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January 2020 Outlier Briefing: WMA’s Scott Mills on what’s working in fintech and financial services PR

  • Scott's PR firm, William Mills, has been working with fintech firms for over 40 years.
  • He shares with us his insights into what's working in PR for today's fintech market.

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January 2020 Outlier Briefing: WMA’s Scott Mills on what’s working in fintech and financial services PR

Scott Mills of the William Mills Agency briefed Tearsheet Outlier members on what's working in fintech PR to attract good press and some insight on industry best practices.

Specifically, attendees to this briefing learned about

  • fintech and financial services PR and how it has evolved
  • the accelerator landscape and how early stage accelerator graduates can stand out
  • influencer marketing in complex B2B fintech
  • How financial innovation will be based more human creativity than APIs or what you do with your core systems.
  • Ethical considerations when engaging in PR and with PR firms

Listen to the full recording

How early should fintechs start working on PR?

From our perspective, we adore early stage companies because they're exciting, you have access to decision makers, and they're likely doing something different from what's out there.

To work with a PR firm, the company should be decently funded. Size doesn't scare us here, but, ideally, a startup should have commitment to a PR program for at least six months.

For a startup, you need to come out of the gate strong. That means the stories have to be down prior to launch, you have to have a plan and know who's responsible for execution (like subject matter experts), and oftentimes, industry events are often wonderful coming out parties. So, working on PR should happen early enough to be done well. You can only become new once.

Have early stage fintech's firms needs changed from a PR perspective?

Go back in time long enough and you'll remember the days where burn rates didn't matter to startups. They were throwing money around like drunken sailors.

Now, for a lot of startups, expectations are out of synch with how difficult it is to get traction selling to the different audiences they're targeting. That's my personal observation -- there isn't an appreciation for how hard or long the sales cycle is in finance.

Some founders think that all they need to do is present and the banks they're selling to will love them -- they won't be able to wait to sign an agreement. Our free Bankers as Buyers Report that we publish yearly does a good job capturing the bank perspective in technology purchase decisioning. It's worth reading.

Bank accelerators, startups and PR

For large banks, many of the leading banks have startup engagement programs that are virtual. Now, if you're Wells Fargo, you're thinking about your customers and your firm -- you're not really thinking about the industry. That's fine and you would expect that out of a large, prominent bank.

Some of these programs come with investment but more importantly, they give you access to people within the organizations. I'm continuously surprised about how little fintech success has to do with technology -- it's more about how two people or organizations connect. If there's a revolution of fintech, it will come around in how we connect, network, and appreciate one another's needs.

There are innovation centers funded by local and state government, like Little Rock or the State of Georgia. There are centers run by banks, industry associations, and private individuals. Startups should look into the level of support they should expect of the host organization when it comes to promoting them.

Take ICBA's accelerator, ThinkTech, for example. It's a banking association that primarily serves community financial institutions. They are very proud that they're bridging the gap between fintechs and smaller financial institutions. They typically graduate around 10 companies. ICBA features these companies in their publications but they also put them on stage at their annual event in March in Orlando. These activities de-risk fintechs for investment but also help the fintechs understand the community banking community.

Influencer marketing

Very few people in B2B financial technology are thinking about influencer marketing. Unlike in consumer, influencers in financial services can't be bought. Firms, like Accenture, or if you're a small firm, Cornerstone or SRM, are consultants that come in and advise on technology strategy, systems selection, reducing costs and improving efficiencies. These guys can't be bought.

There are really great attorneys and accounting firms who are trusted advisors to banks, too. Wipfli, out of Wisconsin, has a thousand banks and credit unions as clients. These are the kinds of influencers we're trying to reach. It would be great if I could give them a check to talk about my clients, but they don't do that.

What makes it really hard is that you have to know who these people are and you have to make an effort to build a relationship. That might include saying, "I'd like to tell you what we're doing in this area, so you're better informed when you're talking about things like fraud in new account opening."

It's messy. It's time consuming and hard to track these people down. Consequently, most firms in our space don't spend adequate time doing influencer marketing activities.

Education vs marketing

Education is really the key to reaching out and getting people to see your point of view. But many times we're too focused on metrics. There's old school persuasion --- making sure people know what you're doing and why it's important. This requires meeting people in person.

We just released a financial event guide. You have to get out from behind your desk and be an evangelist for your solution. You don't need a booth -- you have to make connections, equally listening to what the other person is saying and what their needs are.

We view journalists, associations, and event planners as clients -- that's how I would encourage people trying to get press to approach it. You benefit from long term relationships from connecting to people.

The importance of case studies

I don't believe there's anything more important than publishing case studies. But they're hard, they take time, and at the last minute, banks can request to opt out. Bankers buy what bankers buy, so it's important to tell these stories.

You can have a paragraph in your agreements with whomever you're selling to and oftentimes, it will get struck. Oftentimes, you can treat it like a negotiation point -- we'll give you a discount but you have to agree to doing PR with us. That could be announcing the contract or the successful implementation. Or it could be a case study focused on the outcomes six months to a year after implementing it. I recommend starting conversations about case studies early in the process.

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