Ironically, the only article that I had rejected by the press last year, was an article on how pension people should deal with the press. The magazine I’d been asked to write for was not one that I read so I suspect that I was the wrong person to have been approached. You can read the rejected article here.
Here then is Pensions and the Media (II). It says the same thing, but into our echo chamber, it may not disrupt, but I suspect that we are not disrupt able. Is that our strength or our weakness?
Pensions and the Media (II) – sanitised but still disruptive
Whatever we think of the media, we cannot deny its importance. The public’s perception of the pension industry is shaped by the way it is reported. It is often said that pensions gets a “bad press”. There is typically a gap between how others see us and how we see ourselves, we should not consider this gap the fault of the press. I’ll start this article by setting out practical suggestions which should help present pensions positively.
Suggestion one; be aware of the reader.
Let’s try and segment people paying attention to pensions into three groups
- Those working in the pension industry
- Those with a high level of financial awareness
- Everyone else.Journalists are unlikely to be targeting all three groups. For instance, the Financial Times will write for group 2 but the Sun will ignore groups 1 and 2 and write for group 3. The pension press will only be writing for group 1. It is important when we write an article or post a video or speak on the radio or TV to recognize what groups of people will listen to our message. Speaking to your audience is important. When Ros Altmann writes for the Daily Mail, she uses a style that shew doesn’t use when writing for Professional Pensions. She is very expert in pitching the message in the right way.
- “Everyone else” makes up around 98% of the population though the 2% who understand pensions appear much louder as they create the audience which we are a part of. This concentration of expertise is unusual; people are much more aware of the cars they drive or the houses they own than the pensions they are in.
Suggestion two; frame your message to your reader.
The medium we speak in must suit the audience. Printed media requires a lot of concentration. Unless like Steve Bee you can speak in pictures (the cartoon is a great way to get complex ideas into simple messages). you are demanding your readers time and focus.
By comparison, a radio or TV broadcast requires a low level of concentration. Historically your appearance would be a one off – “blink and you missed it”. Nowadays, technology means that what you are saying is recorded and available on playback services, podcasts and of course you tube.
Suggestion three; make sure that you are on message
We must accept that our views as “pension experts” are not expected to be interesting. Pensions get publicity because something has gone wrong. We may wish to explain in meticulous detail why things are actually alright but telling a news program or a newspaper that their audience is wrong and over-reacting is not going to engage an audience. Pensions people often come across as arrogant because they aren’t aware of who they are speaking to how the medium they use works and because they pursue their agenda to the exclusion of all else!
Managing the media
Now we have our rules of engagement, we can look in more detail at how our three groups of people are engaging with pensions.
We can broadly divide the ways people ingest information into three categories
1, Broadcast media
- The Press
- Digital Media
Digital media is in fact a delivery mechanism for broadcast media and press articles as well as being a platform for content. Created by bloggers, tweeters and posters of images and videos on Instagram, twitter and the ephemeral Snapchat.
These platforms are self-managed. Very little content is ever censored and little regard is given for the veracity of content that arrives through social media. This has given rise to the phrase “post-truth” which assumes that a message is effective not for its proximity to the truth but for its capacity to solicit likes, re-posts and re-tweets.
For this reason, many in pensions are wary of social media. However, it is where most people get much of their information. In 2015, Martin Lewis’ MoneySavingExpert,com website was reckoned the most influential source of information on savings and loans by those in economic groups C and D. By sticking to the three rules outlined at the top of this article, Martin has become a source of trusted information delivered to people in the right medium bang on message. Martin has managed to manage the media effectively. Similarly, Paul Lewis, a freelance radio journalist who uses twitter and a blog to ensure he remains relevant as the editor and presenter of Moneybox.
The social media platforms including Facebook and Linked In are being used to manage broadcast and published media. This is putting conventional media outlets without a strong social media distribution system at a disadvantage. But as there are loses, so there are winners, some publishers, such as Sift Media who own brands such as accounting web, have no paper based operations. Actuarial Post is another such.
These new publications demand quick turnaround. It is quite usual for a pensions expert to be asked to deliver 500 words on a chosen topic within a working day. Rather than produce weekly publications, the new pensions media is likely to provide daily updates on the latest stories. Citywire, FT, Incisive and Centaur are all publications whose publications now send daily emails to subscribers. Only the FT’s main digital service is pay to view.
While subscription figures suggest that pension news delivered daily to the desktop is a popular alternative to weekly or even monthly updates are popular with most employees, some employers are becoming frustrated that their staff are indulging in “information overload”.
How long will it be till the daily news services that deliver everything from erudite articles on technical issues, to job adverts, are seen as a barrier to productivity. Conversely does anyone expect timesheets to include a column for time spent digesting the endless supply of news demanded by editors of ever more harassed reporters,
This new topicality makes for demand for “instant comment” and the “content ready” expert who can be relied upon to respond within minutes to an email or social media message is now more likely to be quoted than the established authority.
This trend for “spontaneous quotability” is fueling concern in many quarters that stories are either falling into the “not news” category – or worse – can be filed “post truth”.
Publications like PMI news are now increasingly rare, but the more valuable for it. If you have followed the argument of this article then you have considerably more concentration than the vast majority of general readers for whom an article a third this length is considered “taxing”!
Pensions are immensely important to Britain both at the macro-political level and in terms of people’s day to day financial security. The relationship the pensions industry has with the media is extremely important as it governs the public’s perception of “how we are doing”.
The way the media works is changing, we need to understand these changes and learn how to both please and manage those who own the media on which we depend.
Subsequent to me publishing this blog, the organisation that rejected the first article, rejected the second article , on the grounds that it had already been published on this blog.
No doubt the people who reported this have the best interests of their readers at heart, i suspect most of their readers are already reading this, in which case the reason for their publication isn’t obvious!