Colin Lambert, founder and publisher of The Full FX, is the latest guest in our Five Questions series of blogs, in which we we talk to senior people in FinTech, RegTech and financial markets about their business and the wider market. Colin gives some excellent and honest advice on how to pitch stories to journalists in the B2B space as well as some insights into the opportunities and challenges for tech firms in FX.
Colin Lambert co-founded The Full FX following the closure of Profit & Loss magazine, a publication he worked for from 2001, most latterly as Managing Editor.
Colin joined Profit & Loss after a 21-year trading career in the foreign exchange industry. During this time he spent the majority of time trading spot FX before he moved into a proprietary trading role. He finished his dealing career at British Petroleum. During his trading years, he spent time working in London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo and Toronto and held several senior posts including that of Chief Dealer, FX and Deputy Treasurer.
1.What do you think are the main challenges facing FX technology providers at the moment?
I actually think technology providers in the FX industry have a great opportunity at the moment, the challenge is probably getting their idea some airtime, because it’s a crowded field. The good news is big institutions are more open to services from fintechs than before, and they are looking to revamp their tech stacks to meet the challenges of new entrants in their field. This should be a perfect storm for a financial technology company.
Having said that, this also means if you haven’t got the traction in 18 months from now your idea hasn’t taken and you’re back to square one and need a new idea – not every child wins a prize at the school of FinTech!
To answer your question specifically, the firms currently facing the biggest challenge are, I would suggest, the incumbents in their chosen field. Challengers are coming from everywhere and, importantly, the buyers in the big institutions are a new generation without attachment to legacy relationships. They are driven by the quality of the technology, not necessarily the relationship, and they are open to new ways of doing things. It’s no longer good enough just to be ‘big’, you have to be ‘good’ as well now.
2. And the main challenges facing journalists reporting on the industry?
Not being able to get out and about and meet people face-to-face is tough for a journalist – so many of the really good stories stem from a casual remark in such an environment. It is probably tougher for the less experienced journalists who haven’t had a time to build up a network and the required trust for people to share openly with them, especially over communications networks that can be recorded.
This lack of physical interaction also plays, depending upon your point of view when it comes to freedom of speech, to the challenge of engaging with industry experts in a field so rife with surveillance technology.
As a journalist you want the unvarnished truth from those who really know what is going on. Sadly in the financial industry it is getting more like politics – only certain people are allowed to engage with the press and they are coached and have to stay “on message”. In the past this was less of an issue because you could protect your sources, now they’re afraid the conversation will be picked up by surveillance teams. This makes it harder to get to the crux of a story, but I guess it makes it more satisfying when you do.
3. How much of a role (if any) do you think social media plays in helping journalists source content or spokespeople?
Speaking as the publisher of a new publication it can play a huge role. It takes time to ensure news distribution sources know you are there, so posts on social media can point you in the right direction as to who to talk to and make sure you get on their radar.
There is a challenge with fake news to an extent, although a good and independent-minded journalist will spot that and ignore it. There is also a huge amount of rubbish on social media – even LinkedIn. It’s probably like the third wave of gold miners in the 19th century – most of the gold had gone and they had to sift a lot of dirt to find one nice nugget.
I would say I still think the best stories stem from personal, private, networks, not social. The latter are more about making sure you don’t miss something, rather than picking up a really good story that few, if any, others have.
4.In your opinion, what are the most common PR/marketing mistakes made by FX companies in the B2B space?
I am truly ecstatic to be asked this question, because one thing guaranteed to wind me up is a quote saying how thrilled/delighted/pleased someone is to be, for example, joining an organisation. Unless you’ve been out of work, you’re probably being paid more money than before so we don’t need to know how wonderful it is for you to be joining a new firm! There is zero value in that quote, it adds nothing of interest or relevance to a story.
I also don’t need to be told that a firm is “industry-leading”, “a global leader in [fill in name of industry’]” or that their technology is “best-of-breed”. It probably isn’t and there is no rational way of proving it if it was. I get releases from FX platform providers in the retail space claiming they are one of the world’s leading FX firms. They probably are…if you consider number 176 a world leader! It’s nonsense and, more importantly, gives me a reason not to run the story if I need it.
If you want to get a quote in a serious publication read by serious people, then ditch the obvious superlatives – make it relevant and pertinent, an opinion on the where the broader industry is going, for example. People respect an opinion much, much more than they do a sales pitch and I consider my duty as a writer to shield the reading public from this rubbish!
5. What advice would you offer to a company or PR professional trying to pitch a story to you?
Avoid using any of the phrases in question four is a good start!
The idea has to be interesting and relevant, that’s pretty obvious. I also think the motive for the pitch is important.
The best pitches are for stories that will provoke debate – publications love being the fora upon which the great issues are discussed (even if it is in the chat pages). If the motive is just to get your client some column inches then it had better be an interesting development and one they can talk openly about. The worst outcome is one where the client wants coverage but then is shy about the details – that just wastes everybody’s time.
I would also target the pitch very carefully. If it’s technical, go to someone who really understands the field. There are a lot of journalists out there who know a lot about their industry because they talk to so many people – they can help bring your story alive.
A lot of publications also cover a spread of markets at face value, but actually specialise in one, maybe two. So do your research – if it’s about commodities markets for example, find the publication(s) that write the most about this field. Equally, if it’s about a new piece of tech, understand what markets will most use that tech and then target the appropriate publications.
Oh, and if you pitch it as exclusive, if you want a second hearing at any time in the future, make it just that!
Finally, I would say if you trust the journalist and editor you are pitching to and have a good relationship, engage with them and get their feedback – as I say, they can bring your story to life. Don’t be afraid to do this – they’re not all as grumpy as this Q&A suggests!