PUBLIC RELATIONS: Same savings greater interest - PR campaigns have managed to make personal finance a lot more appealing. Robert Gray reports

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.

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.

Growing need

’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

in print.

’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

of it.’

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

news agenda.

This is probably not surprising given its reputation for exploiting

media opportunities.

Getting coverage

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

real challenge.

When the words ’pension’ or ’PEP’ pop up in news or features, the story

is immediately slotted back into the personal finance section.’

Passing interest

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

personal finance.

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


Alarming statistics

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


Continuous challenge

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.


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

by holidaymakers.

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


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.


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