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A Bizarro Year in Financial Communications

Mon., May 17, 2021

By Thomas P. Butler



We’re in the midst of 2021’s corporate proxy season when Wall Street and the investor community are hyper-focused on the decisions, actions, governance and earnings of corporate brands we invest in and whose products we purchase.


It’s also a daily reminder that the messaging that communication pros in our industry curate and convey are essential on so many levels.


One year ago, according to Visual Capitalist, the international stock markets were collectively valued at $89.5 trillion. Additionally, investments in global debt reached $253 trillion, along with $280.6 trillion in real estate value. Still, in their infancy, cryptocurrencies add another $244 billion to that tally. That’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the financial industry landscape.


The curveballs of today’s market


So far in 2021, there are a few troublesome case studies that show clearly to any CEO or board of directors that maintaining regular and quality communications advocacy is vital.


In January, popular website Reddit took the investing and finance world by storm, pumping up the valuation of certain stocks seemingly on their last legs. One of those was GameStop, the largest brick and mortar video game retailer, with a business model reminiscent of Blockbuster Video in an era of Amazon and Netflix.


GameStop’s stock price had dropped to $3 and so-called amateur investment bloggers working in unison pushed it towards $20. Hedge funds sought to capitalize by shorting the stock. The Reddit community countered by pushing the price higher. By January 20th, it was $40 and by the 28th it was $483/share. A week later it deflated to $50 and then up again to $180.


This article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '21 PR Firm Rankings Magazine (view PDF version)


I also recently received a lesson about the cryptocurrency DogeCoin from my 18-year-old while traveling to tour a college. His high school friends were making a killing on it. Launched by two IBM software engineers in 2013, it was initially created as a joke currency, using the Shiba Inu meme “Doge” as its logo. Its market capitalization peaked in early 2018 at $0.017.


Over the pandemic, online campaigns sought to boost the price towards $1. Per CoinDesk’s price index, it ended 2020 at less than half a penny per coin. Then with 2021, it leaped over 800 percent, thanks again to Reddit. Billionaire Elon Musk propelled the Doge-mania by tweeting about it, generating more hype to spike the price. As of this writing, the volatile cryptocurrency, which touched $0.42 on April 20, was about $0.27.


The GameStop and DogeCoin sagas are clear examples of the modern decentralization of news and informational sourcing. It shows it can be like the wild west out there if you can’t maintain and manicure your client’s brand and message.


For the last few years, members of our team have been kept busy chasing down sources publishing unverified stories about a specific client. While positive, they perpetuated false information that, like weeds, need to be rooted out.


A path diverted


Back in my college years, I thought a life working on Wall Street was in the cards. I spent a summer working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when that Exchange was considered the center of the financial universe.


Fresh-faced and with economics degree in hand, it was shortly after the hit movie “Wall Street” came out and captured so much attention. In fact, some of the very same floor brokers shown trading in scenes within the movie were familiar faces from the Stock Exchange floor. The trading posts were brimming with anxious brokers buying and selling blue-chip stocks, often placing buy orders for customers based on rumors and selling based on news.


Back then, one would soak in market knowledge from tuning in to see who was appearing on “Wall $treet Week” with Louis Rukeyser. We’d go to the college library to read the Wall Street Journal, touching ink and paper, something less frequent in 2021.


I walked away after that summer job to complete my degree, having received offers from two trading firms. Then, upon graduation, I interviewed with a large banking institution and a major bond house. Ready to accept one of the offers, my dad suggested I do one more interview. I agreed.


I traveled to New York City Hall for a job interview, just a five-minute walk from NYSE. The interview, inside a bustling press office newsroom, went better than expected. It hummed with reporters from The New York Times, Associated Press, NBC-News and all the major dailies, radio, TV stations, with full-time journalists there to cover democracy in action.


When the communications director walked in, the reaction of my 21-year-old self was to say: “I know you. You had been the host of Inside Albany.” It was a longtime political-junkie news show. Like Rukeyser, it was a must-watch, but about Empire State government, policy and politics.


For the next few years, I received the best education in communications and media from some of the most experienced journalists in the nation, some of whom went on to be columnists, news anchors and bureau chiefs, including at the White House.


The corporate and financial markets


At my first PR agency, I was anxious to do more and learn, managing public affairs, economic development, commercial real estate, construction accounts and more. Then the portfolio evolved to include crisis management, litigation, publicly traded companies, entrepreneurs and CEOs.


That firm was also retained to promote some new global stock exchanges that would eventually merge as global markets and economies advanced. It was clear, the career path intended, and the path taken had been getting closer to their own merger.


This year, Butler Associates marks 25 years since we first opened our doors. What started out as a firm focused on servicing first responders, labor, public policy and crisis matters, law firms and litigations, has evolved to be so much more.


Decades after first setting foot inside the New York Stock Exchange to begin a career on The Street, I’m still in awe when walking past this historic landmark, but now to visit our agency clients that include prominent financial firms.


And while “Wall $treet Week” might have been very cool to watch from our college dorm, thinking how smart we would be absorbing the advice of gurus, I’ve come to value being in the studio greenroom of the same show even more. In one instance, I believe I may have been the only non-billionaire in the room.


The experiences over three decades in our amazing business has been rich and rewarding and not something I might trade in so easily.


***

Thomas P. Butler is President of Butler Associates Strategic Communications.

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