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Writing sensitively about tragedy in your investment commentary or blog

Tragedy strikes more often than you’d like. It could be an event like the initial Malaysian Airlines plane disappearance, the Boston Marathon bombings, or something that happened in your community. Discussing tragedies can bring us closer together. It can make stale topics timely. However, it can also offend and disturb your readers, as discussed in “‘Epicurious’ Enrages Followers With Boston Bombings Tweets” on the Mashable blog or “This Guy’s Replies to 9/11 Brand Tweets Sum Up Everything That’s Wrong With 9/11 Brand Tweets.” You need to tread carefully. I have some thoughts about how to manage this challenge.

1. Acknowledge the tragedy

Before you dive into the bottom-line implications of the events, acknowledge that it’s a tragedy that affects human lives. You might write something like “We are all hoping for a happy ending in the disturbing case of…” or “We are deeply distressed by the…”

2. Consider your context

Context matters. Let’s consider three scenarios for writing about airline stocks the day after the March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Scenario one: Airlines analyst for a buy-side investment management firm

When you’re a securities analyst, writing about events that move stock prices is an essential part of your job. You can’t avoid it. Plus, if you’re a buy-side analyst, what you write will stay within your firm (unless you speak with the press). This gives you more freedom than writers who communicate with the general public. Your audience needs to know what effect an airlines disaster will have on the stocks you follow. In fact, it would be irresponsible to ignore the potential impact.

Still, you don’t want to be seen as gloating over an investment opportunity created by a tragedy. That’s ghoulish.

Scenario two: Wealth manager writing a client newsletter

When you write a newsletter for clients, you’ll have a feel for their sensibilities. Also, you’ll know what they expect from you—whether it’s coldly objective analysis or a warmly personal take on news that affects their finances.

If your clients value objectivity and data above all, I believe you can discuss the bottom-line implications of the tragedy after a quick acknowledgment of the sad event’s effect on people’s lives. Still, there may be more sensitive folks among your readers. Think about whether you need to discuss the tragedy now. If your newsletter discussion would be just as relevant later, then consider waiting.

Scenario three: Writer of a blog for general consumption

You’re at the greatest risk when you publish your thoughts in a medium that anyone can find online, such as a blog or op-ed piece. Tread carefully. Consider how you would feel if you or your family experienced the tragedy in question. Acknowledge that this is a serious event that hurts people. Be especially careful if you’re publishing where you’re likely to be read by people directly affected by the tragedy.

3. Consider the timing

Writing about a tragedy as it unfolds is different from writing about it six months or even one week later. Feelings are most raw in the early days. You must balance these emotions against the fact that whatever you write—especially if you’re an analyst covering securities that are directly affected by the tragedy—may be most valuable in those early days.

4. Get a second opinion

Not sure how your piece will be perceived? Ask someone you trust and respect for feedback. You’ll get the most helpful feedback from someone in your target audience, especially if they’re candid.

Depending on their audience, you may decide that an event is too painful for them to read about at this point.

YOUR opinion?

How would YOU like financial authors to deal with tragic events in their writing? I’m eager to hear your thoughts and insights.

(By the way, I’d like to thank the participant in my presentation to the Baltimore CFA Society who asked the question that sparked this blog post.)

 

Photo Credit: mharrsch via Compfight cc

Turn questions into blog posts

Tired of writing explanations for an audience of one?

Your clients, prospects, or even folks doing Google searches, may contact you with questions. Depending on your relationship and availability, you may respond at some length. This takes time.

Your blog makes it possible for you to get more mileage out of these inquiries. If the question fits your blog’s theme and has reasonably broad appeal, consider turning it into a blog post. You can write it as a simple Q&A, as I did in “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?” or a plain blog post.

Should you mention that your new blog post originated in a question from a client, prospect, or reader? Yes, if you want to seem approachable and interested in your blog’s audience.

Another alternative: Add to FAQ

If the question isn’t right for your blog, it may still be worth sharing. Consider adding the question and answer to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of your website.

Image courtesy of xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blog like a Sasanian

You want to distinguish yourself from other advisors. One way you can achieve this in your blog posts is to learn a

Sasanian coin 1

Sasanian coin 2–if my photos were better, you could contrast this crown with the other

lesson from the Sasanian kings of ancient Iran, as I did when I visited “Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran” at the Sackler Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sasanian kings put their images on coins. To ensure that one coin didn’t look like another, each king adopted a distinctly shaped crown.

You can put on a metaphorical crown by showing some personality in your blog posts. This will ensure that no one confuses your blog posts – your metaphorical coins – with anyone else.

If you don’t know how to inject personality into your posts, check out my two posts on the topic, “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing: Part one” and “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing: Part two.”