FIFA World Cup 2018: Social Cohesion or Smoke and Mirrors?

Football, or soccer to you heathens across the pond, is a game that has evolved to become much more than a sport. It is a lingua franca across continents that are divided by languages, cultures and religions. Boasting an excess of four billion fans across the planet, football is undeniably the world’s most popular sport and for many nations, the FIFA World Cup is the ultimate culmination of training, talent and effort. The quadrennial, month-long international football festival hails a powerful array of social, cultural, and economic impact for the host country. Heavily covered by swarms of media, it is a powerful geopolitical tool, investment attractor, and soft-power instrument. Regardless of the outcome, the World Cup provides host nations with a powerful platform to showcase country and culture.

This year, the World Cup is being held in Russia, where we’re seeing the friendly and hospitable face of a nation that has been criticised regarding a range of political disputes in past years. Russia is in the hot-seat to show its professionalism as host and President Vladimir Putin is set on presenting a polished portrayal of his homeland to the eyes of the world. As any nation would, Russia is heavily invested in providing fans with a generous and friendly experience. The experience visitors take away from Russia is lasting and can impact consumer and investor confidence for years to come, and establishing a strong nation brand is crucial.

Notoriously expensive, it is widely disputed by economists and analysts whether hosting the World Cup boosts GDP in the long term, or whether the short-term expenses outweigh the benefits. Russia’s official budget for the international football tournament is roughly $11.8 billion at the current exchange rate, which is more than twice the preliminary budget set out by Russia when it won the hosting rights in 2010. This may seem high, but it’s significantly less than the estimated $15 billion spent by Brazil on the 2014 World Cup.

Shocking for some and delightful (schadenfreude) for others, to date, we have seen a lot of favored teams losing out early and being disqualified. As a German, my expectations were high as our incumbent champion team landed in Russia to compete. I found myself seeking out obscure German bars and pubs in London, such as Bierschenke just across the street from Deutsche Bank, to watch the games surrounded by inebriated compatriots and British waiters in Lederhosen. But, my beer-fueled excitement quickly turned to concern as my team struggled in opening games, and critically lost to South Korea. As an expat living in London, fortunately, I’ve been able to turn my support to my adoptive country and support England, in its seemingly unstoppable Cup crusade. Beyond the goals, costs and politics, the World Cup always presents a wonderful opportunity for nations to get to know another. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one googling Uruguay, and that there will be more people on holiday in Croatia next year. Together, people celebrate victories and commiserate losses, across geographies and cultures. For me, it provides an opportunity to feel closer to my home country regardless of where I am. But for now, I’m supporting England.

Vested’s Som-mer Soireé Was Anything But Dry

Finance is… complex. It’s multifaceted, dense but bright, opulent but refined, structured but expressive. Wine too is complex, so it seemed only fitting that we celebrated the start of summer with more than 100 of the most talented communications and business professionals in the financial industry, learning, drinking, and networking about wine.

Guiding our Som-mer Soireé attendees on an exclusive wine tour of France, was Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier. The co-author of “The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavor from Ground to Glass,” Pascaline teaches us that it’s the foundation, the dirt, that dictates a wine’s qualities. So she guided guests and their taste buds through distinct soil regions: from the whites of the Loire to the rustic reds of the Rhone and the Grand Crus of Bordeaux. Completing the French theme? Regionally-inspired hor d’oeuvres like olives and cheese, and the venue itself.

The event was held at 745 5th Avenue, which showcases the work of famous French architects Jean Nouvel and Thierry Despont. The duo is working on their newest building, the MoMA tower, slated to finish in early 2019.

In all, I think this was our best event yet — but don’t take my word for it. Some of our guests summarize their experiences:

“Vested truly knows how to bring together experts from many different industries to share unique perspectives.  Their events are always thoughtful, elegant, and fun!”
– Jessica Douieb, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs
“Vested always does an outstanding job creating networking opportunities to connect financial communications professionals. They are passionate about building relationships within the industry and expanding our community.” – Craig Donner, Executive Director, Head of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs at DTCC
“I love Vested events because I never know who I’m going to run into (old colleagues, new clients…) but I know I’m going to have fun!” – Kiersten Barnet, Deputy Chief of Staff and Manager of the Gender Equality Index at Bloomberg
“I was thrilled to go to Vested’s summer reception. It was great to see so many peers in our industry.” – Jason Schechter, Chief Communications Officer at Bloomberg
“The energy and fun of a Vested event matches the way the team engages and works with its clients.” – David Walker, Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Communications at Morgan Stanley

We’re delighted to have had the opportunity to bring so many great minds together in one room bonding over our passion for finance and wine! See how we brought France to New York in these photos from the event, and be in touch if you’d like to be included in future industry events:

When Stabilisation is a Good Sign: A Health Check for Financial Services in the UK

The latest update on sentiment among UK financial services firms from PwC and the CBI, shows that sentiment has stabilised after two quarters of severe falls. This survey has fallen every quarter except one since 2016, so perhaps rather than being the mediocre response it initially seems, stabilisation is a sign of future optimism?

There are strong indicators of growth with the majority of financial services sectors questioned looking to expand headcount, develop new products, expand marketing budgets and invest in IT. At Vested, this reflects what we’re seeing amongst our clients and networks and we’re excited by the level of passion from the industry we’re so passionate about too. And given the highly competitive nature of the industry, investment in these areas is crucial for firms looking to get ahead of the curve and lead the way developing their businesses in ways that help them to engage and retain customers.

Major challenges within the sector that continue to consume energy, time and budgets are Brexit and the bedding in of regulation including GDPR and PSD2. With those surveyed citing these as the most important barrier to growth, their impact can’t be avoided or downplayed. As we still eagerly await a Brexit deal, the prolonged uncertainty of what it really means for business is only heightening uncertainty of decision- making and the ability to truly plan for the future.

Despite the uncertain environment, we’re also musing what this survey would say, if it was expanded to include some of the younger areas of the industry such as Fintech, Insurtech and Crypto where firms are realising significant growth. Taking an even broader view of the sector would, we feel, shift the figures from stabilisation into positivity. Financial services is a growing sector that has started to expand around the edges, and embraces technology and the change it brings. The enthusiasm, alternate approach and product innovation that new businesses entering the market offer, are all helping to deliver growth within the wider financial services ecosystem.

The results of today’s survey point to continued times of challenge for financial services firms, but a central strength and optimism for the future. It’s an industry we’re proud to be a part of and supporting through the many changes it faces.

Rebuilding Brands: Three Major Players Embrace Mistakes to Gain Back Consumer Trust

They’re almost inescapable—the subway, in between news cycles on CNN, and even hidden in plain sight on your newsfeed. For a casual one billion of us across the world, Facebook has seeped its way deep into our daily existence; but this time, the social media giant is putting itself in the limelight in a different capacity: advertisements.

Shortly after its scandal with Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg took to Capitol Hill to rebuild consumer trust and discuss the importance of data privacy for Facebook’s users. The PR crisis didn’t exactly blow over immediately, but it would’ve been easy enough for the company to lay low for a while until one of its competitors misstepped. Instead, Zuckerberg and his team did quite the opposite.

Through a series of digital, TV, and transit ads, the “Here Together” campaign takes us back to the days when Facebook was, truly, just about our friends before “something happened.” The ad doesn’t mince words: it goes on to call out that “something” as spam, clickbait and data misuse.

“That’s about to change,” the ad promises.

While only time will tell if that promise holds true, it’s worth noting that Facebook isn’t alone in its efforts to own its mistake. Following an onslaught of sexism and sexual harassment allegations, a series of investigations, and rampant leadership turnover, Uber is embracing its blunders and seeking to grow consumer trust through a similar campaign.

The “Moving Forward” ad features the company’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi promising a better experience for customers and an improved company culture.

“One of our core values as a company is to always do the right thing,” he said. And while Khosrowshahi isn’t exactly as explicit as Zuckerberg in what the wrong thing was, anyone who’s watched the news over the past year can surmise to what he’s referring.

And last but not least is Wells Fargo. The financial services company went through a “20-month nightmare” of scandal after scandal, including the creation of fake accounts, unfair mortgage rates and manipulating customers into purchasing unneeded car insurance. Taking a page out of the PR crisis book of Uber and Facebook, Wells Fargo launched the “Re-Established” campaign.

The series of ads appears on TV, as well as print and digital, and reference Wells Fargo’s position as an industry leader during the California gold rush. And, like Facebook, the company goes so far as to explicitly recognize what went wrong, showing a newspaper headline reading “What’s Happening at Wells Fargo?” and noting the end of product sales goals for branch bankers.

Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo seem committed to regaining consumer trust —but is the public buying any of it? The ads for each embattled brand have only been in market for about a month, so it’s too early to tell whether the transparency campaigns are effective. Vested plans to follow each company on its journey to redemption and take a pulse on customer opinion and loyalty down the road.

Stay tuned!

Do LGBTQ and Pride-Themed Ads Promote Inclusion or Sales?

Ah, June. Sunshine, summer, and all things LGTBQ #pride. After all, Manhattan—where we’re HQ’d—is home to the 1969 Stonewall Riots (the origin of Pride Month) and a notoriously inclusive hub for people from nearly every sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender. So it only makes sense brands follow suit, doesn’t it?

From Oreo’s rainbow-stuffed cookie ad, to Dorito’s “There’s Nothing Bolder Than Being Yourself” tagline and multi-colored chips, and Chobani’s “Love This Life” commercial, some of America’s most reputable and profitable brands are finally speaking to the LGBTQ community. And we’re thrilled about that. Vested is a place that prides itself on its staff’s diversity across a multitude of factors, and believe it’s about damn time that corporations acknowledge and include all types of people in their marketing.

However, we can’t help but raise our (rainbow) flag when it comes to what feels like capitalizing on a previously marginalized group of individuals. The LGBTQ community has been forced to live in the shadows until recently, and is still marginalized especially in places that aren’t New York.

Shortly after former President Obama’s trans-friendly policies—like part of the Affordable Care Act that banned healthcare discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ramped up protections for transgender individuals—took place, and the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the country’s attitude towards the once-shunned group shifted. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, 63 percent of Americans said LGBT adults should be accepted by society, compared to just 51 percent in 2006.

Not-so-coincidentally, brands like the aforementioned Oreo, Doritos, McDonald’s and Coke jumped on the gay bandwagon. In turn, companies have raised a few eyebrows about whether the move was truly about inclusion or convenience, considering LGBTQ customers reportedly represent an estimated buying power of $917 billion—6.8 percent of total US buying power.

“…I think the underlying message is that these brands are now feeling like it’s safe and less risky to do this,” Jenn T. Grace, an LGBTQ business strategist, told Vice News last year. “The message it sends is ‘You weren’t important to us before when it was risky but now, only when it’s safe, we’re willing to put our neck out there and support this community.’ It could be that it’s the right thing to do all day long, but if it’s not making them money, they wouldn’t do it. Businesses are in business to make a profit,” she said.

So how does one judge a brand’s authenticity when it comes to inclusive marketing? The Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index (CEI) is a great place to start. CEI began in 2002 and rates American businesses based on their treatment of LGBTQ employees, consumers and investors. For example, consumers can see if a brand provides health insurance and benefits to trans people, or provides adequate training to highlight LGBTQ awareness and inclusion internally. It pulls back the metaphorical curtain and allows the public the ability to see if the ideology of diversity and inclusion is truly an integral part of the business, and not part of a marketing scheme to make a quick buck in June.

With that being said, there are plenty of companies that give us hope that their decisions to include the LGBTQ in their advertising comes from a place of progress rather than profit.

After North Carolina passed House-Bill 2, a law that rescinded all local LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies throughout the state, companies ran for the (northern) hills. Deutsche Bank halted its expansion plan that would’ve added 250 jobs to the area. Similarly, PayPal nixed its plan to open a new global payment center in Charlotte, which was expected to bring 400 new jobs to the city. Lionsgate also canceled an eight-day production shoot in response to the bill.

“We have a share of cynicism for LGBT-marketing, but what I’m impressed by is the number of brands who put their mouth where their marketing is,” Bob Witeck, President of Witeck Communications, the company that conducts analyses of LGBTQ buying power, told Vice.

This 2018 Pride Month, we encourage fellow New Yorkers and the rest of our readers to celebrate: buy the bag of rainbow chips; play that adorable iPhone commercial for your friends; “borrow” one of those awesome mock-MTA Pride Month posters. But, like any good party, do it responsibly and hold brands accountable.

Vested Panel Celebrates Women in Finance

 

On Monday, four leading women in finance joined us for a panel discussion about their rise to the top and how they reached executive leadership roles. We sat down with Bloomberg TV anchor Emily Chang; CCO of Women’s World Banking Karen Miller; Morgan Stanley’s Head of Corporate Affairs Michele Davis; and Founder of Girls Who Invest Seema Hingorani. But their titles aren’t the only things that are impressive about them. They founded or sold businesses, shaped industry legacies, molded national policy. Many raised happy, healthy, empowered children. One wrote a book. The fact that they wear many hats and have mastered the elusive “balancing act” is impressive, sure, but not why we asked them to join us. Instead, we talked about their motivators and mentors, their commitment to the industry, and the important lessons they learned along the way.

Empowering women at work is a cause near and dear to our company’s core. Founded by president Binna Kim (one of the most amazing women I know), CEO Dan Simon, and me, Vested prides itself on being a place women are not only embraced but are also given room to grow and excel. I know personally from having worked with Dan and Binna for so long that there is nothing more motivating than knowing you’re part of a team that believes in you. We aim to create opportunities for our young men and women to grow. We aim to hire other leaders, such as our new CEO in the UK office, who inspire and champion employees. And we recognize through promotions and internal endorsements those who seize these opportunities to develop personally and professionally.

We’re thrilled to be a company that wants nothing more than to see our employees, male and female, thrive. For women especially, establishing self-worth and identifying a success trajectory within an organization is crucial—but not always easy.

“If you’re in a place where you can’t grow, you’ve gotta go to something else,” Michele said during the event.

“I do believe listening to your instinct is so critical,” added Karen. “Not pairing it down because you’re in a safe situation. We should strive for more than OK.

As we said: easier said than done. Being an advocate for oneself is a lesson hard learned.

The panelists unanimously agreed that opportunity does not seek one out. Instead, young professionals must find opportunity and refuse to let go until it converts from opportunity into reality.

As an aspiring journalist, Emily recalled constantly pitching her editors at Bloomberg, always looking for ways to grow and improve. First, they approved a short Q&A series with tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Later, they green-lighted a longer, more fleshed out series of interviews on the same subject. And they also agreed when she pushed to write her new book, Brotopia.

“You have to learn to be the squeaky wheel,” Emily said of speaking up at work. I could’ve easily said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and this is it. But I’ve managed to create opportunities for myself and find my own way.”

This can’t be done alone. According to a Financial Times research series titled “Management’s missing women,” the majority of junior staff working in financial services are women but only one in four of those who reach a senior role is female. So how do we get more women to rise to the top? The panelists discussed the importance of fostering professional relationships and seeking out sponsors to help push their careers to the next level.

“When you find that person, hold onto them and never let them go. They’ll become some of your closest friends,” Seema Hingorani said of a mentor. And much like creating opportunity, these relationships can be tough to culminate, added Michele.

“Drawing confidence from someone who has confidence in you, that you respect, is empowering and important,” she said.

Although one might assume a female mentor or sponsor would be the end goal, bringing men in as part of the conversation is key. In order for us to grow in business and in society, we must include men as part of the conversation.

“I never really thought much about whether I had male advocates or female advocates,” Karen said. “You just find the right people.”

Bringing men into the conversation is vital to moving women forward. We must look at the people as individuals, not individuals defined by their gender.

“I want this [female empowerment] for my boys just as much as I want it for girls,” Emily said, explaining that she’ll intentionally switch up the gender of characters in books while reading to her three sons to ensure stereotypical male-female behavior isn’t constantly reinforced.

Of course, none of this means that work-life balance isn’t important. Spending time with family, the panelists noted, hasn’t always been easy.

Seema recalled the time when her father fell ill and she faced a tough decision: stay at work so her blossoming career could take off, or leave to help her mother try to sell her father’s business. Her mentor at the time was her biggest advocate: Go be with your family, he told her. Your job will be here. Ever-appreciative, she took his advice and managed to sell her father’s business on the day of his death, while spending time with her family during his decline.

Michele also shared an anecdote. Remembering a time shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, on a rare weekend when she wasn’t in the office, she took her daughters to a local park.

“I took a call and pushed them on the swings,” she said. “The looks I got from other parents…,” she added, saying she could feel the judgment in their eyes of what a “bad” mother she must be for working while spending time with her kids.

The point is, female or male, everyone is human. We work, and we persevere. There is no secret ingredient, no special how-to guide that clearly dictates how to “have it all,” how to tackle it all in stride. You just do. And women like Michele, Emily, Seema, and Karen remind the rest of us that it isn’t easy, but it’s certainly possible.  

We’re incredibly proud to have kicked off the first of many conversations around leading women in finance, and will continue to bring smart, strong and dynamic leaders together

 


 

Financial Institutions Downgrade the Dress Code

Allow, if you will, a stereotype to help illustrate a story. Open the closet of any man or woman who works on Wall Street and you’ll find two things:  a grey suit and a navy blue suit. These constitute a dress code, uniforms in their own right, indicative of the wearer’s profession.

In many ways, this wardrobe embodies exactly how the financial industry once operated: monochromatic (read: homogeneous), conservative and far from creative or self-expressive. But old-school institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are taking a cue from industry newcomers and trading in button-downs for Birkenstocks.

Goldman Sachs recently opened a new office in San Francisco and is fully embracing the Bay Area’s notoriously casual approach to dress code. The Goldman space will be home to the engineering arm of the 149-year-old company’s newest venture, Marcus,* a digital consumer bank slated to see $1 billion in revenue by 2020.

But to generate that revenue, the firm will need to attract and retain top talent — no easy feat in Silicon Valley. In a city dominated by brilliant CEOs and genius coders guised as teenagers in jeans and hoodies, lace-ups it appears must take a back seat to high-tops.

“This is a big company, making a strategic change,” Jeff Winner, the company’s lead engineer, said of the firm’s push towards appealing to a younger demographic. “The simple thing would be to recruit a team from all the big financial players. But we’re specifically recruiting from Silicon Valley. And big tech.”

Goldman Sachs isn’t alone in their effort to move towards a more laid back dress code. In June 2016, JP Morgan announced that it would be moving to a company-wide “business casual” mandate for employees. The push, according to the Wall Street Journal, came shortly after CEO Jamie Dimon met with tech startups in Silicon Valley and realized his company’s dress code policies were out of date.

But “business casual” can raise questions rather than solve problems. At JP Morgan, the company memo outlined “polo shirts, casual pants, capris, and dress sandals” as acceptable, while stating jeans, “athletic shoes, flip flops, sweatpants, leggings, yoga pants, hats, hoods, halter tops, or anything else ‘distracting, tight, revealing or exceptionally loose or low-cut’” is frowned upon, Business Insider reported.

The JP Morgan memo provides more information than others — such as Pricewaterhouse Cooper in Australia. The accounting firm was forced to revise its dress code in the country shortly after it sent home a female employee for failure to wear heels to work in 2016.

“It’s not a dress up or dress down policy — all we are asking our people to do is think about what they are doing each day, who they are doing it with, and dress in a way that reflects that,” said Sue Horlin, a partner at PwC Australia, in a Telegraph interview.

The shift in wardrobe mandates throughout the industry belies a larger trend: the financial world  no longer caters to tradition, neither in its dress code policies nor in its practical application. Like the staple suit and tie, established financial institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs were heavily rooted in Baby Boomer financial trends, such as active investing. Not anymore.

Instead, we see companies, old and new, putting Millennials first aiming to attract the demographic’s business like they attract the demographic’s talent: through comfort. And Millennials are particularly comfortable when it comes to technology. Let’s revisit our example of Marcus. The company is noteworthy not only because of the dress code evolution, but because the platform is working hard to appeal to a younger crowd.

Marcus is not alone. Ally Bank, Simplii, Finn and others are all digital-only banks that understand Millennials care less about having access to physical bank branches and more about perks. Finn touts customized tools to help young people save money to reach big financial milestones, while Ally Bank offers one of the industry’s highest-yield savings accounts at 1.5%.

Goldman Sachs dress code is only two words dress appropriately. What is appropriate within financial services has changed as the buyers of those services have changed. As consultants at the forefront of industry change, we at Vested are agile, too, and adapt to meet our client’s communications needs. We’ve illustrated this though work we’ve done for the launch of personal finance app Clarity Money, as well as targeting more consumer-facing press for Better Mortgage.

Putting our own spin on the two-word dress code, we advise our Vesties to dress “smart stylish.” We are unabashed finance nerds and want our people to convey that in how they dress. At the end of the day, we do work in finance, so we expect our people to act like the owners they are, to dress professionally and be confident in whatever they’re wearing. Being agile and adaptive means that we may come to work one day expecting to focus on deliverables and instead be pulled into a meeting with an institutional bank’s board. Be smart.

But we’re also creatives and recognize that personal style is a form of creativity. We challenge our employees to bring to the table fresh and progressive ideas that defy the confines of traditional finance. And it’s more than to do that in an orange shirt versus a white one, in a dress rather than a suit. The industry isn’t homogenous anymore, and neither are we. So long as we are professional and prepared and look as smart as we are, then adding some creativity is kosher. Be stylish. Smart stylish.

*Marcus recently acquired Vested client Clarity Money.

Insider Tips for Pitching Financial Journalists

Recently, I attended a panel focused on how the changing media landscape is making it harder to create pitches that catch the eye of consumer reporters. Vested’s president, Binna Kim moderated this panel and cleverly synthesized the core elements that every one of our clients in the consumer space should understand about why financial journalists choose to write the stories they do.

The panel, which included bloggers and journalists from Business Insider, Cheddar, Broke Millennial and others didn’t mince words about what makes for a good story and why they might not be replying to your pitches. At Vested, we scrutinize every pitch idea and email subject line through the eyes of a journalist, but the discussion served as an important reminder of how to help our clients rise above the media noise – and their competitors.

Today’s media landscape is ever changing. The proliferation of the blogger community, the advent of “fake news” (and deterioration of quality reporting), the digitization of data and the impossibly rapid news cycle have placed new pressures on PR professionals to master the art of storytelling or risk being overlooked altogether. This pressure is intensified in the consumer finance space where every new app, gadget or subscription service known to mankind is vying to reach millions of potential buyers through coveted spots on programs like “Good Morning America.”

Plus, increased industry layoffs mean that fewer journalists must write more stories with less time and an overwhelming amount of information to sift through.

We’ve built a tech platform, VIQ, designed to help financial journalists deal with these very issues – to provide them with all the resources they need to research and construct stories quickly. But our platform doesn’t (yet!) rule us as PR professionals irrelevant. Our value-add to journalists – and our clients – is delivered through our creative firepower and ability to bring to them timely, relevant and personalized story ideas that help make it easier to do their jobs well. Here, a peek at our secret sauce:

Catchy, “clickbaity,” concise

Journalists receive hundreds of pitches every day – Kate Taylor from Business Insider said she typically receives 100-200 PR pitches daily! So regardless of whether or not your pitch idea is any good, the first and most critical hurdle you need to overcome is getting a journalist to actually open your email. This begins with a strong subject line. Our advice is to focus on short, clear and “clickbaity” subject lines that entice the recipient to take a closer look. Without this, your story is unlikely to take root in the journalist’s mind, and your email will be destined for their trash folder.

You don’t need to break the news to make the news

Press releases might contain important news, but getting financial media exposure means creating pertinent side commentary catered to the reporter’s needs. For example, Broke Millennial’s Erin Lowry relayed a story about how, as a one-woman show, she knew she wouldn’t be able to break new details or get the inside scoop on the Equifax leak in the way reporters at a large news outlet could. Instead, she ended up writing a detailed, step-by-step piece on how to protect yourself from financial data breaches by freezing your credit. This evergreen content better suited her blog and enabled her to offer something of real value to her readers.

It’s important that we understand the varying needs and motivations of different reporters and publications, and engage accordingly. To be successful at this, we do the thoughtful creative work first to make the reporter’s job easier. If they’re not out to break a story or get the “scoop” we need to ask ourselves how we can guide them towards new angles or ideas looped around primary news topics—information that satisfies a publication’s readership but has an added edge. If you do this well, the journalist will consider you an ally in the search for differentiation and professional knowledge. And becoming a reporter’s go-to PR professional for story ideas or great sources is the ultimate win, even if a specific pitch is not accepted.

Financial journalists are people, too

Pitch to the individual, not to the average—tailor every pitch to the person on the receiving end. Once you know a reporter or editor’s focus, pet peeves and passion topics, lean into that knowledge and only serve them up ideas that are relevant to them. We unearth this insight at coffee meetings and after-work drinks with reporters, interactions that are key to building great media relationships. And if you’re not certain of what they like or don’t like, just ask. You can always rely on reporters for candid feedback.

It’s also important to remember that journalists are just like us. They have lives and interests outside of work; appealing to journalists as fellow human beings can be invaluable in forging lasting, authentic connections. Twitter is a great starting point if you don’t have an existing relationship with the journalist in question. Just as Vested believes that all finance is personal, pitches to financial journalists must have personal and sincere relevance, too.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again…but know when to stop

Once you have proofed your pitch (panelists agreed, as do we: no excuses for grammar mistakes and misspelled names), just send it and let it go. While we’ll follow up with reporters a few times via email and by phone, badgering via excessive follow up is just that – badgering and excessive. Financial journalists need solid content, so if what you have to offer matches their needs, you will likely hear from the publication. Reporters simply don’t have the luxury of replying to every single pitch; sometimes no answer is your answer. Instead of badgering, work on building the relationship in other ways so that next time you need to reach out, you’ll have more confidence that the journalist will open your email, take your call or at least give you honest feedback that will help you and your clients in the long-run.

Financial Marketers Must Truly Understand Millennial Nuances

Millennials: the generation known for spending all of their money on avocados and therefore never being able to buy homes. We laugh, roll our eyes, and sure, can point to at least one person we know who goes a little crazy at Whole Foods. But like any stereotype, there’s more here than what meets the Instagram-filtered eye—especially when it comes to their spending.

I had the opportunity to delve into the subject at the Gramercy Institute’s conference in Boston this spring. Let’s recap.

For starters, the “Millennial” demographic is massive both in size (they’re anticipated to outnumber Baby Boomers by 2019) and as a generational cohort. The U.S. Census Bureau defines them as anyone born between 1982 and 2002. We think of them as anyone born between 1982 and 1997. Whatever definition you use, that’s a pretty vast range.

Consider this: When the Great Recession hit, the youngest Millennials were just five or 10 years old. Meanwhile, the oldest Millennials were in their early 20s, graduating into a floundering economy and a saturated job market. From a financial standpoint, the recession shaped each individual very differently, and yet society buckets them all in the same generation.

This creates an inherent flaw in both how we perceive Millennials’ financial habits, but also how we, as marketers, speak to this demographic. So we at Vested did some digging.

Last year, Vested surveyed and interviewed more than 400 Millennials across a range of ages, genders, ethnicities and geographic regions about their financial choices. And given the massive disparity within the demographic, our findings pointed us in a different direction than those of previous studies. It unearthed Millennial nuances.

Take this stat: 71% of Millennials were unaffected—or affected at a minimum—by the financial crisis.

Taken in broad strokes, that sounds like a pretty sweeping statement. But our study—which broke up Millennials into three age brackets—found those between 18 and 22 years of age say the Great Recession did not impact them, while Millennials at the other end of the age bracket very greatly felt, and continue to feel, a negative impact. Those nuances matter.

It’s similarly important to consider these Millennial nuances and differences when looking at Millennial trust in financial institutions or other factors. For example, female Millennials are significantly less likely to use credit cards, but care far more about the perks that come with an account. Male Millennials are more than twice as likely to feel bullish about the economy, but also trust President Trump on the economy more than women.

As Millennials outgrow Boomers, they’ll very soon have the most buying power of any generation. For financial brands aiming to tap this market, understanding the complexity of the demographic is the only way to make informed decisions about which products and services will take off.

Let’s look briefly at apps like Venmo, Alfred or Stash. Younger Millennials—who we found to be less trusting of big banks and more trusting of tech—were the driving consumer power behind this type of fintech. Venmo, specifically, was dubbed “a social network in its own right,” by the LA times, due to the cheeky way users can send messages explaining each payment.

“Pizza is the No. 1 emoji on Venmo; beer is a close follow,” Josh Criscoe, a spokesman for Venmo, said in the story.

But what works for pizza-eating, beer-loving 20-somethings isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the other end of the Millennial spectrum. Those with big-ticket expenses like mortgages or child care on the mind are likely less concerned with finding the right baby emoji than they are with securing payment plans that fit into their specific budget restraints. Say it with me: Millennial nuances.

Understanding the difference in needs between the two groups is key; and exactly what Vested prides itself on. We’ve had the opportunity to work with traditional institutions—banks, hedge funds, and wealth managers—and niche B2B financial technology platforms; but we’ve also worked with consumer fintech and alternative players. In all cases, successful campaigns are never about working harder; they’re about working smarter. That starts with understanding the target market.

Download a one-pager highlighting some of the data from our Millennial Money Study here. But don’t miss the Millennial nuances we highlight in the full study here.

Our Passion for Financial Literacy… in all its Forms

Here at Vested, clients come first and we’ve spent the first two weeks of Financial Literacy Month helping push our clients’ initiatives forward, even neglecting our own efforts. Classic case of the shoemaker’s kids not having shoes… But there’s a reason each and every one of us opts to work at Vested. We are unabashedly nerdy about finance, see its value in our communities, see its potential for affecting change. Financial literacy is a huge part of that, and this month is kind of a big deal here.

I don’t have a financial background, though there were signs, and the fact that I now work in finance feels like anything but an accident. I first fell in love with finance thanks to a book about wealth management. The way it was written was so accessible that I finally felt like someone had lifted the veil on this mystery topic. I started consuming information voraciously. I found online communities — reddit and financial bloggers. I found programs like LearnVest. What I didn’t find? Female friends who shared this interest.

 

Financial Literacy and Women

After further digging, I realized how impactful the gender gap is when it comes to financial literacy. Women lag far behind their male peers when it comes to financial literacy. Women pay the pink tax on comparable items and are subjected to sexist ideals of beauty and self-care that compel us to spend even more (i.e., few men buy feminine hygiene products or makeup, and they aren’t expected to show variety in their look and clothes). Compounding this problem, women make less than their male colleagues (meaning even if they save at the same rates, they’re saving less), are more likely to take a career gap (which ultimately hurts their career trajectory and, yup, savings rates), and do more of the unpaid work at home (meaning less time for side hustles). By retirement time, women have less saved than men yet have longer life expectancy. There are a lot of headwinds, and we can’t fight the #financialpartriarchy without knowing that it exists. That starts with literacy.

If it’s not readily apparent, this is a real passion point for me, and I know I’m not alone. So I reached out to my colleagues and asked them to share some thoughts on the value of financial literacy — what it means for them on a personal level, or trends they’re seeing in the space. Below are their responses. 

Financial Literacy and Access

Senior Account Executive Seres Lu

We’re seeing something like a virtuous circle – consumer fintech, especially budgeting and investing apps, are lowering the threshold for Americans – young and old – to more easily engage with their money. As they do, they’re better understanding their finances and increasing their own financial literacy. This in turn inspires them to go deeper, to try out financial services that they might not have considered before. Access underlies both financial literacy and financial inclusion, and increasing access for more people can only be a positive thing.

 

Financial Literacy and Mental Health

UK Account Executive Sofia Romano


It is a known fact that those in lower-income households are vulnerable to suffering poor mental and physical health. Detriment to the former is particularly prevalent, as financial distress is one of the main causes of anxiety and depression. Whilst this is largely to do with poverty and the injustice of global economics, there is a strong correlation between mental health and financial literacy – which, incidentally, is also heavily entwined with poverty.

This vicious cycle of poverty and poor health needs to be tackled from many angles. For financial literacy and mental health, one major area for improvement is that we need better education to improve financial knowhow, starting from an early stage in life. This applies to everyone, but even more so for those in deprived areas and for those in, or highly susceptible to, mental health crises. Good financial education is key; providing individuals with the means to make responsible financial decisions, whilst in turn helping to reduce the epidemic of poor mental health.

 

Financial Literacy and Parenting

UK Director Katie Spreadbury

As a parent, teaching financial literacy seems like a BIG responsibility. My three-year-old already knows that paper money is better than coins, and that pounds and pence are different (yep, I’m new to the London-based Vested team). But I can see ahead the challenges of teaching the value of money, how it’s connected to hard work and then as my two daughters grow up how to manage more grown up finances like mortgages and investments. Here’s hoping I can pass on my knowledge of financial services and give them a head start.

 

Financial Literacy and Education

Graduate Associate Ashley Shahid

Financial education is so important for the development of financial literacy in the United States that there is a treasury commission dedicated to the advancement of financial understanding: The Financial Education and Literacy Commission (FLEC). The correlation between financial literacy and education is a complex one, one in which the disparity between the educated and non-educated is apparent. In 2003, Congress passed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act which established FLEC and tasked it with the launch of a national financial education website, MyMoney.gov. The goal of MyMoney.gov is to strengthen financial ability and increase accessibility to financial services for all Americans. As a result of FLEC’s partnerships with secondary schools as well as with government offices such as the Office of Federal Student Aid, the Commission has provided financial education materials and programs to millions of Americans nationwide to aid them in financial decision making and achieve economic security.