During my tenure as chief executive at Investment Quorum, we worked hard to stay at the forefront of clients' minds.
It largely fell to me to do the bits and pieces around client engagement and to draw up a strategy and see it through.
The first thing we had to work out, within the constraints of our relatively modest budget, was how to make sure there was a quantifiable return on the time and money spent within a reasonable timescale. Measurement and metrics became the yardstick by which I had to track my efforts and report to the board.
The plan effectively boiled down how we were going to engage via the different channels available: written word, online, video, podcast, events, publications and social media.
From writing to podcasts
Starting with the writing aspect first, we deliberately had our website redesigned to showcase new content on the homepage. We then had to make sure this was regularly updated, and chose to support this with a news page full of timely, contextual or thought-provoking commentary.
Much of this was written by me and I quickly realised what a tough gig it is to keep a website up to date. As a result, we also engaged freelance journalists to write articles and provoke thought and action from clients and potential clients.
We backed this up with online interactive brochures and regular tax and financial planning bulletins.
I had to convince our reluctant chief investment officer that he should be writing weekly on markets and issues of interest. While initially wary of the limelight, he soon turned to this with aplomb.
His commitment to fitting in writing alongside his other duties was commendable. Clients came to value his output, to the extent that when he went on holiday we'd get the odd comment about where the article was this week.
The only sticking point we had on this was his commentary tended to focus on what had just happened (and therefore already in the public domain) as opposed to things to look out for in the week ahead. We eventually found a compromise and a way of working that suited us both.
As a team we produced short videos explaining key concepts of the way we did things and how we did them. These covered a range of topics including financial planning, wealth management, pension issues and investment risk.
We also made a series of podcasts which covered similar topics but in a slightly softer, longer form way.
Events, and the question of social media
We held regular client events, both formal and informal. These included quarterly breakfast invitations to small groups of clients held in private dining rooms of private clubs and restaurants, as well as larger annual events like our Spring Conferences which were held in places like the private area of the Oxo Tower, The Royal Society of Arts and Commerce and The Royal Exchange.
At all of these events, we'd have someone from our team speak plus high profile speakers such as Chris Watling of Longview Economics and former BBC economics editor and JP Morgan chief market strategist Stephanie Flanders.
We also made sure that if we were taking a table at an industry awards dinner we would select a key client or key introducer to attend the dinner with us.
The other thing I did was to invest a lot of time to understand and use social media. In many ways it is a pain, and in itself doesn’t do a lot, but what social media is good for is as an incredibly useful amplifier.
Being able to promote events, award wins, videos and the like via social media does bring an increase in traffic and engagement. Not only does it generates discussion, there was the added bonus that the freelance journalists we worked with tended to promote their articles for us, further increasing our reach.
Some lessons and thoughts
I believe it all comes down to measurement. How much time is being taken on delivering your client engagement strategy, as well as how much money?
We all come at a cost. In the end we used a social media dashboard to schedule our posts (there are loads to choose from), and we also used that dashboard to measure the success of each piece of collateral for effectiveness.
All in all, in the years that we had our strategy working well it generated lots of enquiries. It seemed to work for clients too - we produced regular commentary, engaging video and other ad hoc commentary pieces and by doing so allowed them to pick and choose how they consumed it.
It's worth noting we could never fully engage all clients in this way, and many were more than happy just to stick to their regular review meetings. But the good thing about our approach to client engagement was it went beyond existing clients.
It helped us to attract new enquiries, but also to demonstrate to the wider financial planning community that we were a firm of quality, and that we had opinions to share on the important topics of the day.
The final point I would say here is that not everything works. Not every member of the team will commit the time needed to contribute, and you may find some people who, for whatever reason, are opposed to the planned activity.
Interestingly, team members will probably be keen to receive the new enquiries but may be less keen to put the effort in, particularly around setting aside time and writing.
With a modest budget it takes ingenuity and some creative thinking to deliver a good engagement strategy. It also involves having the strength to not just go along with everything on offer, and to stand up to team members where needed who only want to do things in line with their own preferences.
However, I can honestly say when we had it working well, and when we were using all the media and channels available to us, clients did appreciate it and engagement levels were very high. New enquiries were the final added bonus, and definitely helped to offset the costs.