Eaton Vance, Evergreen, and FRC on "Communication Strategies for Good Times and Bad"

Mutual fund companies are ratcheting up their communications, as you might expect in challenging  times. I learned some of their strategies in a panel on  “Communication Strategies for Good Times and Bad” with speakers from Eaton Vance, Evergreen Investments, and Financial Research Corp. They spoke at NICSA’s East Coast Regional meeting on January 15.
Social media on the rise 
I was struck by how companies are using–or considering–communication tools such as webinars and social media that barely existed five years ago, back when I worked for Columbia Management Group. 

Social media is impacting every brand and how firms need to communicate, said Stephen J. Barrett, chief marketing officer and managing director, Eaton Vance Distributors. He suggested that you search for your company name on Facebook. (By the way, when I searched “Eaton Vance,” I found several people named “Vance Eaton,” but also a number of people who might be Eaton Vance employees.)

Barrett is thinking about how to leverage Facebook and other social media. “We need to enable people using social media networks to share our content and to use it build their own content.” 

None of the panelists’ firms are currently blogging, though Evergreen’s parent company, is involved in the Wells Fargo-Wachovia Blog, which allows readers to leave comments. 

Even if your companydoesn’t blog, you should be searching on its name in the blogosphere using tools such as Technorati or Google, said panel moderator Bill Blase of W.T. Blase & Associates. He has seen issues that companies could have “gotten in front of” if they’d learned about the issues through blogs.

More frequent internal communications 
At Evergreen Investments, Laura Fay, senior vice president, corporate communications, said the best time to connect with your employees is a time like now, when morale may be low, she said. Employees feel better if they hear frequently from senior management.

Evergreen is using the following tools for internal communications:

  • Monthly newsletter or business update
  • Quarterly summary of financial information
  • Quarterly video available on employee desktops
  • Town hall meetings, held in four primary locations and available via webinar; employees can submit questions anonymously

The challenges of faster communication
Companies need to communicate more quickly, which is pressuring them to get things approved quickly. “Out in two days and very, very good is much better than out in five days and perfect,” said Barrett. 

That’s not easy when you’ve got to win approval from both portfolio managers and your compliance department. “Getting out quarterly commentary can be torturous,” said Fay.

It’s also challenging to create communications that serve both financial intermediaries and their clients. Financial advisors tell the researchers at Financial Research Corporation (FRC), “don’t dumb it down,” but they want to share fund companies’ content with their clients, said Craig Kilgallen, director of FRC’s ADVISOR INSIGHT. That adds to the difficulty of getting compliance approval. Also, as Barrett said, “If you talk about negative convexity in a client brochure, you’re probably going down the wrong path.”