In recent years there has been a huge growth in the size of the
personal finance sections in national and regional newspapers. This has
partly been driven by advertising, with publishers shrewdly exploiting
the need for financial services companies to build their brands - in
what is a highly competitive marketplace - by enhancing the forum in
which they can take display space.
But the increase in coverage also has an editorial rationale. The
gradual dismantling of the welfare state has made it imperative for
people to make their own financial provisions if they are to see out
their twilight years in comfort.
Many are boning up on the investment options available to them by
reading the ’money’ pages of their newspaper. And the newspapers have
responded by giving them more material than ever before to read on the
subject. As well as the traditional weekend sections, the Daily Mail,
Daily Express, Mirror, Independent and Financial Times now provide
personal finance coverage every Wednesday.
’The generation of people in their 20s know the welfare state isn’t
there forever,’ says Tony Langham, joint managing director of Lansons
Communications, a specialist financial services PR agency. ’The personal
finance pages are now for ordinary people rather than just for hobby
’Because there is such a rapid pace of change in the context of product
and market circumstance, and the realisation has hit home that people
have got to make provision for their own retirement, people are more
interested in reading about personal finance,’ says Roger Cornick,
deputy chairman of the UK’ s biggest Personal Equity Plan (PEP) provider
Perpetual. ’Advertising a product that is invisible, intangible,
unwearable and inedible is always difficult. The potential investor
finds it quite difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, so they turn
to newsprint to inform themselves.’
Clearly, PR in the financial services sector is very important. Arguably
more so than advertising. Horror stories such as the pensions
mis-selling scandal have made many members of the public wary of
financial services companies and financial advisers. According to
Mainland PR managing director Neil Mainland this makes the ’perceived
third party endorsement’ that comes from editorial coverage very
’Our view is that PR coverage we achieve is far more valuable to us than
advertising can be,’ says Fleming Investment Trust Management marketing
manager Ian Overgage.
Flemings has had experience of effective PR to back this statement up.
When the company launched a simple investment trust-based pension in
1995, it briefed PR agency Lansons to build its profile as a provider.
After commissioning research from Mintel, the result was a report on
pension provision in Britain which revealed widespread uncertainty. This
attracted considerable media interest, including four items of TV
coverage, 26 radio and 23 articles in the national press. It generated
10,005 enquiries from potential pensions investors, with 1,111 investing
pounds 8,000 each, raising pounds 8.8 million over the financial year.
Each pounds 1 spent on PR raised pounds 251 in investment, with
enquiries generated at a cost of pounds 3.50 each.
But how to achieve coverage given the incredibly competitive nature of
the marketplace? Product-specific PR will only go so far. The most
popular technique is to ’humanise’ the financial story; use real people
as a way of illustrating the benefits of personal finance products. This
is an approach beloved by the press which is now awash with case studies
that bring a human interest angle to the issues.
By using the experiences and circumstances of genuine flesh and blood
people, the media hopes to connect with readers who were previously
intimidated or bored by the personal finance pages. The trend toward
humanisation has even extended to ’money makeovers’, where members of
the public submit to having their complete financial situation assessed
’The personal finance pages have altered their readership,’ says Ludgate
Communications divisional director Paul Burgin. ’They understand that
they have to be much more witty and appealing. We spend a lot of time
digging out real live people that the public can relate to as a way to
explain issues. My mum has been a case study so many times - in fact,
she rang me the other day and said ’I’ve got a good idea for the
Burgin says his team devotes about a day and a half a week to finding
people for case studies. It is time consuming as many people are
reluctant to have their financial details plastered all over the press.
However, some client companies are already geared up in this respect.
Abbey National, for instance, has a database across its product range
containing the names of those who have agreed to talk to the media.
Although Langham says that a Lansons ’stock in trade’ is persuading
companies to find their happy customers, he feels there can be danger in
over-humanisation so that coverage of financial issues becomes glib.
There is still a need to intellectualise to an extent, he argues.
Cultivating the experts
Journalists are generally reluctant to recommend specific mortgage,
insurance and investment products for fear of being deluged with
complaints should their advice prove faulty. Instead, to cover
themselves they often quote the opinions of Independent Financial
Advisers (IFAs). For PR purposes, it makes sense for companies to
cultivate those IFAs that they know to be media-friendly and sympathetic
to their products. These IFAs can then be fielded when required.
Obviously there are also advantages to the IFAs in this. ’Some of the
key commentators in the press are one- and two-person outfits,’ says
’They know the value of it - they sometimes get substantial business out
One of the biggest current issues on the personal finance pages is the
proposed introduction of Individual Saving Accounts (ISAs) to replace
PEPs. The PEP trade body PEPMA (which is in the process of changing its
name to PIMA: the PEP and ISA Managers’ Association) has been working
with and lobbying the government on the exact nature of ISAs, which are
due to be introduced next April. PR consultancy Citigate has been
handling media relations on the issue. When the exact details of ISAs
are finalised, a huge communications programme through PIMA and
individual PEP providers is sure to take place.
The Labour government has been more successful than the preceding
Conservative administration at putting issues such as pensions on the
This is probably not surprising given its reputation for exploiting
But it is usually far harder for individual companies to achieve
coverage outside the personal finance pages. ’The personal finance
sections of the weekend press do a good job but they are preaching to
people who are already interested in financial services,’ says
’The next big challenge is to reach those people who don’t read about it
as a hobby.’
Consolidated Communications media director Will Holt, who has been
working on behalf of Virgin Direct since it entered the personal finance
market with a PEP product in 1995, agrees. He adds: ’We’ve actively
tried to get Virgin Direct out of the personal finance pages. But it’s a
When the words ’pension’ or ’PEP’ pop up in news or features, the story
is immediately slotted back into the personal finance section.’
Achieving coverage outside the personal finance pages is very desirable
because despite the increased interest in the subject, the great
majority of newspaper readers do not seek out the money pages
According to TGI data supplied by Associated Newspapers, the only
newspaper for which over 25% of readers ’specially choose’ to read about
personal finance/investment is - surprise, surprise - the Financial
Times. That said, by dint of its far larger circulation, the Mail on
Sunday delivers the biggest audience - 745,000 - of those interested in
To reach the majority of their target audience through PR, companies
usually need to get coverage outside the dedicated personal finance
Lansons has been adept at doing this for a number of clients, either
through the use of research or by positioning them as industry
On behalf of NatWest, Lansons created the Pensions Index which earlier
this year came to the shocking conclusion that only one in five workers
has a realistic chance of retiring on a pension that will leave them
The findings were based on NOP research.
In a similar vein, using Mintel research for client Fleming it produces
an annual Pension Map of Great Britain giving pensions data by
For client IFA Promotion - which promotes independent financial advisers
- Lansons twice grabbed the front page of the London Evening Standard
with research showing that three out of every four Britons are paying
unnecessary tax: with an estimated total of pounds 7bn going down the
drain every year.
Intriguingly, Lansons has set up a specialist broadcast unit with a view
to getting clients on television programmes such as Channel 4’s Dosh and
the growing number of personal finance slots in current affairs
programmes such as Radio 4’s influential Today show. Client the Share
Centre was recently featured on the BBC Nine o’Clock News, commenting on
stock market turbulence.
Sales of a Direct Line mortgage product shot up after it was featured
favourably on controversial BBC consumer affairs programme Watchdog.
Direct Line has also had success with the tabloids using the theme of a
’billion pound burglary’ - a billion pounds being the amount of
commission charged for home insurance.
’Consumers are increasingly discriminating and confident about making
choices,’ says Direct Line PR manager Laura O’Connell. ’They are not
just going to be force-fed products and services by their local bank
Virgin Direct has achieved good coverage for a survey on MPs’ favourite
money-saving tips. In a bid to make financial services PR less ’turgid’,
says Holt, there has been an investment in creative photography. For
example, pictures of a 13-stone bloodhound were used to illustrate
Virgin Direct’s index-tracking PEP.
Countering the challenge from Virgin boss Richard Branson that tracker
funds will give returns as good as those that are actively managed,
Mainland PR has been promoting the benefits of active fund management
for client SocGen Asset Management - ’superwoman’ Nicola Horlick’s
The move of well-known brands such as Virgin and leading retailers into
the financial services sector has heightened media interest in personal
finance. As has the realisation that in the future the state will not
have the resources to look after people when they retire. Despite this,
financial services PR can still be an uphill struggle.
’It boils down to a promise to do quite well with your money and it’s
awfully difficult to make that interesting,’ says Cornick. ’The real
challenge,’ concludes Fidelity Investments executive director Paul
Kafka, ’is to get people to understand that a little money foregone
today will be worth a lot a long way down the line.’ Given that many of
us are spendthrifts at heart, that’s no mean feat.
CASE STUDY VISA HOLIDAY MONEY 1998
PR consultancy Cohn & Wolfe created the Holiday Money idea for its
client Visa UK five years ago. The award-winning campaign has run every
year since, with changing themes to keep the communications fresh.
At the heart of the campaign is the Holiday Money guide. This is a
booklet containing advice on holiday spending and security, information
such as bank opening hours and emergency numbers and handy facts.
The theme for this year’s 54-page guide is duty free shopping and in
addition to the updated regular content, the booklet contains anecdotes
from travel writers on the world’s best duty-free locations and local
Visa’s Holiday Money objectives were to position itself as an authority
on holiday spending and to demonstrate the extent of its international
acceptance. In so doing, the intention was to encourage the use of
credit and debit cards at point of sale and cash machines abroad.
Research was commissioned into the holiday spending habits of British
travellers and its findings used as a publicity platform. Moreover,
holidaymakers were segmented into three key groups: students/young
travellers, families and over 50s. Media relations work was tailored to
reach high numbers from each of these key groups. As these groups tend
to travel at different times of the year there was scope to extend PR
activity beyond the peak holiday time of June-August.
Thirty thousand copies of the Holiday Money guide were produced for
distribution through a telephone hotline or by Visa’s member banks.
A further 4000 co-branded guides were produced in association with the
Mirror. On top of this there was also a special Irish edition with a
print run of 10,000.
Cohn & Wolfe teamed up with student travel specialist STA Travel to
conduct a survey into the spending habits of over 1000 backpackers.
Among the souvenirs reputedly brought back by them were a marijuana
leaf, chilli fried worms and a camel dung ashtray.
There was joint activity with over-50s organisation Saga which included
research into the money worries of older travellers, the production of
co-branded Saga guides and a holiday spending advertorial for Saga
Other research, which was used as the basis for obtaining publicity,
found that Britons are mean when it comes to duty-free spending
(preferring to splash out on themselves rather than buy gifts for
others) and that UK holidaymakers bring home pounds 650m in foreign
currency loose change every year - money that is seldom exchanged and is
therefore wasted. There was also research into the use of the internet
The campaign has generated, to date, 236 print articles and broadcast
stories since February this year (including 31 national press pieces, 50
broadcast stories and four items on Teletext). Over 4000 Holiday Money
guides have been distributed through the hotline number since June, with
10,000 more distributed through banks; on top of which 8000 co-branded
versions have gone out.
Says Visa UK holiday money expert Carmel Clarke: ’We feel we are getting
our messages across to opinion-formers and through them to the
MORI’s annual study of 80 leading personal finance journalists took in
the campaign. Its report summary said: ’Visa’s initiatives such as the
Holiday Money guide are commended, and the majority of national and
regional journalists and freelancers are aware of, and highly rate, the
Says Visa UK holiday money expert Carmel Clarke: ’We feel we are getting
our key messages across to opinion formers and through them to the
Readership of personal finance coverage in nationals
Title Audience * Coverage **Profile
Mail on Sunday 745 25.56 12.17
Daily Mail 651 22.33 12.70
Sunday Times 509 17.46 13.85
Daily Telegraph 473 16.23 18.20
Sunday Telegraph 450 15.44 19.47
Sun 380 13.04 3.87
Times 313 10.74 15.58
Sunday Mirror 301 10.33 4.60
Sunday Express 299 10.26 10.52
Mirror 273 9.37 4.43
Daily Express 252 8.64 9.58
Financial Times ??? 6.76 28.55
Observer 123 4.22 10.25
Guardian 122 4.19 9.49
Evening Standard 118 4.05 11.06
Independent 79 2.71 10.45
Independent on Sunday 68 2.33 7.56
* Coverage - % 0f target audience which sees financial section
** Profile - % of readers who specially choose to read finance section
CASE STUDY INLAND REVENUE SELF ASSESSMENT
The arrival of Self Assessment (SA) was one of the most radical changes
to the collection of taxes that has ever been seen in the UK. A massive
public information campaign was required to explain the ramifications to
some 8.5 million taxpayers.
The Inland Revenue launched the SA awareness campaign in June 1995.
Spread over three years, it had a budget of pounds 19.5m that embraced
various elements of the marketing mix, including TV and ambient
advertising and direct mail. Although the PR budget was a mere pounds
176,000 it was seen as an essential part of the communications drive.
’PR is so important,’ says Inland Revenue head of publicity Kelly
Freeman. ’You can do so much with paid publicity, but you can really get
the message across with PR.’
The strategic objectives of the campaign were to achieve a smooth
transition to SA by: raising awareness of the changes; promoting
understanding of the new system’s key principles; reassuring taxpayers
about the help and advice available; and warning of the penalties for not
complying with the new system. The key target groups were: self-employed
people without accountants, self-employed people with accountants and
higher rate taxpayers.
Pre-campaign research found there to be a high level of resistance to
messages on tax because the subject was perceived as ’dull, complex and
intimidating’. Added to this was what might be called the traffic warden
factor - the Inland Revenue was unpopular with large swathes of taxpayers
because they felt it was trying to penalise them.
Hector, a cartoon parody of a taxman, was created with a view to
softening this perception. His image was used in both the advertising and
the PR activities.
Photocalls played a key part in the PR drive. There was the use of an
elephant with celebrities Dale Winton and faux Page Three girl Gayle
Tuesday, to emphasise that the public should not forget about the changes
(as elephants, of course, never forget - in case you had forgotten). An
image of Hector was projected by laser onto Somerset House, opposite the
Palace of Westminster.
Athlete Roger Black made an appearance to signify that taxpayers should
keep ’on track’ with their records.
Comedian Rory McGrath also lent a hand to proceedings, as did retired
footballers Trevor Brooking and Geoff Hurst who took penalties against
Hector to hit home the message that there would be fines for late
submission of forms, supported by the slogan ’Don’t let it come down to
There was massive media coverage which cracked even the tough nut of
television news. Newsnight and News at Ten were among the programmes to
cover PR-initiated activity. The campaign was tracked throughout by the
COI, which found that over 90% of those in target groups were able to
describe key features of the SA system.
It is a creditable performance but the Inland Revenue cannot afford to
rest on its laurels. Research has also highlighted that however good the
intention to send in tax returns, taxpayers still need constant reminding
as deadlines approach.