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Skip Navigation LinksOneFPA > Journal > 10 Questions: David Meerman Scott on Breaking Marketing Rules, Newsjacking, and Authentic Storytelling

by Carly Schulaka

Who: David Meerman Scott
What: Author, speaker, marketing and sales strategist
What’s on his mind: “Great communication is not about delivering product or service information. Great communication is about storytelling.”

If you think a bond trader wouldn’t know much about marketing, think again. Marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott’s first job out of college was on a bond trading desk where he learned to think, react, and take action in real time.

Later in his career, Scott headed the marketing efforts at a major online news distributor. Armed with a multi-million dollar marketing budget, he felt the traditional methods of buying expensive print ads and marketing collateral were not generating the results he was looking for.

Going against the advice of PR agencies at the time that said news releases were only for journalists and to never put valuable information where competitors could steal it, Scott began sending dozens of news releases and creating information-rich web content free to all. He not only ignored widely accepted marketing rules, he flat out broke them, spending a fraction of that huge marketing budget to actually get results.

Today, Scott combines his rule-breaking ideas with real-time tools and strategies to influence people and build business. He’s authored or co-authored 10 books, including the popular title The New Rules of Marketing and PR, now in its fourth edition.

Scott will share his marketing strategies with attendees of FPA’s Annual Conference—BE Boston 2015 in September, where he’ll deliver a keynote session on how to generate attention to build businesses in today’s always-on, web-driven world in minutes, rather than months.

The Journal recently spoke with Scott about some of his favorite no-cost marketing ideas, how to engage with clients in real time without it feeling overwhelming, and what he hopes FPA Annual Conference attendees will take away from his session.

1. What are some marketing “rules” you would advise financial planners to break?

What I’ve found is, the ways people buy products and services have completed changed. However, the ways companies have been communicating with their marketplace and trying to sell products and services have stayed the same.

People spend a lot more time on the web than they used to. They can learn all kinds of information about what’s going on with the companies or the people they might want to do business with. And at the same time, lots of companies and people are not creating the content that’s going to generate attention.

The old rules that I see lots of organizations using are: they think they have to pay for access to potential customers; they think they have to advertise in magazines or on television or they have to send out direct mail. They also think they have to convince members of the media to write or broadcast about them.

I think those rules can be challenged, and I’ve challenged them now for more than 10 years, because the ways people are buying have changed. Now people go to Google, they do a search on financial planning or they ask their friends on Facebook or Twitter or some other social network, “Hey, I’m looking for a financial planner.” That’s really different; it requires that if [planners] want to get in front of those people, they have to be creating content.

And every single one of us has had experiences where we want to buy something, we go online and we do research. And 80 percent of the sale is done before we even make contact with the company that we’re going to do business with. In some cases, if the purchase can be made online, it’s 100 percent.

Think about the last time you decided you wanted to go on a vacation and you were looking for a hotel for a week at a ski resort or a nice island with a beach somewhere. You spent an hour or two researching the possibilities and then you narrowed it down to some hotels, then maybe you shared that information with your family. Bang, based on the content alone you’ve just booked $3,000 for a week in a hotel.

The exact same thing happens with financial planning. People are doing their research, they’re figuring it out, and they’re asking their friends and colleagues for planners they should check out. They’re going to websites and seeing what’s there. And to be honest, most of the time what’s there in the financial planning industry is not great.

2. What is “newsjacking” and are financial planners in a good position
to do it?

Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. As we know, the news cycle has gotten shorter. On the web you can see what’s happening on the news instantaneously. In fact, as we’re speaking, I’m looking at a live video of the SpaceX launch. You used to not be able to take advantage of live news because you had to wait for the next day’s newspaper or the next week’s magazine or tonight’s television news broadcast. Breaking news now is instantly available on your computer; it’s instantly available on the mobile device that sits in your pocket.

So newsjacking is when you have a legitimate take on what’s going on in the news and you create a piece of content on the web. That piece of content could be a video, it could be a Tweet, it could be a blog post that could be a LinkedIn update or a Facebook update.

Basically, you say, “I know something about this subject, and here’s what I know about it.

The reason you do that is, potentially the media will find that and they might quote you in one of their stories. Or a potential customer could run across that.

Let me give you a good example in a related industry. Mitch Jackson is a lawyer in Southern California and he is a great newsjacker. He looks at breaking news stories that have some kind of legal ramification and that have some kind of tie to California, because that’s where he’s based and that’s where he takes law clients.

So on a regular basis, a couple of times a month, he will write a blog post on the legal ramifications of a news story that’s going on in the media. And by doing that, he’s gotten himself on television news shows and quoted in major newspapers and magazines. And he’s had many people like me, like I’m doing right now, talk up the fact that he is very clever at talking about what’s going on in the news.

As a result of doing this kind of newsjacking, he’s been introduced to many new potential clients and has signed up some of those clients. Some of those clients have generated multimillion-dollar verdicts. And that’s a very different approach to getting yourself noticed in the media and noticed by potential customers than what lawyers traditionally do, which is either nothing or traditional forms of advertising—making sure they have a big listing in the print yellow pages or making sure they have a running advertisement in their daily newspaper.
Mitch is completely different. He doesn’t spend any money at all. He writes his blog posts and gets tons of notice as a result of doing that. Financial planners can do exactly the same thing.

3. What did your experience as a bond trader teach you about marketing?

My first job was on a Wall Street bond trading desk. I worked at Dean Witter and I had my series 7 and series 63 licenses. I learned about the financial markets, specifically about real-time price movements, real-time news, real-time action. That was fascinating, because as a bond trader, you can’t not focus on real time.

If there’s something happening in the news, it affects bond prices right this instant, right this second. And if you’re a good trader, you have to take advantage of that at that precise moment. That’s a really different approach from a traditional kind of retail broker who—at least at that time—didn’t need to focus so much on real time, because their clients would only know about the price of the stock from the next day’s newspaper.

This was in the mid-80s, before the web. The real-time information I had from companies like Reuters and Dow Jones cost my company $1,000 a month per trader. Now that same information is essentially free on your mobile device. The idea that you can have access to instant information is remarkable.

The other thing is that the world doesn’t wait for anyone. If somebody is looking for a financial planner right now, they’re looking for somebody right now; they don’t want to wait until tomorrow. They’re ready to go now. And if something’s happening in the marketplace, it’s happening right now. “I don’t know” is not a savvy answer. You have to know.

I’m really lucky and fortunate that my first job was on a bond desk, because the idea of learning about real-time, instant engagement before we had access to the Internet was a real gift.

4. You have delivered marketing and sales presentations in 41 countries on all seven continents. Have you found anything universal in those audiences, anything among business owners that transcends country, language, or culture?

Absolutely. What’s really interesting to me is that my best audience, my most passionate followers, are entrepreneurs and business owners because they’re people who can actually make use of the ideas and grow their business as a result. And that’s quite different than some people who work for big companies. If you work for a big company and you have a nice, safe, comfortable job, the last thing you want to do is mix it up and try new things. What you really want to do is safely keep your head underneath the radar, collect your paycheck, and move on. At least that’s in my experience what most people who work in big companies want to do.

Financial planners, no matter where they are in the world, they’re the same in that they control their own destiny. If they can attract more customers, they can make more money. If they can be the one who is more likely to get chosen among a number of different potential people for someone to work with, they’re the one who’s going to make more money.

5. Your book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time for a fraction of the cost of big-budget campaigns. Tell us more about that.

The unifying idea of The New Rules of Marketing and PR is that rather than spending money on advertising and rather than buying attention for your business, you earn attention for your business by creating online content, which is free to do, that the people you’re trying to attract will see, and that will help them make the decision to want to do business with you.

That means that you might want to create an informational site that has lots of information for people who are pondering the idea of working with a financial planner. That information could take the form of text-based information—you could write a bunch of things; it could be little research reports. The word “blog” is one I try to avoid, but you could use blog software to generate a weekly commentary on what’s going on in the marketplace or different ideas for financial planning.

6. What’s your favorite zero-cost marketing idea?

I’ll give you an example. My daughter is graduating from college next month. How about a little 1,000-word essay on what a new college graduate should be thinking about in terms of financial planning? And that’s not necessarily directed toward my daughter who’s 22, but maybe directed toward me, her father.

People will sometimes say to me, well David, I can’t do that because I don’t like to write. Well, that could also take the form of YouTube videos or videos that could be shown on other channels. I’m a fan of one called Vimeo. The video capability in an iPhone is good enough now that you don’t even need another piece of technology.
I just put my iPhone on a tripod in my office, I talk directly into the camera, and I have a YouTube video.

7. What are some other ways to create compelling video content?

I’m a big fan of video interviews. You could, on a regular basis, interview people related to your business. Perhaps you interview a real estate expert about what people need to know about investing in real estate. Perhaps you interview somebody at a car dealership talking about the benefits of buying versus leasing.

Anything like that, even if it’s not directly related to trying to sell your services, will serve as search engine fodder so that when people are searching on the web, they find you. Then, your website is more than just “I’m a financial planner, call me if you’re interested,” but it has lots of information that people can peruse before they even reach out to you.

8. You talk and write a lot about instant engagement. How can you engage in real time without it feeling like a huge time suck?

There are many manifestations of the idea of “real time” but let me give you just one example. There’s a Harvard Business School study that says that if you return a sales call within five minutes you’re seven times more likely to close that person as a customer. Yet, most businesses simply don’t call people back in any timely way. Or if a potential customer emails a business, most businesses simply don’t email people back in time.

I’m in the process of looking for a general contractor to help do a renovation for us. One guy I reached out to emailed me back within four minutes. Now, what do I instantly think about someone who emails me back in four minutes? This person wants my business. This person is someone I can trust to get back to me. This is somebody who is going to arrive at my house on time. This is someone who, if they agree to finish the project in four months, I can feel reasonably assured that they’re going to finish the project in four months. That’s all simply based on the fact that they got back to me with my initial query in just a few minutes.

However, a couple of the people I reached out to took three or four days to get back to me, and the response was something like, “I’m really interested in working with you. Do you have time to meet with me and discuss the project two weeks from now?” You know what? I didn’t even respond back. So that’s just one manifestation of real time, but it’s highly illustrative of the world we live in.

Now, if I were looking for a financial planner, I would go through the same process. If I reached out to a half dozen people—maybe some of them were recommended by friends, maybe some of them I found through a Google search, maybe some of them I found through social media—and I got responses from people that ranged from four minutes to five days, that would be a highly important criteria to whether I would want to work with someone. Because if I have a question for my financial planner, I don’t want them to wait a week to get back to me. And if they can’t get back to me as a sales prospect in a timely manner, how are they going to get back to me as a client in a timely manner?

9. The New Rules of Sales and Service is your latest book. One of those rules is authentic storytelling. Tell us more about that. 

By storytelling I don’t mean telling a fairytale; I don’t mean making something up. It’s the idea of, how can you make your product or service come alive for people?

Simply describing what you do doesn’t necessarily get people excited, but to turn it into a story becomes really interesting. Human beings have been telling stories since the beginning of human beings. Great communication is not about delivering product or service information. Great communication is about storytelling.

You want to focus on how can you make your product or service come alive by figuring out a way to make it real to people. 

My first book was a novel, and in thinking about good writing and good storytelling, one thing that’s really interesting is conflict. Conflict is two characters pitted against each other or one character pitted against him or herself in some way. Conflict plays out in multiple ways, yet the vast majority of business writing has no conflict.

So, a story with no conflict is boy meets girl, they get married. A story with conflict is boy meets girl, they fall in love, they have a tremendous falling out and don’t see each other for two years. They finally get back together and they become in love again and they get married, and that story has been told tens of thousands of times in books and movies.

So how can you inject conflict into a story about some aspect of your business that will generate interest from people and get them to read to the end and get them to pass that on to other people?

Getting back to the example I mentioned earlier about my daughter graduating from university this year, why not write something about what new college graduates should be thinking about in terms of financial planning? You could perhaps talk about what would happen with two different hypothetical 22-year-olds where one 22-year-old begins a life of careful financial planning, maybe setting aside a certain percentage of their income, even in their very first job, and what their lifestyle is likely to be 20 or 30 years into the future.

And then what would the same person be who didn’t start on the road quickly and what would their lifestyle be 20 or 30 years into the future? So you could create a story that illustrates the difference between someone who’s careful and someone who spends all their money. It’s a very different approach than, “We help you plan your finances.”

10. You will be a keynote speaker at FPA’s Annual Conference—BE Boston 2015 in September. What do you hope financial planners will take away from your presentation?

A couple things. First is that I hope people walk away excited about the idea that they are in control. They’re in control of their marketing, and they’re in control of the amount they can grow their business in the future.

There’s absolutely no doubt that the ideas that I’m going to be talking about work. Every day I get emails from people, I get Tweets from people, I get people who contact me through LinkedIn to say thank you, the ideas that you shared helped me grow my business. And I’ve had people lay out what percentage their business has grown as a result. It’s amazing.

And I hope that there will be a large percentage of people in the room who will actually implement some of the ideas.

And finally, that this can be really fun and exciting. I’ve had people get so caught up in creating content to help grow their business that they forget to actually do their business. Not in a bad way, but they have to figure out, if they are doing so much growing and generating so many new clients, how are they going to service all these new clients? They end up having to hire people to help them out, and that’s a good thing.

What most people think of as marketing—it’s dreadful, it’s boring, it’s expensive, I don’t want to do it—none of those things are true with the new rules of marketing and PR.

Carly Schulaka is editor of the Journal. Email her HERE.

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