By Marcia Yudkin
In a recent survey I conducted on feelings about “social proof” in marketing, the comments on a question I asked about media coverage made my eyebrows go up.
The question asked whether seeing that a local financial advisor had received publicity in national media outlets would make respondents more or less interested in hiring the advisor.
I expected most respondents to say either that the publicity made no difference to them (since publicity doesn’t actually demonstrate competence) or that it made them more interested in hiring the advisor (the halo effect).
However, a sizeable minority replied that the media coverage made them less interested in hiring the advisor. This surprised me.
Was it envy? Was it a feeling that national publicity opened up too much distance between them and someone in the spotlight? The comments revealed three interesting reasons in the minds of those reacting negatively to this scenario.
First, some respondents assumed that this advisor’s rates would be much higher than they would be willing or able to pay.
“With all that fancy-schmancy media coverage I probably wouldn’t be able to afford him,” one said, “so I’d tend to look for someone else.” Another remarked, “They would probably charge more than someone who wasn’t an ‘expert.’”
The second concern was availability – not just in terms of scheduling, but also in the advisor’s attention to clients.
“Because of all the buzz, I’d worry I couldn’t reach the person if I had a question,” said one respondent. Another put it this way: “Is he or she more interested in publicity than working on client accounts?” Another wrote, “I’d prefer to have a lesser-known financial person who I’m sure I could reach easily when I had a question.” Someone else wondered, “Perhaps they are spending too much time doing interviews to focus on the job at hand?”
Third were opinions that publicity seeking indicated a personality type that the respondent would prefer not to work with.
“I try to stay away from celebrity types,” commented one person. Another wrote, “They might be more hype than substance, and I’d want Steady Eddie for a financial consultant.” In the words of another: “I don’t want or need a celebrity for an advisor. I want someone who understands my needs and goals and manages my portfolio accordingly.”
Why The Negative Reactions?
Note that these three drawbacks were all operating in the realm of assumptions. With no additional information, people jumped to conclusions about fees, availability and personality from the mere fact of media coverage. Keep in mind also that the negative attitudes were in the minority. Most respondents in my survey reported a positive or neutral reaction to the financial advisor’s publicity.
It’s also worth pointing out that the scenario in my question concerned a local professional getting national coverage and involved a financial advisor specifically. Responses might have been different had the scenario asked about a cardiologist, a college professor, a bed-and-breakfast host or a tutoring service.
And finally, the survey in which these responses turned up happened to be targeted to introverts. It’s conceivable that extroverts, who comprise the majority in the U.S., would have had fewer negative reactions to my question.
Even so, the negative assumptions were common enough and strongly expressed enough in my survey to spark several suggestions for professionals who work one-on-one with clients who don’t normally come into contact with or seek out nationally known people. When you receive national publicity, consider the following options to make sure that the publicity doesn’t boomerang on your practice.
3 Ways to Avoid Publicity That Backfires
First, don’t present the publicity you received as the top reason to do business with you. Place it in context with your educational credentials, client satisfaction, customer-friendly policies, specialized experience and impressive results, so that the media coverage comes across as icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.
Second, specifically counteract the three worries described above if they don’t fit you or how you work. Adjectives like “affordable” or “reasonable rates” head off the “can’t afford this person” thought even if you don’t quote your rates, while client testimonials about your responsiveness and likeability reassure those who wonder whether you have a swelled head and care only about the spotlight.
Or third, perhaps you’ll end up contenting yourself with the “expert from afar phenomenon,” where you respond to national publicity by raising your rates above what most locals are prepared to pay and having those who are impressed with your reputation fly in to meet with you. I’ve seen this dynamic happen with dentists, accountants, sculptors, chefs and even marketing experts like me.
On the whole, publicity is a great way to boost your career. Be alert to these possible disadvantages, though, and you can keep it a wholly positive factor in your success.