On Wall Street, public relations and marketing staffs are responsible for representing financial services companies to customers, clients, investors and the general public. Their role is to position the firm as it would like to be seen, but they fulfill that mission in different ways.
Although related, marketing and public relations are distinct functions. Marketers concern themselves with managing a firm's reputation by deciding how its brand name, products and services are portrayed in advertising and promotional campaigns. Public relations people focus on how a bank is represented in the media and, in the case of public companies, to investors.
Financial firms spend substantial amounts of money to promote their brand names. Some firms sponsor sporting events like golf and tennis tournaments, while others have purchased the naming rights to stadiums and arenas as a way of reinforcing their brand image. Financial companies are also regular advertisers in traditional media like newspapers, magazines and television. They're also increasingly marketing on the Internet. Managing the message across all of these channels is among the jobs that marketing professionals perform.
Public relations professionals concern themselves with how their firms are portrayed by journalists. Following a spate of bad publicity during the technology boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s - when research analysts were seen to be insufficiently independent from their banks' M&A arms - the role of PR people become more important. All financial firms are sensitive about how they're perceived in the media, and try to carefully control who can speak to reporters and what they're permitted to say. As a result, the staff at most Wall Street firms are forbidden to talk to journalists without the permission of the media relations staff.
At the same time, most financial firms want to be seen as experts on the markets and the economy. Thus, they're willing to make analysts, portfolio managers, executives and other professionals available to discuss their views on what's driving market activity. It's the PR staff that controls who is made available to journalists and the topics staff members are permitted to talk about.
Roles and Career Paths
Investment banks, brokerages, commercial banks and fund managers typically employ centrally focused marketing staffs to promote their firms as a whole, as well as product-specific marketing people who sit alongside sales teams. The role of marketing groups can include sponsoring events, producing brochures and other collateral material, developing corporate logos, and determining the pricing and positioning of products and services. Other roles include market research and analysis to support new product development and brand management.
Those interested in marketing or PR careers can look beyond investment firms themselves. Companies that exist to sell products and services to Wall Street - such as financial software developers, trading system vendors, or providers of information products - often seek individuals with specific market experience to fill product management roles. Firms like Bloomberg or Reuters will generally seek people with direct, hands-on experience in a specific market - foreign exchange, for example - to fill a position as a product manager.
While people in the central marketing department communicate to customers and work closely with sales staffs, people in PR encourage journalists to write positive articles about the company they work for. In some cases, smaller firms may combine the marketing and PR functions in a single communications department. This typically encompasses broader responsibilities, such as communicating with the bank's own staff and shareholders.
Investment banks typically have their own in-house PR departments. Where smaller firms often use one department to manage the release of quarterly financial results as well as other, more general, information, larger firms may have a separate staff to handle the Investor Relations function, whose role is to communicate financial results. The job has become more specialized for all U.S. public companies after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. This federal law was a reaction to several high profile accounting scandals at public companies like Enron, Tyco International and WorldCom. Along with the law's increased compliance requirements came the need to be more precise in disseminating financial results or announcements of so-called "material events" that can affect a company's performance.
If a bank is attracting negative media attention, PR departments engage in damage control, working to limit the impact of the harmful news coverage
Few financial firms train their own marketing and PR staffs in-house. Typically, they hire professionals with several years' experience, usually gained in a blue chip company or a top PR agency. Product managers, likewise, do not assume those positions without several years of relevant experience. The people who develop a bank's brand are usually drawn from large advertising agencies. However, large financial firms may at times hire entry-level marketing personnel either full-time, or as interns, to assist more-seasoned professionals. There are also various independent PR agencies active in the financial world, which are sometimes hired by banks to give their own PR teams a boost.
Skills and Qualities
- Strong written and oral communication skills
- Networking and relationship management
- Understanding of and ability to communicate financial issues-
- Ability to quickly grasp complex issues
- Specific knowledge of markets and market segments