Ep. 48: Reed Handley - PR and Media for F&A

February 10, 2020 | 14 Minutes

Reed McLaurin Handley is a Senior Vice President at Bliss Integrated Communication responsible for helping financial institutions and professional services firms manage digital transformation and leverage data to tell insightful stories to B2B and B2C audiences. Reed advises C-Suite executives and marketing communications teams on thought leadership and creative communication strategies, while leading the execution of integrated programs for both incumbent brands and industry disruptors. Prior to joining Bliss in 2014, she established the communications and operations functions at Pave, a peer-to-peer start-up aimed at democratizing access to capital for millennials. Reed joined Count Me In to talk about the needs of finance and accounting professionals in today's digital age from a marketing and public relations perspective. She explains exactly how her role has changed over the years, what financial services organizations and teams expect as far as communication and data because of this evolution in the industry, and what it takes to succeed in a highly competitive business environment. Download and listen now!

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Adam: (00:04)
Hey everyone, thanks for coming back and listening to episode 48 of Count Me In. As you will hear Mitch address in a moment, today's episode features an expert guest who talks about accounting and finance from an outside point of view. Reed Handley, senior vice president at Bliss Integrated Communication, shares her perspective on the changing needs of finance organizations when it comes to their PR and media. This content is highly transferable for all our listeners and we're excited to share another great episode. So let's head over to the conversation now. 
Mitch: (00:39)
So our conversation is a little different today as we're going to talk about accounting and finance from the marketing and communication perspective, right? So to kick things off and give us an idea of what exactly it is that you do, what are some of the popular needs of companies and financial services when it comes to PR and media? 
Reed: (00:57)
Well, thank you for having me. I'm very excited about discussing this with you. I will jump right in and say from my vantage point, I think there are three core issues, from a PR perspective that have overlapping spheres of influence. And those are raising awareness, building trust and brand loyalty, which supports the never ending drive to expand share of wallet with customers. And then the third piece is harnessing data for storytelling and also to use data as a jumping off point for more strategic insights. I'll jump into the raising awareness piece just because I think that that's the most overarching issue that we come across. And it really depends on where an organization falls in its life cycle. So the goal could be to become a household name, or to hold onto your place as a household name among target audiences. And that can be regardless if you're, focusing on a B2C space or if you're a B2B professional. So that brings up the big question of innovation and how that plays a role. I will say, and I'm sure you're seeing this as well, but digital transformation across almost every industry out there is having a seismic impact. On how we're communicating about the value of the product or service we're providing. And nowhere, in my opinion, is that more apparent than in the financial services space. but it's absolutely happening across management consulting, accounting law firms as well. It's something that I think every single, major industry is grappling with how to manage effectively. So I could give you an example from the wealth management space, which is where our sort of, a lot of my personal experience stems from. you know, technology has completely up-leveled and democratize the way consumers and also the individuals and businesses who sell to those consumers are managing money and receiving advice, which is not that hard to think about. You consider the ease with which people are now reviewing or trading or analyzing their financial lives. compared to the days before FinTech apps and SAS platforms existed, like mint and RightCapital capital and Expensify, you know, there's a whole universe out there now, that makes it easier. So from a marketing and PR perspective, there's a huge demand from financial institutions and professional services firms to create programs that showcase the value of your technology, especially as it relates to enhancing the customer and the employee experience. ultimately you're looking to attract and retain both targets and talent. So, you know, figuring out how the communications workflow fits within the technology workflow is really, really critical. 
Mitch: (03:46)
Now you've been with bliss for over five years, I believe. Is that correct? 
Yes, that's right. 
And I'm sure more communication roles prior to that. So with all this technology and innovation, you know, how has your job changed? Like what exactly is different about the needs of these financial services and any other industry really as far as who you are trying to put out this awareness? 
Reed: (04:07)
Well, this is a big meaty question. I will say I think from a practitioner standpoint and a strategic standpoint, the number one need and in many cases I would argue pain-points is harnessing data for storytelling. and that, that goes for both B to B and B to C companies. I think practically every institution in the financial services space and certainly in professional services is seeking new ways to aggregate data for more research backed data driven, driven customer focused experiences. and you may ask why the, and what's shocking to me is that the expectation across the spectrum is so high among people that we're trying to target. we're now in a period where people are more willing than ever to pay a premium for exceptional service, which is particularly noteworthy for increasingly commoditized industries like ours, both from a marketing standpoint but also from an accounting standpoint. I came across two really great pieces of data about this recently. Forrester, reported that 70% of B2B firms say cup customers have higher expectations than in previous years. And Gartner also reported that 82% of B2B CMOs, so vast majority, believe they will be competing mostly on customer experience and not on product or service attributes by 2020, which is this year. so that tells us that customer experience and the way you're communicating with your customers at any point of their sort of journey in terms of getting to know you and your organization is really the crux in differentiating yourself in a competitive environment. which means, and can be a little bit shocking, but it means that the, that you'll be left behind. Absolutely. If you're not thinking about how to responsibly integrate user behavior data into your client service approach. 
Mitch: (06:15)
So you're mentioning so many buzz words that we talk about with within our industry. You know, we're always looking to turn insight into foresight and make sure that everyone's on the same page as far as awareness and understanding through storytelling. So I think this is fantastic. And along the lines of this digital transformation, you said all this data might actually be a pain point for certain organizations. What else do you think certain organizations need to be aware of or contribute to the PR and the media that you're putting out there for them because of the technology? 
Reed: (06:49)
Well, I think that they have options. You know, on the one hand you've got, from a financial institution standpoint, a lot of these organizations, have very, very dated architecture. they can't necessarily aggregate data from one business segment and compare it against data from another business segment. So that's a huge pain point in terms of how do you just organize yourself and update your systems and structures so that you're collecting information and then you have the wherewithal to be able to look at the information, in a reasonable context. So we are now thinking about, okay, what are the options available to you? You could think about working with an outside, data analyst or data scientist or even a communications firm where we spend a ton of time conducting research into audience behavior. I tried to understand what their greatest needs are to then kind of provide a recommended, an informed communication program about how to actually meet those needs, but the other thing that is particularly interesting to me is that you're now seeing a much bigger demand for personalization, that is driving what we're referring to and what's commonly known. I think in industry lingo is intimacy of scale. as professionals, we're now in a world where intimacy of scale is possible and, and frankly expected based on kind of the data points I just mentioned. I can give you an example of, of what I mean at bliss, we're often asked to think about building marketing programs that target women or employees or accountants. heading, most of us intuitively know just as humans, that looking at one of those terms is a totally inappropriate way to classify an audience. So depending on where someone lives their age, whether they're early career or seasoned professional, their work environment, personal experiences, all of that information, it means one message that works for one person, will resonate completely differently or not at all with another. So the biggest mistake I see when organizations let one single variable dictate, or become the driving force behind major business or marketing decisions. And in order for you to create a truly meaningful engagement, you have to be thinking about dozens, if not hundreds of variables, which is a little doom and gloom. But I will say there's good news, you know, the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, which I know that you talk about a lot on this podcast, it's becoming much easier for companies to actually deliver a personal experience. which by the way does not have to be big and audacious in order to be effective. 
Mitch: (09:41)
Well, I think that's a great segue and you're right, we do talk about all of this very frequently. And I guess the last question I have is in order to take advantage of all the opportunity that you discussed and maybe not be so doom and gloom like you just said with some of the information, what advice or recommendations do you have for these listeners in accounting and finance or maybe those who work for organizations in financial services, what can they do as far as, making your job easier so that you can help their organization succeed? 
Reed: (10:14)
Well, I think the one most foundational, piece of advice that I would share is to know your audience. I think too often we see organizations focused exclusively on solving a business need without considering whether that business need corresponds with a very real issue for their clients or their prospects. and I think when we talk about marketing, whether you're working on developing your personal brand or helping to make connections across your organization or even serving as an ambassador for, your firm, you have to ask yourself, who am I talking to and what's keeping them up at night? And that needs to be the starting point for any next step. I will say, you know, the second piece which we've talked about a lot today is just managing data successfully. I think your ability to access and parse through data will inform how you will advise and communicate and develop the bespoke experiences that your kind of ideal segment of one is looking for. Which means for it from a practical standpoint, having a great CRM in place and understanding how to use it, is table stakes. Now I know a lot of people are sort of adverse to new platforms and there's always a learning curve with it. But you have to do it. and you have to kind of always think about how you can use that information to then communicate properly. and I will say the third piece is to invest in content. I think at the of the day the thing that's going to differentiate firms and the people who will rise to the top are the ones who are providing that insight and that foresight, that you mentioned, particularly if they can answer the question, does my content offer value? Is it useful or am I just pushing a product or I just pushing a specific service offering. how can I actually provide that kind of one two punch where you're offering customer centric content that's at the right time and the right channel and you're still moving the needle for your firm's bottom line. 
Mitch: (12:29)
There's so much transferability here. So thank you very much for your perspective and all this information. I just want to give you an opportunity. Are there any last thoughts or comments you'd like to make before we wrap this up? 
Reed: (12:41)
Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. I think the one, kind of final thought I'll leave is that, you know, you have to always remember to be human. So all of these items that we're talking about are intended to be tools in your arsenal that allow you as an individual and then as broader organization to think about what's the most strategic insight that I can offer that's going to demonstrate the value that I can provide above and beyond what's part of my job description. I think that's how people will continue to rise above the top. And frankly that's how we'll see which firms are going to be more successful, in the long haul. 
Announcer: (13:23)
This has been Count me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.