The ex-M&G and Fidelity communications specialist tells MRM what’s wrong with so much of the content produced today by investment companies, how he wants to change that, and why he likes listening to some Welsh blokes chatting about football
- Tell us about yourself – how and why did you get into comms, and what prompted you to launch your own communications and content business?
Communications and Content exists to help investment companies and financial brands communicate with more imagination, energy and purpose.
I launched the business because I wanted to use my experience and understanding of investment and financial communications to help the industry to better articulate what it does and why it’s important.
For me, the key to effective financial communications is compelling storytelling, supported by good quality empirical evidence, and I’ve been evolving this approach through my business, looking to help clients across business positioning, thought leadership, content, corporate, product and client communications.
- You recently produced your 2020 Readability Report. Could you tell us more about the report and its key findings?
This is our second annual report, and what we are trying to do is use empirical evidence to assess the reams of content that the investment industry produces and rank it accordingly. We are in an age of ‘digital diarrhoea’ and this report tries to address that.
What we try and do is work out whether the content being published is suitable for the audience it’s aimed at. This year we also focused on relative scores, ranking businesses according to their readability.
In 2020 the readability dial barely shifted compared to last year. While there is marginal improvement on 2019, the average investment content remains too complex for its readers – and it’s also comparatively long, rarely focused on the reader and hard to read.
What we found is that the average investment content article is 1,825 words long – and a good reader needs about six minutes to read it. However, the average person, according to the most recent study, has just 15 to 20 minutes to read a day in total, so the time they have is limited. This helps explain why the national and investment trade media remains popular. Their articles are shorter, averaging around 735 words – a two-and-a-half minute read – and that is much more digestible.
- What are your top tips for content production?
Brevity is key. Brevity of word, brevity of sentence, and brevity of article. People simply don’t have the time to read long articles.
It’s also good to signpost material better. We don’t want acres of text – we want pull quotes, bullet points and sub-heads to help guide us, the readers, through the article.
Finally, it’s time to put the academic structure in the bin. Conclusions shouldn’t go at the end. This is not a thesis, and we are not scholars of investment.
There’s a host of useful tips in the report itself.
- How has the current pandemic changed working habits at your business?
Operationally nothing much has changed, but it’s important to be able to engage with people often, and I think that has become slightly more difficult. On the plus side, I have been able do more marketing, simply because I have more time because I’m not travelling.
- Once lockdown is over, what do you think will change and what will stay the same?
I already worked remotely to some extent, but I have missed the human interaction, especially at industry work events.
- What positives have you taken from the whole lockdown experience?
I’ve loved being able to spend more time with my children, and this year has thrown up a wider variety of commercial opportunities.
- What does your industry get right, and what needs improving?
The sector has the balance slightly wrong. Investment managers are really good at managing people’s money, but not so good at distributing that message out to people, and better readability can help them do that.
Of course, some businesses do it very well already, and the point of the report is to highlight what works, as much as it is to highlight what doesn’t work. For many companies this is a cultural issue, and that mindset of being open to doing things differently is vital to help people communicate better.
- Is there a book or podcast that is essential reading/listening for your industry?
Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is my favourite novel which has relevance to what I do, but I’ve always found conversations with trusted contacts are just as important. They helped me firm up my thinking around how the industry communicates and what it can do better.
- Who has single-handedly made your industry/sector better?
In terms of communication experts in our industry, Justin Urquhart Stewart from 7IM does a very good job and Martin Lewis is a great educator.
- If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice what would it be?
Save more money earlier and let compound interest do its thing.
- What would you do if you were head of the FCA for the day?
I’d investigate the labelling of investment content. Why do consumers always tend to get the most complex material?
- What is the one column or website that you read every day?
Martin Samuel, the Daily Mail chief sports correspondent, and I also love the Socially Distant Sports Bar podcast. It’s basically three Welsh blokes talking about sport and life and it’s very funny.
- What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
I’d invest it for my kids.