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Few Rules for Making It in Financial PR

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Cynthia Doyle, Vice President, The Chase Manhattan Bank

Financial public relations continues to be one of the growth areas of the communications business. The amount of column space and air time devoted to money matters is increasing at about the same pace as the need for professional communicators who can understand, interpret, and disseminate information on Wall Street's latest turns and twists.

It's not an area for the faint hearted by Friday afternoon, the weekly tally of message slips from the business and financial press can be measured in inches.



Public relations which for purposes of this article I'm defining as pure media relations is a vital part of the running of any financial institution. Signing on as a financial communicator ensures exposure to top management, a birds eye view of how the institution works, and plenty of opportunity to deal with real, live business issues.

The following rules will help you establish a firm foundation in a financial public relations career.

Rule One: Get Experience

It's important to admit up front that entry level positions in financial public relations are few and far between. It's not impossible to enter the field as a newcomer, just difficult.

The reasons are obvious: It takes a certain amount of financial acumen and professionalism to talk to the Wall Street Journal about your institution's position on, say. the Federal Reserve's "Daylight Overdraft" rules or to explain the intricacies of your bank's lending policies.

There are also a limited number of positions to fill many institutions may have only one or two communicators doing day to day media contact And those slots will invariably be filled by seasoned professionals who, for the most part, moved into such responsible positions only after successfully serving as PR managers in other companies.

If you're lucky enough to find a bank that does have an entry level position, it will most likely be either as an intern (short term, little pay) or an assistant to the senior public relations professional. Chances of landing either type of slot greatly increase if you can boast of some past communications experience working at the college radio station, writing for the student newspaper, even news writing you've done for a college journalism course. The type of experience you have is not as important as the fact that you have some, which you've shown initiative in putting together a portfolio of work examples, and can actually point to some real successes.

The bottom line: Your chances of obtaining a position are virtually nil without some kind of work experience under your belt.

Rule Two: Be Willing to Do the Basics

Largest Commercial Banks in the U.S. Ranked by Assets:
  • Citi corp

  • Bank America

  • Chase Manhattan Bank

  • J.P. Morgan

  • Security Pacific Corp.

  • Chemical Bank

  • NCNB

  • Bankers Trust New York Corp.

  • Manufacturers Hanover Trust Corp.

  • Wells Fargo Source: Business Week
There are a myriad of duties that are part and parcel of a public relations department at any bank. The more you're willing to do, the quicker you'll learn the ropes and the greater the chance that higher ups will take notice of your talents.

What kinds of duties should you expect to be asked to perform or ideally, could you ask to perform?

Any public relations unit worth its salt compiles a package of news clips, a collection of photocopied magazine, and newspaper articles on the banking industry in general or their institution in particular. The package is distributed at least once a day to the bank's senior management. Performing the clip function i.e., reading the magazines and newspapers and clipping out pertinent items is truly the best way to understand the issues your industry is dealing with and to learn the names of the reporters on the banking beat

Many institutions also subscribe to a news service, such as Dow Jones or Reuters, which continually transmits news items over a ticker tape. Again, reading the ticker on a half hour or hourly basis and clipping important items to send to senior management is a great way to keep on top of important news issues.

Other miscellaneous administrative duties could include accompanying news photographers on photo shoots, filling public requests for brochures and other materials on your bank, maintaining biographies of your bank's senior management, or organizing press kits. AD these functions are important to the running of the PR unit and will give you invaluable knowledge about your bank and its industry.

Communicators, by their very nature, tend to be a well read bunch. It is absolutely critical that you regularly read the major daily newspapers, the various business magazines and specialized banking industry publications, if you're to have half a chance of keeping on top of industry issues. Someone whose reading list consists solely of sports magazines will never make it in financial communications.

A common question at your first job interview will be "what do you read?" The interviewer isn't looking for a list of every newspaper and magazine at the local newsstand, but is trying to identify an interest in public policy issues (readership of one of the weekly news magazines), perhaps a particular interest and aptitude in business issues (reading the Wall Street Journal or one of the major business magazines), and some interest in professional development (reading a communications trade publication like PR Journal or a literary magazine like The New Yorker).

Once you land that first job, the reading never, ever stops. There are the morning newspapers to plow through, the daily clippings package to read, the nightly newscasts to monitor. When that reporter calls, you need to know the issues.

If s worth noting that it's not only your own mind you're trying to enrich with all this reading, if s your senior managers' as well. Of course, the daily clips package that the PR department compiles will keep senior management abreast of the day's news. But normally, only general interest banking articles are included in the clips distribution. Your senior operations manager may be interested in the article on technology you discovered in that obscure trade journal, for example. Or the manager in charge of your credit card operations may be interested in the article you found on a competitor's new marketing campaign. Send along these special interest articles to your senior managers. They'll appreciate being kept abreast of the latest news and will begin relying on you for their information.
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