Content, it is often said, isn’t just king. It’s the whole royal family.
The thing is, producing content that hits that ambrosial spot of being both timely and valuable can be an all-consuming task. Worse, in finding story angles that are unique and relevant, you’re competing against journalists and news teams whose time is spent doing nothing else.
And yet… investment and finance are among the most contentious and fast-moving sectors anywhere. They are also awash in that most precious of assets: data. With the right approach, that info can yield newsworthy nuggets that turn into the most compelling stories, infographics, videos and blog posts. Here, we look at 10 methods – time-honoured and otherwise – that can help unleash the creative beast within:
1) READ HARD
Although it should go without saying, we’ll say it anyway: reading is massively important not just for keeping abreast of the latest developments, but also for having your eyes opened to fresh perspectives on things you had perhaps taken for granted. So while you should keep on top of the day’s news, much of the real value – the stuff that sparks new angles or hints at missing information – may come via the investment stories in the Economist, somewhere in the features in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, or the op-ed section in the FT. (The comments in the FT online can be a goldmine of insight, too. The estimable MarkGB dotcom is a big draw in his own right.)
Some judiciously chosen blogs can also be a big help: the likes of Credit Market Daily, CFA Institute Financial Newsbrief and, of course, Bond Vigilantes, will all deliver insightful, elegantly written gems to your inbox that can all be a fertile source of great stories.
2) IT’S GOOD TO TALK
Fund managers and analysts know stuff. Lots of stuff. Given the huge array of companies, market conditions, geopolitical issues and everything else they’ve analysed, there can be few people anywhere with such an encyclopaedic knowledge of precisely the kinds of things your clients or journalists would want to read.
The problem, of course, is that the perception of what constitutes newsworthy can differ enormously between a fund manager and a reader. The former, for instance, may sometimes be too busy or plain reluctant to blog or speak to the press – but, conversely, may want immediate attention if they’re planning a product launch. A reader would very probably glaze over at talk of why yet another new fund offers attractive, risk-adjusted returns, but could be spellbound by why the government is still invested in bonds that funded the war effort against Napoleon, or what long-term trends in hotel occupancy can tell us about the changing nature of marriage.
Teasing out such stories requires an inquiring mind and as many chats with fund managers and analysts as you can muster. Schedule meetings or informal chats whenever you can. Use that precious time to talk about the bread and butter stuff, but also welcome the digressions.
3) GO BIG ON DATA
Outside of the tech world, no businesses can match the sheer, gargantuan, head-spinning volume of data that investment companies have. For all that, stories or blog posts emanating from the investment world will frequently follow a well-trodden path of pensions advice given the latest central-bank machinations, or longer-term prospects for this or that asset class.
So how to approach data mining for stories or blog posts?
As with point 2, a crucial starting point is brainstorming with people in the know. Focused as they rightly are on maximising investor returns, analysts and fund managers may completely miss fascinating but less obviously engaging nuggets of information sitting under their noses.
Data-driven stories can take many forms, but what can really grip an audience is such stories’ ability to provide a completely fresh perspective (by, for instance, highlighting trends and correlations that no one had considered before) or to provide data that assertively challenges the reader’s assumptions.
As an example, consider The Economist, which is a past master at citing or mining data to reach conclusions that go against the grain. In one example from 2014, the magazine flat out contradicted the notion that young people were “alienated, unhappy violent failures”, by showing that, on many measures, today’s youth are better behaved, and more abstemious and well-adjusted than ever before:
Stories do not need to address such weighty concerns to be fascinating to a given audience. In the marketing world, there is a persistent, well-established belief that blog posts must be short in order to have an impact online. Though “impact” can be measured in different ways, if post shares are your aim, that belief, according to analysis of 100 million articles by marketing site OKDork, is plain wrong – indeed, the most shared posts have a word count of between 3,000 and 5,000 words:
In many cases, the data will already be there – it’ll just require some legwork and a dash of inspiration to shape it into something new. Investment companies also have the huge resource of enquiries and complaints pouring in to their call centres. Why not mine through all this data to discover what your end clients really want to know?
4) CRITIQUE YOUR CONTENT
Given all the time and resources poured into creating top-quality content, the amount of care it frequently receives after its initial outing in a blog, newsletter, white paper or whatever, can be little short of negligible. This is a travesty for at least two reasons:
– Perfectly good content that can be repurposed or reused elsewhere vanishes into the ether.
– The huge insights that can be gained from previous content, both successful and otherwise, are lost.
Key among these insights is what has and hasn’t worked and on what channel. A good way of keeping track of this is to compile a content inventory, listing such things as when the content was published and where, who created it, and which keywords and format were used. Accompanying that, a content audit provides for more of a qualitative analysis, allowing you to assess what has worked and, ideally, why. While numerous detailed descriptions of how to conduct content audits are available, typical metrics could include unique page views, shares and conversions.
Poring over such data can provide a fount of inspiration for revisiting sectors and ideas, and repackaging old content with topical new angles.
Written a popular post on the rise of financial technology? Why not go back and consider whether (and why) such technology has so far failed to live up to its lofty expectations? Or if, during a previous bout of instability, one of your infographics on safe-haven assets generated interest, how about an in-depth look at the economics of gold and why people continue to place so much faith in a shiny yellow metal?
5) GO TO EVENTS
Desk-based research is all very well – and, indeed, essential – but for sudden bursts of unexpected inspiration, mingling and hearing high quality presentations can be hard to beat. Take investor breakfasts. While it would be easy to dismiss these as giant PR exercises, the truth is that people at such events – pension trustees or financial intermediaries – will frequently have a much keener grasp of what issues are currently exercising end-investors. Plus, at many such events, fund managers are willing to give far franker expressions of their thoughts than might otherwise survive the scrutiny of PR or compliance departments. This is not to say that you should go in search of muckraking or “gotcha” stories – just that the perspectives on offer at such events can be far fresher and more diverse than you’d expect.
Nor do relevant, thought-provoking events necessarily require sizeable outlays on tickets for lavish corporate events. Just a quick look at the Meetup app reveals a host of cheap or free events about fintech, finance, investment and more.
6) COMPILE AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR
While newsjacking can be a powerful method of generating topical content, it is rather more perilous in a compliance-heavy industry like finance. So to ensure that your content takes full advantage of the news cycle, few things are more helpful than a calendar that will allow you to create timely, insightful and quirky stories in plenty of time for the year’s key – planned – economic and financial events.
This can be as obvious as a Christmas quiz or a Budget-related infographic, or as leftfield as a blog, to coincide with the new series of Game of Thrones, as to why GoT is, in fact, nothing like investment writing at all. By being well aware of key dates in the investment calendar, marketers can devise content that is at once original, topical and highly inventive.
7) WHAT’S TRENDING?
Problem: you have a series of topics you want to address – say, student loans, mortgages and whether to invest in commodities – but when would be best to do so? That’s where the hugely useful Google Trends comes in. By entering your search term, you can see when searches for a given term peak. For instance, over the last five years, searches for “student loans” consistently show surges in interest in late-December/early-January, and in mid-August:
You can also pick up other intriguing insights while you’re there, such as the fact that Puerto Rico has shown the third-highest level of interest in the search term “student loans” over the same period:
Combined with a well-prepared editorial calendar, insights from Google Trends can provide both the ideal time and the ideal hook on which to build your own stories.
8) BE SOCIAL
It’s no great insight to reveal that social media can be an invaluable source for discovering what the public, or investment houses, or intermediaries, or journalists or anyone else is talking about. Whatever the medium, there is inevitably a lot of dreck to wade through in order to find the valuable data. But here are a few techniques you can consider when searching for topical or fresh perspectives for a new story.
– Trending Topics: Twitter (and now Facebook) famously provides constantly changing information on the hottest topics on the platform at any given time. Frequently, those topics will have little to do with finance or investment. When they do, however, and terms such as #BoE, #Yellen or #Budget2016 are trending, the conversations going on around them can provide inspiration on everything from high-brow cogitations to the most scurrilous or wacky of ideas.
– Lists: rather than having to painstakingly trudge through your Twitter feed, lists can instantly take you to Tweets from respected voices in your field. In many cases, journalists, in particular, may be reeling off thoughts and ideas that they have no time (or inclination) to focus on in more detail. There are plenty such lists, but as a starter, consider those for FT journalists or the Wall Street Journal’s recommended list of financial Twitter accounts.
9) GO TO THE SOURCE
If you want to produce stories that are as meaty and relevant as news-site scoops, why not take a leaf from the pros’ book and go straight to the source? After all, by the time stories get to newspapers and magazines, they’ve already, by definition, been unearthed.
So, for example, if you want to write something on emerging markets, try the research and press release pages on the World Bank or United Nations websites. If you’re ready to dig a little deeper, try trade associations, and remember that most countries have a department of trade and industry, or equivalent, with press releases that are generally available in English. Many such sites and services will have emailing lists you can sign up to as well, ensuring you can keep on top of new stories as they emerge.
10) BE INSPIRED
If, on a particular occasion, none of these avenues is quite working, you could just be trying a little too hard. At such times, the answer may very well be to relax, unplug from the devices, clear your mind and wait for the Eureka moment to arrive. At the very worst, you should feel a darned sight more relaxed than you did before you started agonising over content ideas!
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