Listen to the podcast interview here

Interview with Annabel Brodie-Smith

The Financial Marketeer had the pleasure of speaking to Annabel Brodie-Smith recently. Annabel is the Communications Director at the Association of Investment Companies and has seen the industry change and adapt to challenges in her 23 years with the organisation.

The Association of Investment Companies (AIC)

The AIC is the trade body for investment companies, Annabel told me that one of its primary aims is to “[create] the best legal, regulatory and technical environment for investment companies.”

It does this in a number of ways, including lobbying to the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The AIC is an interesting organisation when it comes to communication strategy, not least due to the fact that it has a wide target audience including its lobbying audience, potential and existing investors, wealth managers, financial advisors, institutional investors and retail investors.

Understanding this audience is key to the organisation’s success, explains Annabel; “we have newsletters, we’re on social media, we’re talking to people within the industry and we have numerous forums within the AIC to make sure that we’re getting the views of a diverse range of people.”

Managing the communications workload

“There’s…only a team of four working on communications and advisor training. We do have a separate team of three who work on statistics and the website”, explains Annabel.

“We have an agency that helps on social media, we have a web agency and we have a design agency that helps us design information.

“We do an awful lot of writing ourselves…we want to make sure that what we’re putting out is up to date, accurate and topical”

Navigating the COVID-19 challenges

As with most sectors, the investments industry has had to respond to new challenges in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. One such area that it has had to adapt is in how to run events.

“We would normally be running journalist roundtable events where fund managers would come to our office and we would have between ten and twenty journalists attend.”

Annabel and her team have since had to adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’ by hosting webinars. “We’re really pleased with the level of demand we’re getting for those events, we’re getting perhaps 200 people signing up to listen to those webinars and if you hold a physical event, you’re just not going to reach that number of people.

“I think we will continue to do a combination of online and offline when it comes to events and communication. I do think this situation has sped up online communication.”

Lobbying success for AGMs

In addition to moving events online, the AIC has also had success in lobbying the government to implement changes in how organisations are permitted to hold annual general meetings (AGMs).

“We’re very pleased that the government has taken on board our lobbying on [AGMs]…companies, instead of having to have a physical event, they can have a webinar and the government is changing regulation to let that happen.”

Most website traffic ever

The AIC has also experienced an uplift in traffic visiting its website throughout the first half of this year. “This year we’ve had the most traffic on our website ever and I do think the turmoil in markets has made investors look at their portfolios of investment companies and how they’re doing but it’s also created some opportunities for people to invest.”

It’s further evidence that in the face of uncertain times, investors look to the organisations with clear guidance and information in order to know how to respond.

Measuring success

I also asked Annabel about how the AIC measures the impact of the many communication channels it makes use of, including how the organisation assesses the impact of its media coverage.

“We used to have a specific evaluation agency who evaluated all of our media coverage, but we found we were paying quite a lot of money for that and perhaps not learning that much.

“What we do now is participate in the MORI annual survey of personal finance journalists…they ask these journalists quite probing questions about the organisations and you get back a very in-depth report with a lot of verbatim comment about you and your association and we find that a really helpful way to evaluate the PR.”

In addition to getting a handle on how the media views the organisation, Annabel also feels that social media channels are a potentially untapped source of further conversations with investors and the industry.

“What we haven’t done yet…is [identify] where there’s an argument or a debate going on [on social media] that we should perhaps be aware of or involved with and I think that’s probably the next thing for us.”

Career at the AIC

Annabel has been with the AIC for 23 years and in that time she has been able to see the industry change and adapt. Among these changes has been the introduction of various new channels. “I think it’s a matter of constantly evaluating whether you should be on that channel of communication.

“You’ve got to keep a really open mind and learn as much as possible about new channels and ways of doing things.”

To round off the interview and tap into Annabel’s unique perspective provided by the experience of focussing on her role at the AIC, I asked her what key advice she would offer up to anyone embarking on a career in communications within the world of finance.

“You never know what’s around the corner, so be prepared for things potentially to go wrong because if you can handle a tough situation well, then it’s going to be easy when things are going well.”

Annabel also provided a wonderful piece of advice to tackle the prevalence of over-analysis so many of us suffer from in our careers. “Sometimes you can spend a lot of time thinking about whether you should do something or not and actually sometimes you’re better off just trying it and getting on with it.”

Excellent advice for anyone at any stage of their career in marketing!