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Want to Know What Four Top Heads of Comms Really Think?

Want to Know What Four Top Heads of Comms Really Think
Posted: Feb 2020

Today we focus on the Asset Management industry – we have been talking to Heads of Communications at leading global investment management firms, gaining their views on the key challenges they are currently facing, and what they find particularly interesting about their role and asset management comms at present.

Despina Constantinides, Head of Communications, Jupiter Asset Management

Dorine Johnson, Deputy Head of Corporate Communications, Global, Franklin Templeton

Constanze Ullmann, Head of Communications Europe, Legg Mason

Fiona Kehily, Head of Communications EMEA, Neuberger Berman

Several interesting themes can be drawn from their comments, such as the need to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to content, the progressive changes currently taking place in the industry, the very real impact the asset management industry has on people’s lives, why it is therefore important to behave with integrity, and why relationship building is still so important.

Standing out in the crowd

In today’s media environment, one of the ongoing challenges for our media heads is that of being heard amidst the sheer volume of content that is now being published and differentiating what they are doing from others in the industry. As Despina Constantinides, Head of Communications, Jupiter Asset Management, says: “The increase in the volume of content is phenomenal, and a lot is marketing led. We have to beat the drum for genuine and independent editorial content. Due to the high level of content our relevant media pool is shrinking, so we strive to make sure our content is relevant and not overwhelming for journalists.”

In order to make their content stand out, Despina and her team carry out a lot of targeted work, creating content for one publication or journalist, rather than on a more blanket basis. “We see value in that”, she continues. “Before, it was more about quantity, and now you have to focus on quality as the opportunities are fewer. Supply is greater than demand, so we must think a bit more carefully and be more strategic. We are now writing fewer press releases and shorter, more concise pieces, and typically don’t send something out if it’s not interesting, because journalists don’t have the time to wade through it all.”

This ‘less is more’ approach is also advocated by Constanze Ullmann, Head of Communications Europe, Legg Mason. How to come up with a narrative that is different to cut through the noise and differentiate themselves from other players, positioning of the company, and becoming a relevant player in the market, are some of her key challenges right now. “We see in response to events that many asset management firms press the button and send their view out, and it is easy to get into the same habit without questioning whether what you have to say is any different to what is already out there, or is making a strong point”, she says.

Constanze continues: “Creating interesting content at the right level and volume for journalists is important. Because there is so much content being distributed, journalists and clients don’t have time to read it all, so we now focus more on quality rather than quantity. I now take the view that we only send out something on, say, central bank policy, if we have a particularly controversial point to make, or something that is not in line with other commentary already out there.”

And it’s not just content volume that our comms experts have to navigate, as Fiona Kehily, Head of Communications EMEA, Neuberger Berman explains: “The biggest challenge for me is navigating the ever-changing news agenda when it comes to political, industry and regulatory events. It’s difficult for my spokespeople to give a journalist a prediction when the tide is changing so quickly. And nobody really wants to read about someone who sits on the fence! But luckily I work with a wide variety of spokespeople who are not tied to a particular company view.”

Social and cultural change

The biggest current challenge for Dorine Johnson, Deputy Head of Corporate Communications, Global at Franklin Templeton is communicating about change. “At the moment there is a lot of social change, and it can be challenging for firms to meet shifting expectations around that, as well as continuing to communicate effectively to core audiences, who are also changing,” she says. “As we start a new decade and as our core audiences become more focused on environmental, social and governance factors (ESG), as communicators, we have to adapt and respond to their changing needs, explaining our approach to ESG and how it’s integrated across our investment groups in a clear and succinct way. Another example is diversity and inclusion. Historically, our industry has not been very diverse and so firms must work out how to meet that expectation and communicate how they are adapting to social change in a relevant and authentic way. That is going to be an ongoing challenge for many firms and the industry as a whole.”

To meet this challenge Franklin Templeton has a diversity and inclusion (D&I) programme and several online communities (Business Resource Groups), all of which has top-down support from senior executives for grassroots-led efforts as employees volunteer their time and effort on topics which they are passionate about (e.g. gender, LGBT+). Dorine, who sits on their UK D&I steering committee, continues: “We don’t have a rigid roadmap as we want our efforts to be authentic and encourage strong engagement. It is a big topic to tackle. We are excited by employees’ grassroot support which results in key initiatives, partnerships and strong engagement to drive change.”

But, for Dorine, this force for change is also what’s making asset management comms particularly interesting right now: “We are seeing a powerful shift in the industry; As fiduciaries to trillions of pounds worth of peoples’ hard-earned savings, asset managers need to make sure a clear purpose and an articulation of culture comes through succinctly in their communications. It’s important that our sector demonstrates that we understand the needs and thinking of our clients, and that we are relatable – particularly as a new wave of younger investors are becoming more engaged”, she says.

Similarly, this is a key reason why Despina Constantinides enjoys working in the sector so much, commenting: “It’s constantly changing, and it is relevant. You get some very clever people who work in different ways. It’s now about diversity of thinking, and that the opportunity to have your voice heard is increasing. The industry faces some challenges but how it relates to changes in society and in people’s values is crucial for its future. I have seen it moving in a positive direction during the many years I have been in this job, and this has been particularly pronounced in recent years.”

The everchanging environment is what Dorine Johnson finds particularly interesting. “I have been in the financial services industry for 21 years and have seen many changes”, she says. “And as the industry grows and evolves so does your knowledge. I enjoy the varied nature of my role and that I am always learning.”

Industry change

What Fiona Kehily finds so interesting is the number of issues swirling around. “Working in the fund management industry is not without its challenging moments – especially when there have been a few high profile fund blow ups recently – but it is the dynamic environment that makes the PR role interesting. You have to stay on top of regulatory and competitor developments – this can be difficult because of the sheer number of changes happening through the supply chain.”

Regulatory impact also represents a challenge to Constanze Ullmann who comments: “There is so much happening in the wider economy such as Brexit, trade wars, central bank policies or now the coronavirus which has an impact on markets and therefore people’s investments, pension savings, etc. With changing regulation we must adapt and be mindful how to communicate and phrase things. Take the Market Abuse Regulation (MAR) for example, which prevents portfolio managers from talking about future valuation of stocks or anything that could be giving recommendations.”

Despina Constantinides agrees that applying the MAR regulations fairly strictly, as they have done at Jupiter, has made it harder for them to talk to journalists, especially when news is breaking on companies.

One key recent industry shift, which most of my contributors highlighted, is a greater focus on environmental factors and responsible investing. “It’s a dynamic sector which is constantly evolving”, continues Constanze Ullmann. “ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investment is now much more important to our clients than it was a few years ago, and ensures new topics and themes pop up.”

Despina Constantinides also comments: “Markets are always interesting. This shift in interest towards ESG is significant and there are lots of different ways in which it has manifested itself. Just working out where your company fit into such a variable picture is key going forwards. There are so many variables and the language around this type of investing is evolving all the time. Getting it right could not be more important.”

An industry central to people’s lives

Another common observation is how important the industry is to people’s lives, as Dorine Johnson explains: “It is important to recognise that the investment management industry plays an important role in the economy, and enables a number of individuals and families achieve their life goals by helping them to grow their investments. We currently operate in the context of low interest rates where you wouldn’t get much if your money was just sitting in cash, so the role that our industry plays is crucial to help people realise their life and investment goals.”

For Constanze Ullmann the fact that she is working on activities that are close to and helpful to the client is the most interesting aspect of her role. “The sector is serving a purpose, investing people’s money and aiding retirement planning, which is increasingly important and central to people’s lives”, she says. “We’ve recently carried out an annual global investment survey, asking retail investors for their view on the market, what they are doing with their asset allocation, and the way they are saving for pensions and investments, and it is interesting to see how the strategy plays through.”

Despina Constantinides adds “Our focus and the baseline question for everything we do is ‘what do clients need and what do they want?’ Being client focused is key. If something isn’t relevant or applicable to clients, is it the right way to go? We keep our focus on what is right for our clients. Ultimately, everyone in this industry should be working to help people secure their financial future, that is what we do for society at a time when it is very much down to the individual to make sure they can look after themselves and their families. Capital allocation is also an important was of incentivising and rewarding companies who do good.”

Relationships & networking is still key

One aspect that repeatedly came up as still being important, as well as being so interesting, is how people focused their roles are. As Constanze Ullmann succinctly says, “relationships and networking are crucial at every stage of your career”.

“The media fascinates me and some of the most interesting and clever people I’ve ever met have been journalists”, says Fiona Kehily. “You can find out so much about the world just by having a half hour coffee with a journalist. Many of my spokespeople speak to journalists not only to promote what we do, but also to gauge public opinion
and find out what’s going on behind the scenes.”

“For me, talking to people is the most satisfying aspect of the role” explains Despina Constantinides. “It’s all about the people and the conversations you’re having. When you’re in-house you engage with people from all different parts of the business - the fund managers, the variety of journalists, all the personalities involved – so you get to put
together the bigger picture and gain different perspectives.”

Dorine Johnson also agrees that she finds the opportunity to learn from others so captivating. “In a comms role you get to engage with a number of people at various levels of seniority, whether it’s a CEO, CIOs, fund manager or advising an external board. It is interesting to see how they work and what motivates them. You learn enormously from seeing them in action and that can be very inspiring”, she says.

What else makes Comms Heads tick?

And to finish off, as well as aspects already highlighted, here are some further insightful nuggets from my experts on what gets them up in the morning:

On what is making asset management comms particularly interesting right now…

Fiona Kehily:

  • “The current macroeconomic environment and the effect of populist politics. Our clients want to know how we are responding to a fast paced and often volatile trading environment and this gives journalists plenty of angles to explore. And keeps us busy providing our spokespeople’s insights!”
  • “There is a lot happening in the global economy, for example elections, Brexit, trade wars and central bank measures that has an impact on markets and therefore on people’s investments, pensions and savings. It makes it interesting to comment on topical news, and the variety of issues makes it interesting from a comms point of view.”
  • “Asset Management is an industry that is always fluid and rarely follows expectations. Curveball events that impact the whole industry, as well as some of the structural challenges, make it all very interesting. There’s always an argument to make about something going on in the industry.”
  • “The impact of all the ongoing geopolitical uncertainty and societal volatility generally is keeping things pretty interesting, if a little distracting. It’s hard to work out whether the impact is real or imagined sometimes because you are constantly bombarded with information of varying usefulness, but it’s keeping our day to day work lively. From a fund management perspective certainty is always far better, in terms of politics and economic environment. So the fact that there is very little of that out there right now creates just a bit of an edge.”
  • “From an external point of view, some interesting areas to follow such as the evolution of ESG, the continued growth of ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) and the opportunities that alternatives can uncover.”
  • “From an internal perspective, integrated and creative communications which can be leveraged not just by communications teams, but also marketing and sales teams, are really motivating and engaging. They have far greater impact with target audiences, and they can be cost-effective if resources and budget are applied effectively.”
  • “I’m still excited when opening the paper and seeing a piece I’ve worked on in there. It gives me a sense of achievement and a tangible outcome of a project. I like working across different channels, countries and departments – the integrated aspect of the role.”
  • “I get to interact with some of the most cerebral minds in London both through my interaction with the financial media and the executives and fund managers I work alongside. I enjoy hearing their views of the world (good dinner party fodder too!!).”
  • “The industry is changing and it’s an interesting time to be working in the sector. It feels that the ‘old boys club’ culture is breaking up somewhat. Fintech companies are disrupting established asset management industries. It feels good to be part of the journey.”
  • “This is a great industry to work in if you want to learn about savings and investments. You’ll be able to learn about a range of products and asset classes available to investors, which makes it interesting to communicate about. The role we are playing in terms of educating investors and helping them grow their investments can be very rewarding.”

Constanze Ullmann:

Despina Constantinides:

On the most interesting aspect of the role…

Dorine Johnson:

Constanze Ullmann:

On why they enjoy working in the sector…

Fiona Kehily:

Constanze Ullmann:

Dorine Johnson:

Thank you very much ladies for your time and insightful comments.



The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk

Sarah Leembruggen
Managing Director

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