A Leading RIA’s Perspective on Working with a Top Financial PR Firm

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Editor’s note from Joe Anthony: Here at Gregory FCA we are celebrating our 25th anniversary of being in business. The heartbeat of our agency is our ability to deepen our relationships with our clients and the media alike.  Here is a Q&A featuring United Capital’s Leslie Dunham who chatted with Jimmy Moock, a Senior VP and Team Leader here, about her firm’s view on our five years of collaboration with United Capital. Leslie Dunham is vice president of marketing and brand management at United Capital.  Her responsibilities include developing and executing a clearly defined marketing and communication strategy in a manner that supports United Capital’s business objectives. Her 21 year marketing career began at Merrill Lynch Asset Management, Private Portfolio Group. Enjoy!

JM: The financial marketplace is crowded and confusing, creating a never-ending challenge for today’s RIAs to set themselves apart. Can you shed a little light on how we’re tackling that communication challenge together?

LD: I feel that the one thing that everyone in this industry believes is that they’re putting the clients’ best interests first. But not everyone is walking that talk. I think Gregory FCA understands we are aligned with our clients. In a lot of ways, we’re showcasing that from a public relations standpoint by engaging people with the things we are doing differently that focus on the client and his or her behaviors and needs. Sometimes it’s weaving in our Honest Conversations® and Money Mind® Analyzer exercises into your media outreach to highlight our ability to engage clients. Sometimes it’s (our CEO) Joe Duran’s latest book. All of this supports our narrative that it’s not the usual service line of “we care about our clients.”  It’s safe to say that in every outbound material we develop together, we’re offering the proof which supports our claim that we are a financial life management firm.

JM: How does a firm make the most of their investment in PR?

LD: The way I look at it, and the way our CMO Gail Graham looks at it, is that public relations is the best branding exercise you can perform as a firm, especially when you consider costs. With smart, strategic PR, you’re able to gain the widest reach possible. Internally, we’re no less than shocked when people don’t find the value of an investment in PR. Companies spend tens of thousands on a single advertisement that’s usually ignored. Really?

Also, we track our work together, which we share with our Executive Team and ultimately our Board of Directors, through your reports on the results of our strategies and efforts. We can compare our success to that of our competitors and it tells us – quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year – where we need to devote more effort and resources and where we’re leading the way. Your reporting has enabled us to stay focused on multiple tracks at the same time.  I like the ability to start each week with our Monday morning call where we review the PR tracking grid and everything in the pipeline. It holds us both accountable to what we are producing and also will show us what’s working versus what isn’t. It’s much more of a tactical operation than people think on both tracks – B2B and B2C. Too many people think it’s just people writing press releases, sending them out and hoping it draws the interest of a reporter. That’s yesterday’s way of doing this.

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JM: We’ve been United Capital’s partner since 2010 and you’ve been on board since May of 2011. What makes a good PR partnership between agency and a growing financial firm like yours?

LD: What a fun, wild ride you’ve come along with us on. Gregory FCA has seen us through our huge phase of growth. You’ve seen us as a firm that’s come in with a handful of different logos and communication styles and you’ve been with us while we’ve become a unified brand. I believe when we started together we had about 20 offices, now we have more than 70 across the country. What you’ve seen and helped guide us through is one of the reasons I refer to Gregory FCA as part of the family. You and Brittany understand our interworkings, and you feel comfortable enough to be proactive and outspoken with us. A bond built on trust only comes with knowing and working with the same group for that long and going through the “growing pains” together. And, these growing pains have offered us the ability to reset the ground rules of working together. The ability to take our pointed direction on one issue and feel comfortable enough to tell us when you feel like we are going down the wrong path on another is invaluable. Or, when Brittany alerts us to oddly worded phrase on our site. Instances like this tell me, Gail and Joe that you have our back and best interests always in mind. No matter your industry, if you’re churning through PR firms, you’re never going to be able to build a true partnership. Of course there are bad vendors and those engagements need to end, but that’s a whole other story.

JM: Talk to me about how PR & marketing departments work together while still being separate functions. How do we help you and your colleagues internally with our work/results?  

LD: Let me count the ways! When I joined United Capital, I was the only person in the marketing department and now we have 11 people – there’s that growth again. We have segmented everything from B2B, B2C, digital and social and overall branding. Gregory FCA is always willing to jump in and help – whether its support with Twitter, Facebook, our blogs – you have the ability to literally make our lives easier. For instance, it completely streamlines the process for us when you guys deliver the social posts and make that content easily shareable across our social channels. As we adopt more and more marketing automation tools and strategies, the content that you provide or earn through the media easily accounts for 40 to 50 percent of our social posts. We now have about 60 advisers involved in our social campaigns who are also able to share that content.

You are also keenly aware of our brand and understand how it is truly different than the rest of the financial universe, but even better, you treat us that way. You don’t talk to us like you might a wirehouse. So, when you are approaching us with ideas or feedback, you approach us from a vantage point that is very supportive of our overall goals.

Also, we know your team is always there. If something is going down you will hop on your phone, with baby in arm and make sure we are getting it done. It’s the trust factor, which is huge for us. From Joe to Gail to me, when we’re shooting an idea around, we’ll often ask, “Did you run it by Jimmy?” Or they will call or text you themselves. It’s definitely that level of trust and knowing  you always have our best interest at heart.