You're all set for that TV news interview. You've prepped, you're pumped and you've told your friends to tune in. Then you get the dreaded call from compliance. The interview is off, they say. Your firm won't let you talk to the press.
The compliance people are afraid that you might say something self-serving, exaggerated or misleading, which could break NASD and, possibly, state rules. What's more, they're concerned you might accidentally reveal a secret or utter a thought that puts the firm in a bad light or upstages a research analyst.
Too bad, because today's news producers are always on the lookout for quotable financial advisors, especially as this bear market generates so much news. So how do you avoid the compliance problem? Here are a few tips:
Preclear everything, and always ask for more than you want. If your compliance officer is known as “Dr. No,” and has a reputation for rigidity, ask for more than you want so you can negotiate. And keep your requests somewhat general. If a producer or reporter wants your comments on California's new 529 savings plans, tell compliance the focus, but in a less specific way — new college savings plans vs. educational IRAs. The latter sounds less fraught with danger than talking about the details of one 529 program.
Explain the benefits. Tell your compliance and marketing departments how your appearance as an expert on TV or in a newspaper story will benefit them. It may turn out that they'll be receptive. Plus you'll get enough heads-up on the gray areas in the NASD or SEC rules so you can set some concrete boundaries with the interviewer.
Stick with the facts and stay away from competitive, product-related topics. While compliance may never let you opine on interest rates, earnings or the state of the economy, you might be able to whip up a prepared script or outline specific, undisputable facts. For instance, mutual fund inflows, consumer sentiment figures, GDP in the latest quarter, all are known facts and not subject to interpretation. Keep your comments educational and avoid talking about sales and products.
Simple is always better. Avoid confusing jargon. You don't want to baffle viewers or readers with complicated answers. That's not only bad for your image, but according to independent compliance professionals, it could result in liability or sanctions. When you're forced to make an unrehearsed comment, stick with the simple and basic.
View a personal PR program as public service, not self-promotion. Don't have a hidden agenda. Most reps who have earned media credibility don't flak their own products and services. Rather, they host free seminars, teach adult education classes or write columns as an educator. By wearing the hat of an instructor, you don't overtly promote your own self-interest.
Above all, not every firm will allow you the opportunity to run with a personal PR program — at least not one involving the media. Your firm has its own brand integrity to protect. Publicity itself is not advertising. It's legitimate third-party endorsement, usually unpaid for and, as an example, featured by your local paper.
“It's still a gray area, though,” says Richard Cortese, vice president with National Regulatory Service, an independent compliance consulting firm based in Lakeville, Conn. “It's not really governed, but it definitely falls under the public communications rules. As a rep, it can be a very helpful tool if you do it the right way.”
Daryl T. Logullo is the founder of Strategic Impact!, a Boca Raton, Fla., marketing firm.