we share random observations that we wish someone had shared with us when we were coming along in our careers.

For those of you who missed out on the Symposium, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, you can now do a full catch-up by binge-reading Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back.  Happy reading!

RFP 101 | Random Observations (Part 2)

Quality Control (QC)

This should be a separate and disciplined step apart from finishing the answers to the questions.

  • Use a checklist of items for verification– first by the writer and then a peer or manager. Check everything from footnote references, to trademark symbols, formatting, and disclosures, and search for words that give compliance heartache (“unique”, always, you will make a million dollars).
  • And let the QC results live as a part of your documentation. Again, you will find this is a boon in an internal audit.

The RFP Process: Get it right the first time

Many firms try and get a draft out fast.  We say “get the draft out right!”  When you begin to excuse poor document quality on workload or turnaround time, you have a problem with your process or staffing model.

  • RFP writers should be accountable for the quality of their drafts (consider implementing a QC before the draft goes out and keep metrics). No one has time to correct a lot of errors caused by rushing or just filling a hole in a document.
  • Poor quality drafts are a drag on the RFP team’s reputation and generally cause increased workload for everyone involved in the process, which makes the process unenjoyable. Be the smart team!

 Internal Customer Experience

Try and create consistency amongst everyone on the team.

  • Do not allow a writer to pull the “RFP martyr” fast one. The minute one writer is willing to put out another draft at 3 am (because the sales officer didn’t get changes back by the deadline), or is willing to work all weekend and call SMEs on their cell phones, your team’s process is shot.  Now, this feels the opposite of good customer service, right?  Chalk this one up to the team’s customer experience consistency.  It makes everyone’s life predictable.
  • Create email templates for research, draft communications and RFP submission. This is a difficult thing, but it unites a team.

Metrics and Measures: What to capture

  • Through-put is not an effective measure of how well an RFP process works. But, win-rates aren’t exactly fair either.
  • Measure what the RFP team can control – volume, quality, timeliness (don’t you set dates and timelines for all stages of the process?), SME and Sales input, and content management.

Speaking of Content Management

Do you have a dedicated RFP database manager?  Not many firms do this well “on the fly” or when writers have time to go and mine/update content from recent RFPs.

  • Mostly, you find these teams writing out of their RFP library – DO NOT WRITE OUT OF YOUR RFP LIBRARY.
  • Every piece of content should have an SME attached to it. The RFP team cannot be one of its own SMEs.
  • You need established and documented verification cycles.
  • Make sure you keep any and all approvals and changes.

OK – It’s a wrap! But don’t forget what you’ve learned. And better still try out some of the recommendations.

Ever wish someone had told you sooner?

By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones
PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.

We’re crazy about RFPs.  Well, maybe just crazy?  We guess that’s up for debate! However, between the two of us, we’ve got around 50 years’ experience with writing and proposals.

We’ve seen it all – from desktop printing to PDFing.  So we thought it would be valuable to at least document and pass down random observations that we wish someone had shared with us as we were coming along in our careers.  We presented these at our recent RFP Symposium where audience participation was amazing and feedback was lively and positive.  We laughed, commiserated and debated.  Most of all, we enjoyed professional companionship, shared experiences and valuable insights.

For those of you who missed out on the “party”, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, we’ve set out below the first half of what we rolled out during our Symposium presentation.  Stay tuned for installment #2, which will be coming soon.

RFP 101: Random Observations

 Professional Technical Writers

As an RFP writer, you’re on the hook for communication, punctuation and grammar.

  • Aim for a Flesch-Kincaid grade-level score of about 11th
  • Use active voice, ensure verb tense consistency and be precise with your word usage.
  • Writers read what they are producing. Do not just cut and paste.  Read what you are working on and improve for the purpose (edit, emphasize and rearrange).

Document Process and Procedures

You should have written step-by-step instructions for every team process:

  • Completing questionnaires
  • Quality checks
  • Final reviews and approvals, and
  • Content management.

And, make sure everyone follows them to the letter.  This helps protect you and the team in all audits (internal and regulatory).

Also, do you publish timelines at the beginning of each document/project?  For example, include when a draft is due to sales/compliance and when comments are due back to the team.  And hardcopy RFP responses should be mailed two days ahead of the due date.

Brand Ambassador

RFPs are one of the first client-facing interactions with your firm.  Make sure you follow brand guidelines.  Use the voice of your brand, color palette and approved imagery.  This is especially important when you have many SMEs contributing to the document.  Sales may own the pitch, but the RFP team should own the wordsmithing.

Customer Service

RFPs are the first customer service test.  So:

  • Answer the questions asked. If you are hoping some long answer has the answer to the question in it somewhere, you have missed the mark!
  • Use the questionnaire’s words and terminology wherever you can. This means  use words and terms from the question asked.  Swap out terms even if you think the client will understand what you are saying anyway.
  • And answer multiple question sets in the order that they are asked. Do not make your readers hunt around.

Be Evaluator Friendly

Newsflash! No one reads an RFP word for word.  They scan for anticipated information.  So how can you help direct the reader’s attention?

  • Be aware of RFP goals and evaluation criteria.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to direct your reader’s eye.
  • Also you may want to consider pulling out key information into a call out box, or bold the information to make it stand out (do not use italics for this purpose).

Stay tuned for the next installment …

Get Your RFP Insights Here

2018 RFP Symposium Committee

A few years ago, I sat in an airport with colleagues talking about our jobs. What do you say when someone asks you what you do? Fueled by beer and exhaustion, we threw out phrases highlighting the best business buzzwords—leverage, facilitate, organize, write. But nothing felt like it totally encompassed the incredible responsibility (and sometimes frustrating limits) of the position. As RFP professionals, we’re expected to demonstrate knowledge that runs both deep and broad, juggle competing priorities, and organize all parts of the firm to respond to a prospect’s request. The role touches everyone, but is ultimately unique in scope.

I’m not saying we’re a rare breed—or maybe we are? But it’s so great when the person/s on the other side of the conversation speaks the same language as you—at least “professionally”; when you’re all part of essentially the same “tribe.” Because chances are you all face exactly the same challenges, and you can all benefit from brainstorming solutions for your shared problems together.  So where can you find a tribal gathering of RFP professionals?  Well, the most immediate opportunity is at the PAICR RFP Symposium in NYC on Monday, May 7.

PAICR’s annual meeting—dedicated to those in the investment management RFP world—is a distinct forum where  proposal professionals get to discuss a range of relevant and topical issues. Through interactive sessions, you have the opportunity to engage with your peers from other firms across the industry. So, come with stories of your challenges and successes … and be prepared to walk away armed with new, actionable ideas to improve your processes and re-engage afresh with your job.

Here are a few of the important topics we will be covering this year:

  • Who’s the Boss? Explore how a RFP Team’s reporting structure can influence its effectiveness within the organization. This panel discussion will lead you through an interesting review of how RFP teams have been positioned throughout the industry.
  • Rise of the Machines In today’s competitive environment, proposals that show an understanding of the prospect’s goals and objectives will have a clear edge. All too often, important information from the sales team doesn’t get funneled to the proposal team. This break-out session will offer case studies of firms that leverage their CRM tool within the proposal process to effectively disseminate information and improve outcomes.
  • I Want it Now! Teams can no longer choose between quality and quantity; both are demanded simultaneously. This session will focus on how to manage this recurring debate in order to meet deadlines and maintain your sanity.

In addition to these sessions, the symposium continues to offer great training for both new and seasoned professionals. A classic forum, RFP 101, will guide writers and managers through the nuts and bolts of a successful RFP process.

So, if your team is in need of an “information-shot in the arm” on new and leading industry trends, join us at the PAICR 2018 RFP Symposium on May 7. The Early Bird registration special is available only until April 20, so get a move on … and we’ll see you in New York!

1 Big Thing: Your Communications Style is Outdated

By: Tucker Slosburg
President, Lyceus Group
http://www.lyceusgroup.com/
PAICR Secretary and Board of Directors member

Header

The oldest Millennials are in their mid-thirties and this could seriously impact how asset managers communicate with clients.

Why it Matters:

  • Older Millennials are in decision-making positions at institutions, at consultancies, and at wealth management firms.
  • They are a larger age cohort than Baby-Boomers
  • They consume information differently than both Boomers and Generation X’ers

Be Smart: Asset management firms who can balance modern linguistic styles with their brand identity will be more likely to reach more potential clients in an era of peak content.

But, but, but: This doesn’t mean brands should forgo their traditional identity altogether. Instead they must fuse their brand with an emerging style.

***********************************************

The Times They Are a-Changin

Okay, so if you happen to read the daily briefs from Axios, the above format will look familiar. That format is a buttoned-up version of changes in how we receive and digest information.

Sure, any number of industry reports will tell you that advisors want more digital engagement, but few—if any—explain what that means or looks like beyond polling what percentage of advisors look to email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, etc.

To really see how our style is changing, here are a few examples pulled from various newsletters, most of which are retail-oriented. It’s no grand statement to observe that the asset management industry is notoriously slow to change. It took how long for FINRA to advise on Twitter or LinkedIn? The point is that if you want to see what’s coming or how to communicate, look towards direct retail communications.

A Brave New World (of Style)

$he $pends is a website and newsletter whose motto is: “giving you actionable tools to tackle the wage, investing and board seat gaps.” With such ambitious goals, they use punchy, bold, and humorous language to convey their message.

Here’s how they summarize the weekly news. Take note of the headline and subject lines.

WTF

The title alone jumps out at you. Hardly something we advise sending to consultants, but important to consider that this level of informality resonates with their readers. Additionally, note how the headlines are both amusing and referential: “more experience, more problems,” clearly riffs off The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo money, Mo problems.”

Don’t doubt for a second the importance of millennial references from the ‘90s. Think of how many shows Millennials grew up with that are returning to TV: Rosanne, Will and Grace, Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, and Netflix added more episodes of Arrested Development and turned Wet Hot American Summer into a series. And of course, there’s this segment from Saturday Night Live. The reference to Biggie Smalls is more than just fun, it communicates identity and affirms that the sender of the content doesn’t just “get it,” but more importantly, they “get you.”

Let’s look at another newsletter. The Penny Hoarder is a personal financial website and was named the fastest-growing private media company in North America by INC 5000. Headline emails like the example below probably help. It’s filled with millennial laid-back tones and super-fun jargon.

Penny

Can you believe it? Two amazingly fun and casual references in the first three words? That’s 66.67% of fun words before getting into the meat of the headline! You can often find “Friyay” references on the web with beer or wine next to them, or the play on Friday with Bae, a fading but still prevalent term of affection for one’s “significant other.” The point remains, this casual and approachable language is more welcoming than most quarterly letters.

The fight for attention is a big fight, and readers want something informative and fun. Being fun matters in the world of attention getting. With everyone worrying about content saturation, standing out and being fun and approachable matters. Consider this article from The Penny Hoarder:

McKinnon
Kate McKinnon talks money with kids

To capture the reader, The Penny Hoarder blatantly states their aim is to make it fun. As a reader, that’s far more appealing than not being fun.

No discussion of modern/millennial style would be complete without a discussion of theSkimm, a daily newsletter founded by two former news producers targeting female Millennials. There’s money behind building their audience. Google Ventures and others just raised $12 million in a recent round of funding. They deliver news in a compelling way to an eyewatering demographic. As they stated via ReCode:

“We have revolutionized the delivery of news and information to the most coveted demographic and, as we look to grow our membership by expanding our products and services, GV’s expertise and data-driven mindset makes them the ideal partner to aid in our expansion.”

What are they doing so differently that traditional outlets are not? Why are Google Ventures and others pouring so much into theSkimm? Because their style, their approach, and their delivery creates a lasting audience by speaking to their readers as humans.

So, what does a newsletter valued at $55 million dollars look like?

Skimm

The news is serious, the tone is lighthearted.

Cool. But how does that affect asset management—at all?!  Good questions, we’re getting there. Three, two, one, and, go.

Putting the Fun in Fund!

So, is any of this happening in the asset management space? Yes. Is it as loose and casual as retail? No, but that’s OK. Bill Gross did a fine job of keeping bond discussions approachable, and Warren Buffett is the master of sounding folksy. Smead Capital often uses movies in their missives, and I’ve seen references to Game of Thrones at some firms. Longboard recently went so far as to invoke Star Wars as a means to discuss alternative Investments. Here’s an example from one of their newsletters:

Longboard

I particularly appreciate the use of imagery and the use of Star Wars lingo in their bullet points, not because of my love for Star Wars (which is large), but because of the consistency and commitment it brings to their approach. It’s a full commitment to rethink the discussion of dry topics into something far more interesting.

I recently came across another younger firm, Newfound Research. They write about traditionally dry items, but their relaxed and humorous tone provides the reader access to more obscure subjects.

They make Monte-Carlo Simulations fun.

MonteCarlo

This is a fine example of brand building using a more approachable tone. It’s definitely not institutional in tone, but that’s okay because as Millennials age we’re going to be less focused on proving we sound smart, and more focused on proving we’re relatable—the title alone suggests that the firm “gets you” and less focused on the fact that they can talk about Monte Carlo simulations. That resonates with readers.

As Millennials take over more senior positions at all levels across the industry, it will be more important than ever to think beyond millennial jargon and re-think your firm’s communications style. Certainly, social media will matter, but it remains to be seen how much. Not to mention the effect compliance plays in permitting its use.

The notion that a campaign, an ad, a missive, or an email should reflect something authentic or personal — something beyond just what the S&P did versus your benchmark — will be the difference between building an audience and directing traffic. The former provides value, the latter drives away.

Finally, since we’re about distilling information and communications down to digestible pieces these days, here are some key takeaways to bear in mind as you develop your firm’s communications.

  • Speak like a human—authenticity matters
  • Speak casually—no one wants to hear how smart you are; they want to hear what you think
  • Informal is the new formal—it’s obvious when you try too hard

 

Are you committing these Seven Deadly Twitter Sins?

By: Deb Well
PAICR Board of Directors member
PAICR Member since 2006

Until now, asset managers have been slow to adopt Social Media. But more are finally jumping into the “social” waters, primarily via LinkedIn and Twitter.  But are they getting the most out of their efforts?

With more firms (and content) vying for eyeballs, making your social media presence relevant, meaningful, and impactful is more important than ever.  If your firm is committing any of these “Twitter Sins”, making a few changes (some simple) can likely upgrade engagement activity with your content.

SIN #1: LACK OF VISUALS

Numerous studies support the fact that you are more likely to get engagement on Twitter if you include a picture, video, or even emoticons with your text.  Yes, a few high-profile folks can get by on just their words – Bill Gross or Jeff Gundlach don’t need visuals.  But most of the content being shared by firms does not carry that weight.  So look at adding images – it could potentially boost your engagement by up to 200%!

SIN #2: NOT MOBILE OPTIMIZED

Over 50% of traffic on Twitter is mobile.  If the link you are sharing is to your site and it is not Mobile optimized – this is a big fail.

SIN #3: NOT TAILORING FOR TWITTER

How often have you seen this – a Tweet that shares the first sentence or so of a blog post, but is cut off mid-thought with a link to the post?  Likely, the person was using the automatic “share” function from their blogging platform, which generated the tweet when the post goes live. This can also lead to awkward cutoffs in the text shared.

Automation can dilute personalization.  Whether it is that blog auto-poster, or a social media management platform that posts the same content across different channels, you need to put in the effort to optimize your content for Twitter – or any specific social platform – to get the most out of it.

SIN #4: BAD TIMING

Do your tweets that go out every Monday at 9 a.m. perform poorly?  This is not a surprise. Everyone who does email marketing knows the importance of optimizing send time – and it is no different in the social realm.

There are plenty of studies about the best time to post for all the various social platforms. And don’t forget to review your own Twitter stats. Analyzing when your followers are engaging with your content should help you fine tune your tweet schedule to get the most out of it.

SIN #5: NOT TAGGING

So your portfolio manager is on CNBC today?  Did you remember to tag @CNBC in your post?  Or perhaps your analyst was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article.  Did you tag @WSJ?

Tagging relevant parties in your posts increases the visibility of your content and the likelihood that it will get re-shared.    Bottom line: strategic use of this function can be a big boost for your content.

SIN #6: NOT GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CONTENT

In following several asset managers’ Twitter feeds, I will often see that they use a couple of different versions of tweets to share their blog posts or other content. Which is great … BUT I see those shares on the same day…and then never again.

Given all the effort put into creating that content, one or two measly tweets on a given day is not getting the biggest bang for your buck! Yes, vary the visuals and blurbs, but tweet it today – and a couple of days from now – and maybe a week after that.  Space it out and recycle that great content!

SIN #7: BAD HASHTAGS

Tweets with Bad Hashtags aren’t just the ones #with #too #many #hashtags #to #read.  Bad hashtags are ones that are randomly placed and not well thought out.

Do your research. Go to sites like Hastagify or Keyhole to gain insights and get the most out of your hashtags. Or search your proposed hashtag to see if it is trending; if it isn’t it might be worth going back to the #drawingboard.

The takeaway: Twitter (and other social media platforms) can be a powerful tool to engage and expand your network and brand voice. To maximize your efforts, make sure you are avoiding these pitfalls, fine tuning your messages so that they achieve their greatest potential in reach and engagement.