Head of PR at AJ Bell
Charlie Musson is head of PR at AJ Bell – an investment platform with 295,000 customers, over £56 billion in investments and 900 employees. He has worked for both agencies and directly at companies themselves. He spoke to us about what he has learned about managing the important and sometimes technical issues around financial PR and the very extensive role he has at the company.
PressChoice: What's involved in your role at AJ Bell?
Charlie: Our team covers all of the product and industry PR, for AJ Bell Youinvest which is our direct-to-consumer platform and AJ Bell Investcentre, which is our advisor platform, targeting consumer, trade and broadcast media. We also cover all the corporate financial PR required of a listed business. More recently we have taken on board the social media strategy that was previously held by our marketing teams. We also coordinate our efforts to engage with policymakers and regulators. So, it is a very broad brief which looks after almost all of the outward facing profile aspects of the company.
PressChoice: What about the social media aspects of your job? Some see that as another platform to reversion existing material, others see it as a way of creating bespoke content and video. What is your view?
Charlie Musson: I think we're on a bit of a journey. At the moment, to be fair, it's probably more about using it as another platform for existing content and repurposing it. But the plan is very much looking at ways where we can create bespoke content for social media. We want to be able to make that content more relevant to the social media audience and make it easier to engage people through those different channels through differentiated content. One of the challenges with social media is that, as well as giving you a channel to communicate your message, it also gives your customers a channel to contact you. So, a very big part of the process is making sure we are set-up so that we are able to handle customer queries. The challenge is to tie the comms function then with the existing customer services function and to try and make our own processes between those two functions work seamlessly.
PressChoice: You used to work for an agency, I just wonder what the difference is between working for an agency and working for a single company?
Charlie Musson: The big difference is that working in-house, you clearly get to know the company better. Whereas when you're working for an agency, I think I had 10 clients at one point, so it can be more difficult to know them as well as you would if you only had one company to focus on. But what you do lose when you are working in-house, is the variety that you would have in an agency. There are obviously pros and cons of each, but personally, I like the fact that you understand the business a lot better when you work in-house.
PressChoice: Tell us a bit about how you started out in comms and PR. Was it something you always wanted to do or did you sort of fall into it?
Charlie Musson: When I finished university, I still didn't really know what I would do, so I went away travelling for a year. When I came back, I pretty much applied for a whole variety of jobs. I looked at a few PR agencies and got a job with one of them in their financial services division and that's what started me on my career path.
PressChoice: From a comms perspective, many feel that finance can be a hard sector to work in. How do you cope with the challenge of a technical subject matter that is often difficult to communicate?
Charlie Musson: I do think it has its challenges as it can be seen as a bit of a dry subject. Often people believe they have other things that they'd rather focus on. But I think the industry has realised how important it is, to get the message out there about the importance of what the sector can do to help people, creating a safe environment to save for their futures or protect themselves. So, I think, when you actually look under the skin of the subject, it's actually very interesting and important. The challenge, therefore, for anyone working in PR in the finance industry, is how to bring the subject to life and encourage people to engage with savings and investments.
PressChoice: What lessons have you learnt about running a comms team?
Charlie Musson: Firstly, I think it's really all about kind of the speed at which you can move and how you can react to the news environment and journalist requests quickly and efficiently. One thing that I've learnt since starting at AJ Bell, is the importance of having experts and spokespeople within the PR team that you can go to quickly.
I think having a sensible relationship with compliance also helps. We work in a heavily regulated industry, so there are certain rules that you have to follow. But having a clear set of boundaries of what does need to go through compliance and what doesn't, really helps those of us in comms, because it means that you can respond a lot quicker.
I also think having a direct line into the CEO of the company and the senior leaders, really helps. It means being able to get authoritative comment out fast and stay on top of the story. The combination of these three factors enables us to comment very quickly on fast moving news stories and respond to incoming requests and that ultimately helps drive press coverage.
You can follow Charlie Musson on Twitter at @charliemusson