As a journalist, statistics showing that PRs now vastly outnumber my peers never fail to catch my eye. It’s no surprise that as one industry swells and the other contracts, public relations is viewed as an inevitable next step by many editors and reporters.
But for those of us writing about asset management, that’s started to change. The opportunity for career progression now lies not in PR, but in ‘investment writing’: fashioning portfolio managers’ views into digestible chunks. That’s because fund firms have begun ramping up the amount of material they deliver directly to advisers, fund selectors and other clients.
Some of the assumptions behind this escalation are flawed. I’ve previously written that asset managers should do more to outline a manager’s thinking to their investors – particularly when that thinking changes – and I stand by that. This is more than portfolio changes or strategy shifts, though: it’s ‘thought leadership’ en masse.
Contrary to what that phrase implies, much of this material will be interesting, and indeed useful. But from a client’s perspective it’s tainted by two problems: one is trust, and the other is that less is more. In an environment where we are already bombarded by information, how many people will actually read this work? The answer, I’d suggest, is not very many at all.
Getting ‘clicks’ has long been viewed as a sign of journalism’s deterioration, in part because it has been judged to entail a dumbing down of content – or of headlines, at least.
That does not need to be the case. Either way, those who first embarked upon this route didn’t do so to placate advertisers. They did so because the competing demands for our attention can make it difficult for stories to stand out. All the more so when you have no claim to be independent. The articles that do tend to flourish are the ones which providers can’t, well, provide: those that tell a hidden story, reveal bad behaviour, or compare and contrast providers themselves.
Journalism’s approval ratings may be in decline, but it is the ability to produce these kind of stories that emphasises why readers value what we do. That’s why Investment Adviser has always taken pains to ensure we are writing for those readers, not simply producing marketing material for providers.
True, investment writing can provide a specialised insight that some journalism cannot. Even if you are sceptical of the benefits of active management, there’s no denying that plenty of fund managers are perceptive and thought-provoking on their respective areas of focus.
Unfortunately for providers, it’s exactly these topics that arouse the most suspicion. Advisers and fund buyers have seen too many product pushes to make them accept anything coming straight from a provider at face value, and rightly so. In the absence of independence, I’d bet much of this material will simply be more white noise rather than music to intermediaries’ ears.