Keeping It Simple

By Wendy Clark

Simplicity. In the world of financial communications, this word could be considered synonymous with Eutopia – a paradise that is just out of our reach.  The need for simplicity in the financial services industry is prevalent.  So it was no surprise that when the Financial Communications Society staged a panel discussion on simplicity, the event sold out.  Last week, nearly 100 marketers gathered at the Macquarie Group in NYC for this FCS “Cocktails with Content” reception.

Presenters Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn of Siegelvision shared insights from their new book, “SIMPLE: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.”  Below are the three main ingredients they shared for creating simplicity for consumers.

Empathy. Simplicity begins with anticipating and understanding the needs and expectations of consumers. A key tool for achieving empathy is research. As marketers, we need to stay plugged in with our audience, and survey them frequently request feedback to ensure our message is clear and simple.

Distillation. For simplicity to succeed we must boil down all of our various messages, calls to action and required disclaimers to their very essence.

Clarity. Clarity is the effort of making every communication, form or process easy to understand.  According to Siegel and Etzkorn, clarity should only take place after empathy and distillation, so as to build on what you’ve learned.

Whether you strive for simplicity at an organizational level, or within your day-to-day communications, applying a structured approach can help make your simplification efforts more, well, simple.

The Tax Season Story

By Gina Henderson

It’s an age-old dilemma – should I call a professional for help or can I do it myself?  We face this question every day when making repairs in our homes, planning a party, and even when choosing our own hair color.

Well, tax season is here and some of us find ourselves facing that familiar question – do I need a professional or can I just do it myself?  This year, two tax service providers take opposite sides of the argument for their advertising platforms in the first half of 2014.

H&R Block debuted its “Get Your Billion Back America” campaign during the Golden Globes and NFL Playoff games. The campaign brings back Richard Gartland, the friendly faced, bow-tied tax advisor from the 2013 campaigns, to show America exactly what a billion dollars looks like – and let us know that those who did their own taxes last year left a billion dollars unclaimed.

TurboTax takes a very different approach. The “Year of You” campaign kicked off during the Rose Bowl and shares a montage of life’s moments and asks a seemingly obvious question, “You did a lot this year, and nobody knows that better than you. So why let somebody else do your taxes?”

What both brands do exceptionally well this year is storytelling. Tax season has never been as beloved as, say, the holiday season – and many people find filing taxes to be a miserable experience. Over the past few years, tax service providers have strived to change feelings around preparing taxes from stress, confusion and intimidation to empowerment, excitement, and even nostalgia.

9230ee689ec5de822c6dfead359a06b2 300x167 The Tax Season StoryH&R Block’s story starts with a little bit of shock value ($500 on every seat in every football stadium in America!) before quickly presenting the friendly tax advisor who will help us get our billion dollars back. The message is targeted directly at those who filed taxes on their own last year by inciting a little bit of embarrassment (whoops, did I do that?) but leaves the audience with a strong and exciting call-to-action, let’s get our billion back! The story is simple, direct and most of all it is emotional: forgiving and empowering the audience.

TurboTax’s story goes straight for our heart. The ads share snapshots of our own lives – having a baby, getting married, buying a house – complete with candid video imagery and a casual voiceover that sounds like our best friend (Think about March. Something happened in March. I don’t know what, but you know. You were the one who did it). The approach is less targeted, and attempts to reach all audiences with its final message that nobody knows us (or our tax history) better than ourselves. The story is personal, sentimental, and, again emotional: of course I can do it myself!

Financial services brands fall into a unique category of marketing where the product may be directly focused on the consumer, but there isn’t always an easy emotional connection with the audience. Many financial brands also sell products and services that seem complex or intimidating to the average person – like investment management, mortgage lending, or even tax preparation. Successful storytelling can help brands connect the dots for their audience by humanizing products and services and breathing life, and emotion, into what could be an otherwise cold transaction

Storytelling can be a key to success for any financial services brand, it’s just a matter of finding what your story is and understanding how that story can help people connect with you. And regardless of which side of the do-it-yourself argument you fall on, we can all agree that this year, H&R Block and TurboTax are shining examples of financial brand storytelling at its best.

Training like an Olympian

By Alison Krempa

SochiLogo 300x274 Training like an OlympianAs the Winter Olympics kicks off in Sochi this week, people all over the world will be tuning in to watch their country’s best athletes compete for victory on the international stage.  The story so far has focused on the less than favorable hotel conditions for the press (in particular, the plumbing and alleged shower surveillance cameras), but when things settle down, all attention will turn to the new crop of men and women looking to make a name for themselves in 2014.

Here in the United States, we’re ready to fall in love.  We’ll watch in awe as the athletes compete in their chosen events, but we’ll really get to know them from their interviews with the media. Who will emerge as America’s sweetheart?  Who will have the best back-story about overcoming adversity?  Who will have the most enthusiastic parents?  The lack of name recognition in this year’s games provides a tremendous opportunity for new Olympians to really shine in front of the camera and make us proud to support Team USA.

Conversely, who will dis his or her teammate or say something completely inappropriate?  Who will be the first to utter an expletive on camera?  Who will be a sore loser?  In the end, we’ll remember the names of those people before the media darlings, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Olympics turn a global media spotlight on athletes, coaches and parents. While it is not a requirement that athletes – or any celebrity, public figure or company executive – speak to the press, it is always in their best interest if they can present themselves in a composed, professional manner that will boost the reputation of both the individual and their organization.  Regardless of the subject matter, all media interviews should be looked at as opportunities to deliver strategic messages, establish goodwill and strengthen credibility.

Media training helps prepare an individual with key messages tailored to his or her target audience.  It also provides techniques that can be used to stay on point, remain calm, and make the most of the media opportunity.  Much like physical training, media training can improve confidence and uncover personal strengths.

The way we consume news continues to evolve, but the basic principles of media training still ring true, and a comprehensive media training program can be the best reputation management tool at a company’s fingertips. Unfortunately, it’s one tactic that companies tend to think about “too little, too late.”  In the YouTube world we live in, bad interviews and cringe-worthy moments don’t just fade away – they go viral.  Just ask Richard Sherman.

We’ll be watching Team USA in their quest for the gold, and will certainly be paying attention to their media training skills and techniques.  Stay tuned for some of our critiques of the most memorable interviews.

By Kevin Windorf

200px Super Bowl XLVIII logo Financial Services at Super Bowl XLVIII: A Study in Subtle SuccessFox’s coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII bombarded TV audiences with more than 100 commercials and promos.  But among that onslaught of advertising overkill, only two financial services companies, MetLife and Bank of America, decided to challenge the clutter.  They both used music, they both used world famous celebrities – and they both succeeded in the art of subtlety.

MetLife joined the ranks of at least five other advertisers (Alex and Ani, Budweiser, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, and WeatherTech,) who made direct references to America in a flood of patriotism that could overwhelm Russell Crowe’s Noah.  While each commercial hit the mark – from WeatherTech’s “Made in America” promise to Bob Dylan rallying our “American spirit” for Chrysler – it was MetLife’s longstanding use of the Peanuts gang that gave audiences pause.

In an otherwise empty MetLife Stadium, Charlie Brown, hat in hand, and his pals gather around as Schroeder plays a touching rendition of our National Anthem. The wordless commercial spoke volumes about setting a reflective tone as families and friends across the country gathered for the biggest social event in the land.  It’s possible that Schroder even upstaged Renée Fleming, who sang the anthem inside a packed MetLife Stadium at game time.

Another reason MetLife could afford to go wordless for 60 seconds (spending an estimated $6MM-$8MM) is that the branded Stadium itself spoke on behalf of the company through hundreds of camera angles and out of the mouths of the sports announcers throughout the night. MetLife’s bold investment in the naming rights of the former Giants Stadium paid huge dividends (as expected by its management) with a snow-free and apparently problem-free hosting of the Super Bowl.

bono 300x198 Financial Services at Super Bowl XLVIII: A Study in Subtle SuccessBank of America took a subtle approach similar to MetLife’s, but with a decidedly louder volume. At the opposite end of the music spectrum is Bono and U2, but their concert-like commercial grabbed the audience’s attention just as much as Schroeder’s solo.  With fantastic black and white cinematography, exciting digital effects, and their hot new song “Invisible,” U2 filled TV screens with a sensory pageant of music and movement.  The commercial ends with an invitation to download the song for free from iTunes, and, as a bonus, Bank of America would donate $1 for every download to [RED] the global movement to help fight AIDS, co-founded by Bono.  BofA is capping its donation at $2 million – a respectable sum, especially on top of the cost of underwriting the commercial’s production and placement – but the engagement garnered through the campaign may prove invaluable.  By the morning after the Super Bowl, the commercial itself had more than 1.2 million views on YouTube.

So here was Bank of America – once the grandest banking brand in the land, whose reputation suffered grandly in the wake of the financial crisis – playing an extraordinarily subtle card.  It was possible to watch the TV spot and miss that BofA was behind it.  Too subtle?  I think that the ultimate payoff of brand awareness will amass in the days to come as viewers find the song, the commercial, and the website, all with messaging from BofA.  Their messaging is a very measured, careful way to say: “We’re connected… because we pay attention to your taste in music, we understand how you consume entertainment, and most importantly, we support the causes that are relevant to you, without beating our chests about it.”

On a day of excess, the two financial companies who invested in Super Bowl ads smartly chose to focus on branding that took a back seat to messaging.  No commoditized products, no vague “solutions,” no price-war posturing (as the auto insurance companies did)… just the subtlety of brand personality: know us, like us, trust us.

By Wendy Clark

As marketers, most of us know examples of organizations that have used effective crisis communications techniques and lived to tell the tale. We can learn a lot from brands that make it through a crisis with their reputation intact.  From the Tylenol tampering crisis of ‘82 to the recent Target data breach, situations occur everyday that have the potential to become disasters for organizations.

Big or small, real or perceived, crises require special attention and a swift response from marketers to protect their brands, while keeping the public, employees and investors informed.  So what’s a good way to approach crisis communications? With a little TLC: Transparency, Listening, Comeback.

Transparency- When word of a crisis makes its way to the public, their immediate response is to search for answers. Being transparent in your communications can be the key to calming the waters. On the flip side, having a lack of openness with the public can set up your organization for increased scrutiny in the public eye and cause greater reputation issues as you work to regain consumer confidence.

Listening- Listening is one of the core tenets of any strong communications strategy. Understanding the view of the public and swiftly reacting to it are not just sage practices for everyday communications, but are more important than ever during a crisis situation.

Social media can be an effective listening tool for gauging reaction to and sentiment about your brand during a crisis. But remember, as with a conversation among friends, it’s impossible to listen while you’re talking. For large-scale crises, this might mean taking a page from Target’s response to the recent data breach situation, and pause regularly planned social content until the dust settles.

Comeback- Contrary to how you may feel during a crisis, it won’t last forever. An important part of effective crisis communications is to plan a comeback once the noise has died down.  For bigger crises, companies often choose to begin their comeback in the form of an advertising campaign. Strong PR and social media efforts also help bring the brand back into a positive light after a disaster. The most important part, however, is to begin planning for the comeback early, and ensure the magnitude of response matches the magnitude of the crisis.

No organization ever plans to find itself in a crisis, however, it is important to be prepared to handle one. While each situation and organization are different, handling crises with a little TLC can make for a lasting recovery.

By Samantha Wingrove

A new year is a great time to step back and evaluate yourself; a time to look at your habits (both good and bad) and determine how you can spend the next 365 days making a better version of yourself. In 2014, we at IMRE Financial IQ have vowed to not only better ourselves, but to strengthen our team and, improve our client service. At IMRE, we often talk about public relations ‘best practices,’ and we are going to spend the year turning those practices into habits. Without further ado, below is a New Year’s resolution from each member of our team: 

Kevin: Better integrate my social media communications
I’m a heavy user of LinkedIn and moderate user of Twitter.  While I’m looking to increase my Twitter activity, I’m keenly aware that I’ve not done a good enough job integrating my communications across Twitter and LinkedIn.  I know that it has been a lost opportunity to amplify my messaging and build my audiences on each platform. In 2014, I am stepping up my social media communication to be constantly adding value and engaging with new audiences.

Matt: Be more proactive and provide sound advice
I frequently hear people say, ”it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission” in various professional settings and during project discussions. The comment is not intended to be abusive or disrespectful, but rather insightful about when to push the boundaries and navigate around the naysayers. When you know your clients and understand their business objectives, it is much easier to be proactive and ultimately achieve positive results. In 2014, I will take this bold approach and work to provide better results for my clients.

Gina: Make time for metrics and reporting
Metrics and reporting are often seen as the least important task – and are sometimes forgotten altogether – after a PR team works hard on a media outreach campaign.  However, it is important to keep track of successes and failures, as well as feedback you receive from your media outreach, to make smart adjustments for future outreach.  Tracking placements helps clients identify the most important metrics to them and allows us to report information that really matters to leadership. In 2014, I will track metrics and report to my clients frequently to keep the lines of communication open.

Alison: Read more
Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.”  With so much reading material available these days, from traditional newspapers to niche blogs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  However, whenever I can devote time to reading, I always think about new ways to connect with the media and their audiences.  My goal for 2014 is to read more and learn more about the world around us so that I can keep coming up with big ideas for my clients.

Wendy: Have more face-to-face meetings with media
There’s a lot to be said for being able to put a face to a name. I’ve found over the past few years that the more media I meet at trade shows, or just for lunch or coffee, the more quality relationships I’m able to build. When I have a personal connection with reporters, knowing everything from their deadlines to their kids’ names, I’m able to work better with my clients to uncover quality stories tailor-made for my content-hungry media friends. In 2014, I am dedicating myself to developing more relationships with the media.

Sam: Only send pitches that I believe in
As a public relations professional, my role is to provide honest and constructive feedback to my clients. Moving into 2014, I want to step up in this role and help clients look at all pitches through a critical, media-aware lens. I will be better serving my clients when I help them to determine the biggest and best news for their company and this will help ensure that all media placements are the quality and caliber that IMRE aims to deliver.


As a team, we are excited to be starting off the new year with a fresh set of goals. We look forward to growing in our roles and becoming better versions of our professional selves.  


By Matt Weaver

Financial Services firms and sports marketing go together like funny commercials and the Super Bowl. And with the winter sports season in full swing, now is a perfect time to explore the relationship between the two.

Sponsorships of major sporting events, venues and athletes serve as important platforms for financial services firms. These sponsorships allow banks, brokerages, insurance companies, and other financial services companies to target specific audiences, who are likely to use their services.

According to a recent survey published by Sponsorium International, Inc., which measures global sponsorship in the financial services industry, sports accounts for 52% of the overall sponsorship landscape. Despite the popularity of sports marketing, the average fees spent by financial services brands for sports sponsorships have decreased by a projected 20% since last year. This trend indicates the recession’s impact on the industry runs deep, and could change how brand’s view sponsorships as part of their overall marketing plan.

So, how are financial services brands getting the most value from sports marketing and raising their overall level of awareness with consumers? Here are a few examples that we find to be the most effective.
Read the rest of this entry »

By Samantha Wingrove

In May 2013, TIME magazine tagged Millennials as the ‘Me, Me, Me’ generation, but it’s time to reconsider that title and tag us correctly – we are the ‘We, We, We’ generation. Thanks to social networks and a keen interest in friends’ opinions, Millennials have taken decisions that many Gen Xers and Boomers would consider personal choices and turned them into group decisions. Rather than decide things on our own, Millennials use social media to broadcast our questions for the world to see (or maybe just a few hundred of our closest friends, depending on privacy settings) and invite input to help with decision-making. Millennials crowdsource.

I found myself curious as to the extent that Millennials would offer their opinion, specifically as it relates to financial services. A recent study from The Financial Brand showed that 8% of social media content posted about banks and credit unions has a negative sentiment and less than 1% has a positive sentiment.  (The remaining 91% is neutral.) So, I did what any Millennial would do: I asked my friends on Facebook to recommend a bank. I wanted to know how many people would be willing to share personal preferences regarding where they bank and whether they are pleased with their experience. My request was simple enough:

1 I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.

I was not prepared for the overwhelming response I received. Not only did I have friends from all walks of life answering me, but they were also telling me stories about their experiences. People who I haven’t spoken to in nearly 10 years were suddenly willing to chime in and share their opinion. They told me what made them chose their bank, why they are loyal to their bank, what they have been pleased with, and even what a bank did to anger them into leaving. Below are some of my favorite responses:

A student who chose his account based on ATM and overdraft fees
2 copy I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.

A national bank fan because a community bank let her down
3 copy I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.

A loyal credit union member
4 copy I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.

A teacher who looked for a good deal when opening a new account
5 copy I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.

A daughter who followed in her parents’ footsteps
6 copy I’m a Millennial and I Crowdsourced. For Financial Recommendations.


What was most astounding to me was how freely everyone shared this information. I had only one response (not included here) out of 25 that came to me via private Facebook message because my friend was uncomfortable sharing her information in such a public forum, but still wanted me to know what bank she uses; everyone else offered up information with no questions.

I think that this experiment provides financial communicators extremely valuable insight into the Millennial mindset.  Millennials like to share. They view social networks as an outlet where they can be heard.

Financial marketers should be taking advantage of Millennials’ willingness to share by engaging with this audience as new products are developed, new ad campaigns are created, and as your brand evolves. Ask for ideas from your followers and fans and then follow through with them. Show them you appreciate their input by using some of their ideas. Use your social channels as a lifeline to your growing audience of Millennials.

If, as a marketer, you can embrace the Millennial mindset of “We, We, We,” and get your Millennial audience engaging with you and telling you what they do and do not like, you will be a step ahead of your competition. The insight you receive from that crowdsourcing will prove invaluable as you seek to grow your business and improve your brand sentiment online.

By Wendy Clark

Only 17% of Millennials in the workforce are on track to have enough retirement savings, according to a recent study by Financial Finesse. While younger employees might be very aware of the importance of paying off their student loan debt, saving up to purchase a home, or stashing money into an emergency fund- all sage financial practices- retirement preparedness is noticeably absent from many Millennials’ financial musings.

With the power of compounding and a longer time horizon on their side, Millennials are in the best position possible to get the most out of their retirement savings if they start now. Considering that half of Millennials believe that Social Security won’t even exist when they retire, this should mean more plan to rely solely on retirement accounts and insurance. So, why the lack of interest and enthusiasm? It all starts with a lack of communication.

For financial marketers targeting either business owners who manage Millennials or financial advisors who need to prospect Millennials, it’s a safe bet that these young consumers have a baseline understanding of personal finance. But that doesn’t mean that they will care about saving for retirement. Millennials need a trigger to help them understand the importance of contributing enough to their 401(k), IRA or other retirement plans.

“But retirement seems so far away to Millennials. How can I help my clients to get their Millennials excited to save for it now?” We’re so glad you asked.

  1. Talk More- The more marketers communicate about the importance of retirement savings, the more all consumers will think about it. But a quarterly email with a link to login to their plan won’t compel Millennials to save more. Help the younger audience by making resources, such as online retirement calculators, research, and access to financial advisors easily available – and remind them of these resources often. Create communications that don’t only focus on how to save for retirement, but emphasize why they should care. Most Millennials think “What’s in it for me?” and the implied benefit of a strong retirement savings strategy is harder for younger employees to understand, than someone who is closer to retirement.
  2. Matching- Matching retirement fund contributions is leading by example. Encourage your business owner clients to show their employees how truly important investing in retirement is by investing in their future for them.
  3. Roth Options- Roth options are becoming increasingly more popular, and are especially appealing to younger investors who can take advantage of long term compounding and potentially tax free withdrawals in retirement.
  4. Make it Easy- The best way to get Millennials to increase their contributions is to make it so they don’t have to do it all. Promoting an automatic annual increase option to their retirement plan helps investors save more year after year without lifting a finger.

Retirement is probably not the main financial focus for Millennials, but by sprucing up plan offerings and increasing promotional communications from employers and advisors alike, marketers can help get Millennials thinking about and contributing more toward their retirement.

By Samantha Wingrove

The IMRE Financial Services team tuned in to an excellent live webinar last week called ‘The Financial Advisor’s Perspective – Using Social Media for Business Growth.’  Sponsored by the Business Development Institute, the webinar featured a discussion with Gregory Cheng of Sterne Agee and Mitch Slater of UBS and was moderated by Victor Gaxiola of Actiance.

Here are the top 10 insights for financial advisors that we gained from the discussion:

  1. Your profile is your first impression. You should spend time to make your profile speak to who you are and what you do.
  2. It’s important to understand that social media is not a campaign but a commitment.
  3. You have to be active or you don’t exist. To successfully market yourself on social media, you should be using it everyday.
  4. Your social media presence needs to be authentic and the only way to do that is through getting educated. Know the differences between channels and use each appropriately.
  5. Listen, respond, and react. You should be listening to what others are saying, responding to their insights, and reacting with your own opinions.
  6. You can (and should) use social media for collecting data about prospects, interests, and competitors, but outbound postings should be for teaching and educating.
  7. The big ah-ha moment is when people realize that financial advisors are social people. You go to networking events in hopes of connecting with people; social media is the same concept, just a different toolset.
  8. Join groups carefully, be active, and give thoughtful responses. You should always be adding value.
  9. ‘In a world of Jetsons, you need to have more Flintstones’ – Financial advisors should be working to build from an online relationship and develop it into an offline relationship because that’s where business is going to happen.
  10. Learn about the person first and decide why you should connect. There is no competition to collect the most connections, it’s more important to have valuable connections.

Financial advisors who heed these tips will be able to use social networks in conjunction with existing methods to grow their clientele. Social media will act as a complement to all existing messaging and advisors will see success through increased engagement, connections, and overall value.





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