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Geoffrey Underwood, VP Director of Brand Marketing, Eaton Vance


Bob Verrico, Co-Founder, Executive Chairman, InvestingChannel

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Patrick Kelly, Senior Vice President, Havas Media Group

What Now, Financial Marketing?

An In-Depth Expert Conversation on Whether to Market, What to Market & How to Market

During This Unusual Time in Financial Services

Gramercy Institute fielded a study at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, called “Crisis Response 2020: Understanding Financial Marketing in Uncertain Times.” The results of the study are eye-opening to say the least.  


The team at InvestingChannel raised its hand to help Gramercy Institute put some of these findings into context and there is no better way to put research into relevant context than to talk about it with industry insiders who have intimidate understanding of some of these findings. This is the first interview in a series of five that InvestingChannel is bringing to the industry with Gramercy Institute.


Gramercy Institute invited the following leaders together to discuss an essential group of questions that is on the mind of every financial marketer, agency, media company and service provider—right now.  The question is: Are financial brands still marketing in light of this current crisis—and why (or why not)? Further, Gramercy Institute asked these experts how they are engaging media TODAY to get their important work of connecting value to the financial customers and businesses that need them—now more than ever.


Gramercy Institute invited three together to comment on the overarching question of how financial services marketers are marketing—right now!


  • Geoffrey Underwood, VP Director of Brand Marketing, Eaton Vance

  • Bob Verrico, Founder & Executive Chairman, InvestingChannel

  • Patrick Kelly, Senior Vice President, Havas Media Group 


WREAKS: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us for this interview, we have a lot of ground to cover and I look forward to an engaging conversation. Let’s get to it. 


Gentlemen, in  a study survey completed a only a few days ago by the Gramercy Institute, it is apparent that, despite this financial crisis,  financial brands are still marketing. Consider these findings:


  • Not one (of 134 respondents from 80 leading financial firms) plans to “go dark.”

  • 72.34% of total survey respondents said they are planning to “refocus strategies and budgets” at this time.

  • 80% of B-to-I marketers are planning to “refocus strategies and budgets” to move forward. 


I will point out, that I have seen some (not exclusive to financial, mind you) ad spending projections predicting that media spending will be slowing considerably across the board in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Still, Gramercy Institute’s research (exclusively financial) tells us that financial marketers are NOT going dark.  To the contrary, they are “refocusing strategies and budgets” and moving forward in their marketing.  


WREAKS: Geoffrey, let’s start with you. Are financial firms still marketing? Does it make sense to you, strategically that financial firms are still marketing—why?  


UNDERWOOD: Now is not the time for financial services marketers to go dark.  Instead, this is an opportunity for marketing teams to step-up and play a necessary role providing value to financial intermediaries and investors. Marketing teams should quickly refocus efforts to address this changed environment.

WREAKS: Patrick, how about you? What’s your take. Should financial marketers be marketing now?


KELLY: Strategically, not going dark and refocusing is a must. However, this doesn’t mean that financial marketers should be spending at Bull Market levels. I think we will see those in the financial space pull back slightly for 6-8 weeks but that is quite different from going dark.

WREAKS: OK, I hear you. But, tell me why.


KELLY: Well, financial marketers, like others, still need to manage profitability, get messaging right, and have a keen eye on what tactic(s) could be paused due to a weaker ROI or macro factors at play–like Live Sports not being an option to buy in. With that being said, people are consuming more media than ever and that comes with opportunity and frankly the obligation to deliver far more meaningful advertising experiences, something we champion at Havas. 


An Expert Virtual Panel Discussion

Gramercy Institute has been moderating about a 90 different financial marketing panel discussions each year for the past 18 years. For obvious reasons, a live-action, in-person panel discussion is not in the stars for our industry now or in the weeks ahead. Still, it doesn’t mean that the brightest minds in the industry cannot step forward to share their thinking in a virtual format for the intellectual benefit of our entire industry. So, here you have it.


It should be noted that, when asked about this idea, our good friends at InvestingChannel immediately stepped to the plate to underwrite this series of five virtual expert panel discussions over the course of the next five or six weeks. Each will have a different theme and the series will feature a wide range of experts in our field. This is the first of five. We extend our deepest gratitude to InvestingChannel for making this valuable series possible.


Gramercy Institute welcomes your feedback as well as your suggestions for future topics.




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WREAKS: I note your use of the word “obligation,” Patrick. I think that this is one of the aspects that makes financial marketing different during times of crisis. Bob, What’s your take? 


VERRICO: This absolutely makes sense to me, especially in financial, both professional and retail investors are looking for guidance and insights.  


WREAKS: Yes. This speaks to Patrick’s point about an “obligation to market” that we hold in financial.


VERRICO: Exactly. And I want to underscore too that maintaining a brand position and providing content, expert advice and even relevant products is not only prudent, but I’d even say expected by the investor communities. Can you imagine if healthcare companies stopped messaging and providing products to consumers and healthcare professionals?


WREAKS: Bob, tell me more about “right messaging.” What exactly might this mean right now?

VERRICO: Bill, as we’ve discussed at Gramercy events over years, having the right messaging out there is important. And it is more important now than ever. Our mission is that we provide people with a sense of calm and stability and rational—as opposed to emotional—thinking and decisioning.   

WREAKS: Patrick, both you and Geoffrey mentioned the idea of “refocusing.”  Can you give me an example or two of how you might refocus your marketing decisions?

KELLY: Yes, we have the ability to understand, in real time, which channels specific audiences are prioritizing and which programming/networks are most meaningful to them. With spikes in Streaming Video and Streaming Audio we should see more dollars move into those channels. Potentially a tipping point for both of those channels which is exciting– it is important for all of us to see silver linings during these times.


WREAKS: So, to consolidate our thinking, it seems like we are all in agreement that it makes strategic sense that financial firms “keep on marketing” through this crisis, yes? Further, I think we’re all in agreement that “keep on marketing” is not the same as “continuing as planned,” right? Geoffrey, how should financial brands be marketing differently than they were a few weeks ago?  How might you describe the difference?


UNDERWOOD: Let’s be clear. This COVID-19 crisis has reshaped the 2020 marketing playbook.  All the beautifully-designed insight pieces and “Outlook 2020” video content needs to be thrown out.  The markets and investing environment has been transformed beyond anything that we could have anticipated just a few months ago.   And we are right in the middle of it.   So, marketers need to be proactive and flexible  – replacing all the outdated market insights and commentary into new week by week communications to explain how our experts are responding to the changing markets.  

WREAKS: Bob, do you agree with Geoffrey?  


VERRICO: Yes, I do. This is a new game, with new rules. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that we won’t see financial marketers using some of the same proven strategies. But the messaging, to Geoff’s point, has got to change. You don’t want to be perceived as “tone-deaf” during a very delicate time in which investors are confused and frightened. I have seen our financial community step-up messaging over the years to be more relevant and thoughtful. I think messaging right now has to be appropriate to the situation. We have to employ a balance to product promotion and help, guidance and education. 


WREAKS: Patrick, Bob brought-up the term “tone-deaf.” So, there’s a risk, then, in marketing as if nothing ever happened, right?


KELLY: Absolutely. Those appearing tone-deaf could alienate not only their current customers but those they want to attract. We will see more financial marketers talking about “handling volatility” in a way that is measured, and more importantly, human. Moving forward, marketing messages are going to be less about gains and rates and more about stabilizing and straight forward advice. 

WREAKS: Are there examples that come to mind of tactics that might work particularly well today?


KELLY: Yes, content and whitepaper promotion programs, as well as podcast investments could see a substantial increase in marketing spend as a result of this crisis. Whitepapers and podcasts are both smart avenues to explain a complex situation and drive meaningful connections with audiences. Additionally, especially for financial brands, it’s critical to think about how they are communicating broadly, but also directly with customers. This is a time of uncertainty, and extremely high stakes, so brand messaging—and who it is designed for really matters.


WREAKS: So what I am hearing from you three is that it is critically important that we keep on marketing in financial. At the same time, what I am hearing is that some of the strategies that worked in the past might be perfect as we move forward through this crisis. At the same time, better strategies are rising to the top to connect with audiences now. Further, what I am hearing is that messaging has got to change as we move forward to be more sensitive, more explanatory, more connective than just a few weeks ago. Do I have this right?


UNDERWOOD: Yes, I’d agree with that summation. But what you need to understand is that marketing teams need to be willing to totally scrap their original plans. We are in a new world.


WREAKS: OK, so tell me, guys. Is this “keep on marketing” response from financial marketers different from financial crises in the past? How?


VERRICO: Yes. I believe so. This is different. In 2008, for example, we saw brands either go mostly (or totally) dark. Many others scaled back dramatically. The circumstances in 2008 were very different. There was also a villain—the big banks—to blame. It was very different in 2008 as trust in financial institutions was pulled into play. Rightly so.  Today, this financial crisis is very different (and actually opposite) in many ways. Financial firms are not to blame, here. They are victims as well. This said, credibility of financial firms is not under the microscope today. To the contrary, investors are looking at (and up to) financial services most trusted sources (financial brands) to provide guidance. Today, financial firms must take a leading role—out in front.


WREAKS: Patrick, what do you think? Is this crisis different from one’s we’ve seen in the past?


KELLY: Yes. The response is different because this period of volatility is different. I agree with Bob.  When we think of 2008 there was a great deal of negative consumer sentiment towards the financial services industry. Going dark, or nearly dark, gave marketers time to try to lessen negative sentiment and recoup dollars that may have been needed elsewhere in the firms. This period of volatility, from what we have seen, is far less of a “blaming” environment. Today, it appears to be more of a time for marketers to say that “we are all in this together.” That could not have been said in 2008. Coming out of the 2008 crisis financial marketers needed to shift to where they were perceived as “smaller and local and approachable.” 


WREAKS: Geoffrey, what advice can you share with us to exemplify what marketing teams can do to move the needle under today’s circumstances.


UNDERWOOD: Unlike previous crises, financial services sales teams are working from home right now and personal interactions with clients are very limited. The typical April calendar of branch meetings, industry conferences and one-on-one consultation is completely on hold. All those planned expenses should be reallocated. Marketing can play a big role by reinvesting in content—expanding what’s available for Sales teams and financial advisors to share. Audio blasts, on-demand conference calls, skim-able blog content, infographics – all can be used to expand digital relationships in partnership with sales.


WREAKS: Bob, do you agree with Geoffrey’s points? What else do you feel that financial marketers can do today to succeed, given the times we are in?


VERRICO: Yes. Geoff is spot on. This is the time for marketing and sales to come together, share resources and—together—do what they can to connect in a relevant way with their customers.  


What else can marketers do today? I have a few ideas. My first is about messaging. I don’t know about you, but it seems that I get at least a hundred emails a day, these days,  with the term “Covid-19” in the subject line. Its overkill. We get it! Now is the time for marketers to capitalize on helping clients with solutions—not on the pain we are all experiencing right now. I suggest that financial marketers focus their communications on solutions.


This leads to my second point. I’m a publisher. I’ve had relationships with some clients that are measured not in years—but in decades.  Now is the time for financial marketers and agencies to reach out to publishing partners for advice on exactly what audiences are looking for today. Our traffic at InvestingChannel is through the roof! And you know what? Our audiences are not looking for the same financial services that they were a few weeks ago. This said, just like Geoff pointed out that marketing and sales needs to come together, I am saying that marketing needs to come together with their trusted partners—the publishers. Reach out. Ask for their perspective. Publishers are on the front lines, face-to-face (OK, six-feet away) with audiences. See what they can share with you.


WREAKS: Patrick, how would you respond to this? What can financial marketers do today to make the best out of 2020?


KELLY: Now, marketers need to message that a large—yet still human–organization is the one that offers stability and clear direction in uncertain times–it is a sign of strength play really. Therefore, in order to show that strength and stability a FinServ marketer needs to “keep on marketing.” However, that marketing must be done in a meaningful way. What I mean by that is, even before COVID or the impending recession, it’s been getting harder and harder to make a meaningful difference. From ad blocking, to subscription models to what is now a never ending news cycle competing for attention brands that want to succeed have to get serious about understanding what matters to consumers.  


WREAKS: I have heard your colleagues at Havas mention “Meaningful Media” in the past.  What is this concept and how might it tie into this conversation?


KELLY: Yes. At Havas we call this “Meaningful Media.” Basically it amounts to seeking out and finding the most trusted, influential and engaging places and spaces where consumers spend their attention. Therefore, I would say that, as an industry, we need to shift from “keep on marketing” to “start meaningfully marketing” – the time is clearly now.


WREAKS: Gentlemen, thank you. This has been an enlightening and informative interview for me, and I am sure for our Gramercy Institute’s global community. While your substance underscore several of the key data points GI’s new “Crisis Response 2020” study, you three have brought these data points to life. This is a pivotal and critical inflection point for our industry and I thank you three for helping us all understand it remarkably better as we all travel forward through this crisis.

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