Who would you follow into battle?

In a recent meeting with a business reporter, the conversation turned from business news to business communication skills. Between interviewing CEOs about the day’s news and attending investor conferences, this reporter complained about ‘too many lousy speakers and mumbling CEOs.’

The message here is crystal clear: If  you want to be heard, communication style matters.

Just how much it matters may surprise you. Almost half of a company’s reputation relies on its CEO. Despite these high stakes, Edelman’s 13th Annual Trust Barometer delivers this disturbing news: fewer than half of those surveyed trust business leaders as credible spokespeople.

As the economy improves and executives emerge from their crisis cocoons, stakeholders won’t tolerate poor communication performance. It’s too costly. Reputation is no longer a soft public relations concept as companies like Oxford Metrica/Aon and Steel City Re develop credible research linking corporate reputation to a company’s market valuation and use these insights to sell sophisticated reputation risk management products.

The risk insurance premiums would be better spent on a little more strategic corporate communication. ‘Communications that strengthen reputation are far more valuable than is recognized,’ according to the Oxford Metrica/Aon 2012 Reputation Review. ‘We can make companies worth hundreds of millions more simply by making them better understood. And in these troubled times, that is a pretty good return on investment.’

After two decades in the media and communications, I’ve seen far too many executives take what they believe to be the safe communication route. Safety is a double-edged sword. Compliance is not communication and if you are to believe OM/Aon, it’s not a cliche to say that a missed communication opportunity is a missed business opportunity.

To appreciate just how much communication style shapes reputation, stakeholder confidence and valuation, look to Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE:JMP).

Dimon is candid, confident and can be combative. He played a pivotal role in Washington during the darkest moments of the financial crisis, but even Dimon was not immune to crisis at J.P. Morgan. A $6 billion trading loss last year could have destroyed his public reputation. A lengthy feature story written by Bethany McLean for the November issue of  Vanity Fair quotes Bill Daley, who sums up why Dimon’s reputation is still intact: “I have not seen a C.E.O. ever handle a crisis so effectively … Jamie didn’t let a cover-up become worse than the crime.”

An article in American Banker  makes an even sharper point: “The Jamie Dimons … of the world, there’s very few of them …. you want to go into battle with [them].”

The best communicators are not big talkers, but they are students of the human condition. They get what makes people tick. and can craft and deliver a clear and simple narrative that touches their audience.

Disclaimer: I do not have a business, financial or client relationship with any of the companies in this post.

0014This article was written By Bess Gallanis, corporate communications consultant and executive coach to high performing companies and their leaders. When the stakes are high, communication performance is a game changer or a deal breaker.  To gain a competitive advantage, contact Bess today. 


Sheryl Sandberg’s Four Lessons In Savvy Communication


Sheryl Sandberg has kicked up a hornet’s nest of controversy about women and work, ambition and success in her first book  ‘Lean In,’ published this week. Whatever you think about her message, Sandberg is a role model for savvy leadership communication.

As Facebook’s chief operating officer and first and only female director, she asked why more women aren’t in leadership roles.

“I’m not blaming women,’ she said in an interview on ’60 Minutes’. “But there is a lot more that we can do.” Sandberg tells women in her book ‘to step up, lean in and own their success.’

Career success requires taking risks and advocating for your own best interests, which Sandberg points out are the very behaviors that our culture discourages in girls and women. She speaks and writes about getting over these cultural biases, finding her leadership voice and the courage to use it.

Along the way , she has earned admiration for her strong communication skills, telling a Harvard Business School class last year, ” . . . more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job.”

Sandberg’s transformation offers women four lessons about leaning in to make a statement and an impact:

To move up, communicate up. Women tend to manage down and across, while men keep their eye focused squarely up at the next rung on the career ladder. One of Sandberg’s great strengths is managing her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, the quirky founder of Facebook. They work on their relationship as hard as any married couple and it’s widely believed to be the secret sauce in Facebook’s success.

If you want to lead, take a bold point of view.  To make an impact means stepping up to a bigger playing field and you may have to step outside your comfort zone.  Through her own experience in Silicon Valley, Sandberg began to advocate for women and leadership,  developed a strong point of view and took it live and public.  She tested the waters at a TED conference in 2010 and later fine tuned her ideas in her commencement speech for the 2012 graduating class at Barnard.

Connect with people through a clear and simple narrative.  Sandberg projects that she is accessible and trustworthy by using simple language, avoiding technology and financial jargon, and bringing her message to life with personal stories.   The mundane — looking for the women’s bathroom at an investment banking firm — becomes a powerful point about gender inequality at the executive level. Careers are no longer a climb up the ladder, but a climb through a jungle gym.

Develop thick skin. Nothing feels riskier than self exposure, but feelings can be managed and risk is nothing more than a matter of perspective. Leadership demands thick skin and Sandberg seems able to handle the slings and arrows of her critics with grace and professionalism.

0014This article was written By Bess Gallanis for The Huffington Post, where it ran on March 16, 2013.

Bess Gallanis is a corporate communications consultant and executive coach to high performing companies and their leaders. When the stakes are high, communication performance is a game changer or a deal breaker.  To gain a competitive advantage, contact Bess today. 

Marketing Financial Services to Women


What do women want? To be understood. 

Women consumers are most dissatisfied with financial services. They are particularly dissatisfied with investment management services. Women with a meaningful amount of investable assets represent a substantial and growing market opportunity for large wealth management firms and independent advisors.

American women are the single largest economic force in the world and the wealth management industry is competing aggressively to win over women clients. Highly educated, affluent women – with a net worth between $500,000 and $1 million — represent one of the biggest growth opportunities for independent financial advisors. They are more likely than men to work with a financial advisor and to rely on an advisor as their primary source of financial advice.

The influence of women is reshaping the financial services industry, from products to sales to service. But here’s the rub: in no other industry are women more dissatisfied than with financial services, and in particular, the investment and advisory side of the business.

The financial advisory industry is undergoing rapid and transforming change as the model transitions toward a relationship-based consultative culture. This trend dovetails with the insights, communications and advisory techniques that are effective when working with women clients.

  • Recognizing the importance of a relationship.
  • Understanding their lives and values.
  • Communicating clearly and  intelligently, without talking down to them.

The Importance of  Trust and Relationship

Interpersonal and empathetic communication skills are your most powerful marketing tools in the women’s market. To successfully convert prospects to clients, think of ‘trusted advisor’ as an action verb.

Personal finance can be confusing, complex and intimidating — to men and women. Your competency is indeed important and women want an experienced advisor. However, most women will not hire an advisor based solely on track record. It’s personal chemistry that drives a woman’s decision making when choosing a financial advisor. In survey after survey, women say the absence of a personal connection is a deal breaker.

Empathy is the ability to imagine and accept how your clients feel about money, what they worry about, how they think and make decisions, what they value, the family dynamics, their hopes and dreams and what they’re likely to encounter down the road.

Developing personal chemistry is a deeper process than a rapport-based sales conversation. You really need to communicate to connect. Listening and focusing on their goals is how women come to trust their advisors. While men and women may share the same goals, they often take very different paths to reach them. You will earn trust by demonstrating that you accept this — without judgment.

Most important — women are seeking an advocate, not an adversary. Contemporary women wield significant economic clout at home and financial decision-making authority at work. Your opportunity is to simplify the complex and to provide insight and answers that help them make informed decisions.

Not all women are alike

Contemporary consumers are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and demanding than ever before and they expect products and services to be customized to their needs. Long gone are the days when you could capture a prospect’s age and gender and produce a checklist of needs. Women no longer follow a linear path from cradle to grave. Whether she’s a stay at home Mom or a CEO, contemporary women are busy, multi-tasking and time starved. Their need for real-time answers and efficient service is a function of balancing conflicting demands on their personal and professional time. 

Life-stage modeling captures the experiences and needs that drive women’s priorities, attitudes, decision-making, and loyalty. Consumers in general, and women, in particular, are three times more likely to respond to a life-stage positioned product or service.

A clear sense of your prospect’s life stage needs will drive an effective, focused niche-based prospecting plan. Your insight-driven communications will produce a higher closing ratio. Client retention and long-term relationship management will be enhanced because you will be more sensitive to your client’s need for new, more or different products and services as they transition through life stages.Contemporary consumers are more sophisticated, knowledgeable and demanding than ever before and they expect products and services to be customized to their needs. Long gone are the days when you could capture a prospect’s age and gender and produce a checklist of needs.

These few samples from my proprietary life stage matrix will give you some insight into your female prospects and clients:

Sex and the City

She is single and would rather invest in shoes than stock. If she is a young SATC woman, she could be piling on debt while establishing an adult lifestyle. She will change jobs early and often, so be on the look out for a retirement rollover opportunity. Financially established SATC women are big homebuyers, which creates a set of needs around saving, investing and asset protection.

Hockey Mom

This first-time married woman and mother is focused on her domestic relationships. She is investing in her home and her young family. She is busy but energetic and more anxious than stressed. She is still coming up the learning curve about so many things. Reduce her anxiety by educating her about the appropriate financial products and services that will protect her family.

The Best Is Yet to Come

This woman is an empty nester who is actively investing in her health and wellness. If she is more than 10 years from retirement she may be investing in deferred dreams: getting a degree, adventure travel, starting a business. An older BIYTC is focused on preparing for an independent retirement. Participate in her dreams whatever they are and help her make them come true.

This article By Bess Gallanis first appeared as part one of a three-part series that first appeared on Wealth Management Marketing in 2010.


Marketing Financial Services to Women Part II: Women, Investing and Overcoming the Confidence Gap


Empowering women to seize control of their financial lives is a movement whose time has come.  Women are reporting a greater interest in and knowledge about financial products and investment services, but when it comes to taking action …. they report a confidence gap.

Over cocktails around the pool of a beautiful lakefront home recently, I unexpectedly generated a small crowd of women – and it wasn’t to dish about my shoes.  The topic was investing and this group of affluent women was all ears.  Highly educated and sophisticated, some of them were high earning professionals while others hadn’t worked since before their children were born.  They all shared one thing in common: a strong interest in learning how to make informed decisions about their finances.

“My husband and I sit down with our advisor once a year, we give him money and frankly, I don’t know where it goes,” said one woman. “I look at what’s going on around us and realize that it’s time for me to get smart and get active.”

Empowering women to seize control of their financial lives is a movement whose time has come.  The economic crisis these last two years has been a wake up to women to get more actively involved in the financial planning and investment decision making that will shape their future.

Many advisors will scoff at the idea that financial management and investing is somehow different for women than men.  If the sheer impact of global female wealth doesn’t persuade you, look at the evidence.  A lot of progress has been made to understand how to best communicate with women about money and about their investment decision-making process.  While women are masterful at household budgeting and financial management, when it comes to investing, they report that investment products are complicated, overwhelming and time consuming.

As an independent advisor, here are three tactics that you can execute to help women clients close their investing confidence gap.  If you read the first post in this series, you will remember that not all women are the same and you will likely wish to adjust these tactics to suit the needs of your specific niche audience.

1.    Empower Her by Educating Her. I hear a persistent complaint about working with women:  it takes so much time!  Managing your time effectively is a challenge, but taking your time with women is your biggest client-management opportunity.  Women look to their advisor as the number one source for financial education. As their knowledge increases, so does their confidence to make informed decisions.

Your role is to simplify the complex for your client, while leveraging your time most efficiently.

In survey after survey, women cite financial planning and investing as their top financial literacy priorities.  You can take advantage of this knowledge by creating two presentations – one about the financial planning process (including how to choose an advisor) and the second about the investment process.  These presentations will structure the direction of your meetings while leaving plenty of time and psychic space for questions and discussion along the way.

2.      Turn Her Learning Preferences Into Marketing Opportunities. Some of the most valuable information to come out of the research into women and money over the last decade is about learning preferences.

For credible financial information, women look to their advisor, friends and family, the Internet and the web sites of financial firms.  You can take away to key points from these preferences. First, women prefer personal or group learning experiences.  Second, women complain – correctly – that financial information is technical, hard to understand and filled with unintelligible jargon. Most of all: it’s BORING.

While many financial services marketers encourage client entertaining in unique venues, I will encourage you to create educational events for women.

If you offer value and community, women will attend. FINRA research profiled the investment behavior of women compared with men and documented what most advisors already know:  women are conservative investors.  Generally, women will choose capital preservation over growth. An educational event with other women is an effective way to help women expand their investment horizons.

If you can deliver information in a creative and interesting manner, all the better.

Look to these players for ideas about how to creatively present financial information.  Citibank’s Women & Co. program provides financial education, events and community to its affluent female clients. LearnVest.com, a new start up web site for women, offers financial information and education in hip, creative and interesting ways.  One of the most creative events is LearnVest’s Financial Bootcamp. Eleanor Blayney, a veteran advisor and former partner in Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney, is targeting an older, wealthier woman client. Eleanor is speaking widely in the press about financial planning for women and has created a seminar business model that she is rolling out to a national network of women advisors.

3.    Tap Into Her Values. Women and their values around money are very different from men.   Women look for opportunities to make investments that align with their values, even if those investments generate low returns.  Women seek to invest in other women, to protect children, animals and the environment.  To a woman, this is her way to invest in a better world and a brighter future for her children and her community.

By Bess Gallanis.

This story, Women, Investing and the Confidence Gap, first appeared as the third in a three-part series on Wealth Management Marketing, August 2010.



Marketing Financial Services to Women Part III: The Five Habits of Successful Financial Advisors to Women

00141. Understand her beliefs about money. What is more loaded with emotion than money?  Whether the association is with power and control or security and safety, money means different things to every woman. For a woman with an abundance outlook on life, a relatively small amount of money may represent great wealth and potential. A financially self-made woman told me recently, “I love making money, but I am terrified I’ll lose it!”  Create a conversation around all five areas of money — spending, saving, investing, borrowing and giving – to understand her values around money. Money may mean security or it may be the means to create a legacy. This is an important dialogue that signals you care about her.

2. Communicate to connect. One size does not fit all women. Develop a conversation around her life stage to understand her situation, needs and priorities. This study of her life will give you the insight to identify needs she probably doesn’t know she has and will drive specific planning solutions.

3. Your values are your brand. Work on clearly articulating your approach to financial planning, investing and other areas where you serve your clients. When deciding on a financial advisor, women care deeply about your approach and could care less about your brochures. Your competency is a given. Your core values are your brand. During this one on one dialogue, women are sizing you up against the criteria that mean most to them: how often do you communicate with your clients, by what means do you communicate with clients, what is your decision-making model, do you bring ideas to the table and are those ideas in her best interests or yours. Transparency is critical.

4. Fulfill the role of resource. Assume the role of resource and educator about all things financial. An increasing percentage of women report a growing or high level of financial acumen. Yet, women say that their confidence in making investment decisions lags behind their knowledge about investing and financial products. Most advisors find that the most delightful clients are the most knowledgeable clients.

5. Create community. Generate ongoing female client loyalty through community. Convert your passive referral strategy into a community for women. Align with other complimentary professionals to host regular networking events for your shared base of women clients.

By Bess Gallanis. This is part three of a three-part series about marketing financial advisory services to women that first appeared on Wealth Management Marketing in 2010.