Collaborating with the media
With Michelle Baltazar, Executive Director of Media for Rainmaker Group.
"What I've found in the last 12 months of working with the Money team is that there's absolute demand out there for good content around finance and steps towards building your wealth."
Michelle Baltazar, Executive Director of Media for Rainmaker Group - publisher of the Financial Standard and Money Magazine, joins the podcast to share her advice for wealth management professionals wanting to contribute and be heard in the media. Michelle also discusses some of the major trends she's covering and the future of events post-COVID.
Matt Heine: Welcome to the show, Michelle.
Michelle Baltazar: Thank you, Matt. Good to be here.
MH: I'm really pleased that you've joined today. We've known each other for a very long time, and I think many of our listeners today will probably have seen your smiling face in one of the many mastheads that you edit for, being Money Magazine and of course Financial Standard. Before we get stuck into a few of the other chunky topics, I'd love just to get a bit of history on how you got into the industry.
MB: Thank you for asking. It was really by accident. I studied science in school. My heritage is Filipino, so Asian parents thought I should be a doctor, a neurosurgeon, accountant, lawyer, other careers don't count, but I've always loved writing. I started writing when I was like five years old, just making up stories and distributing them at our street. I was actually selling pieces of paper to our neighbours to say, "Hey, you have to buy this newspaper," which I thought was interesting.
When I finished my degree at Sydney Uni, I took on a summer job working at Business Review Weekly, which is a magazine, now defunct, but at the time, two decades ago, it was the most read business magazine. I'm sure everyone was excited about what's going to be the cover story on a Tuesday. Golden days of I think finance journalism. You had Ross Greenwood, Narelle Hooper, Adele Ferguson in the one office space. I thought that was just going to last for three months, but ended up taking on the job full-time from researcher to journalist.
Worked in London for three years as a finance journalist under Ross Greenwood. When he moved to London, I said, "Hey, can you give me a job?" He said, "Michelle, if you can get a flight here, I'll give you a job." I arrived there on a Thursday and I was in the office by Monday. That was the winter of 1998 or something like that. Then I came back for family reasons and took a job here at Rainmaker, and every two years, I'll do a job review with Chris and say, "Hey, Chris, I've been here for two years." 15 years later I'm still here.
From editor to now publisher of four mastheads, namely Financial Standard, Money Magazine, and as of early this year, Financial Standard Sustainability, which is about sustainable investing and Industry Moves, which is about people moves in the industry.
MH: What a fascinating career path. Just going back to, I guess, those early days, back when journalism would have been a very different environment and atmosphere I think to what it is today, the internet was just starting to make its mark on the world. What was it like back then? Was it like you see in the movies?
MB: Yes. A little bit like that actually. I do remember one of the biggest stories then was around Two Bags Tyler, which is about Telstra and Solution 6. I don't know if you remember that, but basically there were like 12 cubicles in the one space and you had these incredibly talented investigative journalists. Some of them would work on a story for six months. You can only imagine how great it would have been to read the calibre of the news writing. Yes, it's like in the movies where they're just all fired up and people peeking out of their cubicles, talking about the stories. This was before the internet.
I remember the fax. You know how there was still the fax and that it almost rolls because it was too hot? The printer with the little stubs on both sides. Very exciting time. I would say that it was great to be part of that environment at the time. I saw Bob Gottliebsen maybe once or twice a week. He was based in Melbourne and I was working in Sydney, but my job at BRW then was the Rich 200. I was researching the 200 wealthiest families in Australia. Just having that kind of foundation to my career was incredibly helpful.
Truly the rules that I learned then I still apply today, from simple things like spelling people's names right and checking facts and numbers.
MH: It's the little things that make a difference, isn't it?
MB: Yeah. Absolutely.
MH: Yeah. A couple of those names that you mentioned, Adele Ferguson, Ross Greenwood, Paul Clitheroe no doubt was around back then. It was an all-star cast. What do-
MB: It's like an ensemble. Ali Cromie who broke the story about the Olympics. Yeah.
MH: Did they mentor you back then, or was it every man and woman from themselves?
MB: I definitely gravitated towards two journalists at the time, Ali Cromie, who was a full-time investigative journalist and Narelle Hooper, who was the Rich 200 editor. Many of your listeners would know Narelle as the former BOSS editor, and she's now working at Company Director. They were just incredibly helpful, but there was certainly a camaraderie there, but I didn't start out as a journalist you see. I was a researcher, so I was one step removed, but I still remember to this day, having pizza with Adele and a couple of other journalists, because they were working on deadline. That kind of environment.
MH: That would have been amazing. Coming back to Australia and starting with Rainmaker, what was your role then? You were a journalist, were you also working on other parts of the business? Events and data, or was it always around the mastheads?
MB: At the time, I think this was back in 2005, I started at Rainmaker as a senior journalist, and this was, I believe the start of all the other publications just being introduced to the market. Money management was the incumbent title at the time. I still remember that the ... Again, this was the early days of websites and newsletters, so a lot of fumbling around, well, how do we do a newsletter? How would it look like? I brought my experience from working in London at an investment magazine at Shares Magazine.
What was it like? I mean, the people that I've interviewed, they were very generous. I was new to the industry, incredibly helpful, but it was a different world. I think today we have access to so much information on the net that it probably loses the traditional calling people on the phone and doing interviews like that.
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MH: It sounds like you fell into finance journalism. I'm not sure if that's what you set out to do when you started your career. I know that you're an avid follower of fashion. Did you ever think about-
MH: Did you ever think about moving into other industries or doing something different?
MB: No. I did contemplate working for a women's magazine. I do a run a women's blog for the Filipino-Australian community. I do that, but I just can't imagine starting my day talking about shampoos and which shampoo or conditioner would work well for your hair, so the short answer is no. I do love finance journalism. I feel at home. I feel like I'm in my element. I can't imagine doing healthcare writing or beauty writing. Fashion, I'm very passionate about arts and culture, so indigenous fashion is one of my pet projects and I combine that with some charity work once a year.
MH: Excellent. If we fast forward to today.
MH: As a Financial Standard has been, I guess, your baby for many years now, and recently Rainmaker purchased the Money Magazine from Bauer Media, how did that come about? Because ultimately they're very different audiences, even though both are writing about finance.
MB: Yes. The journey started a few years ago. It wasn't something that we thought about this year and the deal just came through. It was really looking at where Rainmaker sits in the of wealth management. Our mission has always been to provide leading financial content for both the industry and for consumers. We just didn't know what title would fit or whether it should be organic. Chris, our group managing director, said, "I can't think of any other title that we would consider except for money."
The conversation started from there and I think it took a couple of years or so before it did happen. Behind the scenes, we probably had to work for a year to look at integration, what it means for the business, what the week to week would look like. We thought it made sense because even if we are talking to the trade industry, i.e. financial planners and fund managers, we've always looked at ourselves as the publication for the wealth management professional.
You don't have to be in the industry. You just have to be someone who wants to truly understand what wealth management looks like.
MH: Given that the audience for Money Magazine has traditionally been, tell me if I'm wrong here, just non-advised or DIY investors, did you find that you putting on that different cap was difficult initially?
MB: Short answer is yes. I think there is definitely this sense of DIY advice as something they can do. They're successful professionals in their own space, architects, engineers, people that are quite comfortable around numbers, but it was more looking at, well, why is that? I ask myself, "Why is it that you have this cohort of people who have a combined household of $150,000 in annual income, most of them have fully paid their homes. They have a few million dollars in their investment portfolio, why is it that they're not seeking financial advice?"
One, our language was very different in the way we write the articles. Two, we're only really in year two of embracing Money. It's still like a learning curve. What does that mean?
MH: How has the integration gone? Because you've got two very successful businesses coming together with very different cultures and outlooks, has it been challenging? Has it been easy? What advice would you have for people that are putting any businesses together?
MB: Yes. Good question. Knock on wood. It's been fantastic so far. The integration has worked well. In fact, I'm looking across to the Money team, which is next to the Financial Standard team. A lot of the Financial Standard journalists contribute to Money and the Money team would sometimes provide news story leads to the Financial Standard journalists. That really all comes from just making sure we communicate why we have both teams and what is it that Rainmaker as a publishing and research house want to achieve.
Essentially, we just really want to provide leading content in finance. It doesn't matter if you're a super fund, a financial advisor or the end investor.
But we did hire a project manager to just do it step by step and making sure everything's organised. Things that you don't really think about like the number of cabinets in the office, IT needs training. Do we have enough space? Style guide, how do we write Money versus how do we write for Financial Standard? On the whole, I think it was incredibly important that we had a project manager just focused on integrating Money into the business.
MH: How long did that all occur before COVID hit and everyone had to move to remote working? Did you have time to get to know each other?
MB: Yes. It does feel like March is a big month for us. We purchased Money Magazine in March last year and then a year later here we are with COVID. We do have a small Money team, just the managing editor, editor-at-large, a journalist and our online content producer, plus two in production. The rest are contributors, including of course, Paul Clitheroe, Pam Walkley, Vita Palestrant, all these finance journalists who have been in the industry for decades. It was easy because of just the size of the team, but it was hair-raising.
I'm just really impressed with our IT team that they were just able to move all of us literally in the space of two weeks, so yeah.
MH: I think of all of the industries that have been severely impacted by COVID and media would certainly be up there. Financial Standard and Rainmaker have always had big events programme as well as a large print circular. How has that changed over the last few months? What lessons have you learned? More importantly, how have you pivoted the business across all of your different mastheads?
MB: Yes. Again, a good question. Just like in wealth management, diversity is incredibly important. I'm very lucky that I'm part of a business that has four legs, data, research, media, and events. The events business was definitely hard hit. We just had to cancel everything and then take a step back and think, "All right, so which ones do we proceed with this year and how are we going to do it?" How did we pivot? Again, we have a marketing and events team, and we're fortunate that they've just adjusted to it and thought, "These are the things that we can do as video online."
Definitely it was still hard because of the logistics of trying to organise everything. For example, if we wanted to interview someone from Melbourne and we can't do that. At the moment, it is the events business that took a hit because of COVID but slowly, we're trying to figure out, well we've already finalised our 2021 events calendar and we've proceeded with all our events bar, the MAX awards, which we had to do online, and all the forums had to be done online, including the Managed Accounts Forum that went out just yesterday.
MH: Is the feedback from those that have been attending the virtual it's been good?
MB: You know that if you get one negative feedback, that means there's like a hundred people out there who think the same way. Fortunately, we've only received positive feedback and it's not because we have bells and whistles in all our video products or all our video on demand series. People in general understand that this is all new to us so there's a little bit of room to say, "Hey, as long as the audio is great, as long as we've got the video, as long as the content is great, we're good." That's the story so far.
MH: What's your current thinking about post-COVID when we have a vaccine and life goes back to some sort of normal? Will you do a blended agenda in the future and have some virtual, some physical events, or you haven't thought that far ahead?
MB: No. Not yet. We haven't really thought about it only because I understand that technology already enables everyone to do videos and to connect with anyone they want to, either through social media or through MS meetings. For example, I didn't know that MS meetings existed before COVID. What we're trying to focus on is where can we provide value to our readers in a world where everyone can do video content, can do podcasts and basically reach out to you however way they want?
MH: Speaking of that business model innovation, again, going back to the recent merger with Money Magazine, their business model is very different to, I guess, how you've operated within financial services traditionally. Generally just talk through the differences and where you see media going in the future, particularly in relation to digital disruption.
MB: Yes. The first thing I guess would be the business model where Money Magazine was part of a suite of other publications within Bauer Media. That meant that they had the benefits of scale because you have more than, let's say, 20 titles. They also worked on what they called a cost per impression model, which is looking at traffic in a way that it was foreign to me in that I know with Financial Standard, they're not just impressions. I actually talked to Matt, for example, or I know ... I've interviewed Ian Silk.
They're just not clicks. They are people who are influencing the industry. One of the things that we've had to really look at is, do we adopt the advertising model that Money Magazine had previously, or do we assess it from how we understand the audience are really in terms of how we think? If we're talking about advertising, how would they view the Money audience, but also how we've run Financial Standard, which in the last five years, we've now grown to more than eight titles. There's Financial Standard and then we have the journals and the good guides.
We decided we are going to change the business model. We've actually raised the price of some of the advertising assets and we've introduced new assets. That was a big risk, but thankfully it's actually been very good. The advertisers have been very receptive, and knock on wood, our readers have actually gone up something like 20 to 25% since we've acquired the title.
MH: I think that's an interesting point. Are you suggesting that because you've been able to go deeper and more specific to an audience, so around sustainability managed accounts, that you're able to charge more because the audience is more relevant?
MB: I don't know whether that's the case. It's more that we have the experience of knowing who our audiences are in the finance world. Whereas at Bauer, Money was the only finance title, arguably, compared to more lifestyle titles. It came down to knowing who our advertisers were and just assessing, well, what does that mean in terms of making sure that our business model is sustainable in the future? The reason I say that is that this is not news to you, Matt, but a lot of newspapers are reporting losses, TV networks, magazines, and you think, why is that? Aren't they pricing their cost base, et cetera, into their advertising?
MH: If we change gear for a moment, you get great visibility over every sector of the financial services market. There are some pretty big things occurring at the moment. I know that you've recently launched a sustainability edition. Can you talk about where that's come from and if you're seeing a big increase across all parts of the market?
MB: Yes. Definitely. With EFA sustainability, that conversation started between Alex Dunnin and our head of research and Rachel Alembakis, who's the Melbourne-based founder of the Sustainability Report. That really came out of Rainmakers identifying that there's a lot more noise around sustainable investing. You can actually measure sustainability, so the metrics are a lot more rigorous. We thought, "Well, who can we align with who's already in that space?" Rachel stood out because she's true to label. She rides a bike every day, organic and health food, very passionate about sustainability.
God forbid you start a conversation on climate change with her, you'll never leave her house. That happened pretty quickly. Unlike Money, which was a couple of years in gestation, that deal probably happened within six months or so. We don't want to change the content. We already have the experts, but we just wanted to give it, if you like, a stronger infrastructure around it. Now, the sustainability report originated as a instal publication for super funds and wholesale investors.
To answer your question around, I guess, for financial advisors, we're just dipping our toes now to providing more content around financial advice and sustainability. I mean, what do you think? Is that something that you're seeing amongst your clients?
MH: Yeah. Absolutely. I think particularly post-bushfires, there was a huge renewed interest in climate change. Advisers for the first time were actually getting significant demand from their end clients and therefore having to skill up and look at what options existed in the market. No. It's, compared to even 12 months ago, a lot more interest in the sector and I think to your point, not necessarily a lot of information that people can look at.
MB: Yeah. Absolutely. One of the things that Rachel and I constantly discuss is that we better make sure we don't get into this whole greenwashing community where yes, it's on the label, it's sustainability, but really once you look under the bonnet, it's not. That's really the mission of EFA sustainability, to provide financial advisors and super funds with genuine content around two true to label, impact investing funds or sustainable funds, ethical funds. Then there are new trends as well. Like I think there's the blue ocean investing and a host of other things outside climate change.
MH: As far as the menu goes, financial planners, and this is a general comment, haven't been particularly good at really, I guess, vocalising the benefit of advice to the end consumer. What could advisors do to better leverage media and how can they get their voice out there?
MB: Yes. I know. I wonder why that is. I don't know why. There's such an opportunity to really talk to even Money readers, for example. What I've found just in the last 12 months of working with the Money team is that there's absolute demand out there for good content around finance and almost incremental steps towards building your wealth. How do you invest with less than $10,000? How do you buy your second or your third investment property? One thing I would recommend is probably first do your research, know what's out there.
For example, they might want to look at the Money website and see what are the kinds of stories we're writing? They might be able to contribute on a story about estate planning or ETFs, for example, or sustainable investing. That's one. There are Facebook groups, I guess. She's on the Money is a great Facebook group for women and just money management in general. Not really financial planning. I just feel like a big segment of the public is missing out on professional advice and either it's because they can't afford financial advice.
I still wonder why financial advice is not a tax deductible amount and there needs to be more education. What can they do? Understand what are the different types of consumer finance websites out there and consider contributing a piece or so, or just offering an interview. We're always open to a financial planner who is an expert on those topics that I've just mentioned, whether it's on shares, ETFs or property.
MH: As opposed to trying to go out and find yourself a column, it's more about just trying to collaborate on individual articles or areas that you feel you have an expertise.
MB: Yes. Absolutely. Because that's what we do every day already. We would write a story or two on money in the morning, and then we send out the newsletter on the Wednesday. It's funny. One of the most embarrassing things that happened to me was at a career show and tell. We had a doctor, a neurosurgeon, an accountant, myself, and the host said, "Who here wants to be a writer?" Nobody said they wanted to be a writer. I'm like, "Oh, well, how am I going to inspire you guys?" Then a decade later everyone's a blogger, a podcaster, a publisher.
You can do that definitely, but there is merit in the financial planning community reaching out to publications, such as Money and other consumer websites.
MH: To avoid you getting 20,000 emails after this podcast, our financial advice is best to try and find a couple of journalists that they read often or follow and arrange a cup of coffee, or how do they go about engaging with the media because it's not a skill that many would have?
MB: That is so true. I'll tell you in the last 20 years that I've worked in finance journalism, I haven't had a female financial advisor call me to say, "Hey, can I contribute to your magazine or to your newspaper?" Look, I'm very open. You can just email Money at moneymag.com.au or email@example.com. Obviously coffee is out, but a phone call and a Zoom meeting. They're a friendly bunch. We're all very accessible here. We'll just get to know what their business is, what their line of expertise are and then go from there.
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MH: No. I think that's absolutely great advice and I hope some of our listeners take it up. Michelle, we're going to run out of time shortly, but I'm keen to understand what's next for you and the team?
MB: Yeah. I guess with all the uncertainty in the markets, and we don't really know when we're going to get the vaccines, at the moment, it's really just making sure that we're looking after our readers in terms of our content. It's not like we're expecting 200% growth or anything like that. Secondly, just making sure that the staff are okay. I mean, it is an anxious time for everyone. Thirdly, there was an offer for another title this year and we just said, "Nah, we can't do it. We've got our hands full."
What's next is just really continued growth for Financial Standard. You'll see more of Money Magazine. We are looking at some podcasts and videos in that space. Yes. If you have any financial planners who want to contact us and collaborate, let us know. We have EFA sustainability and Industry Moves to work on for 2021, so watch this space
MH: Sounds like you've got plenty on.
MB: Yes. We've got a lot. I mean, I do want to mention the FS Power50, which is our 50 most influential advisors guide that will go out next year. I realise that we can't talk to all 22,000 financial planners out there in the market, so we do try to support the financial planning community by working with all our FS Power50 advisors list. We talk to them, interview them, profile them for the entire year that they're on that list to just connect them with both the Financial Standard readers and the money readers.
MH: Michelle, how long has the list been running for?
MB: It's been six, or this is the seventh year now.
MH: Has the list changed a lot in those seven years? You've always got your usual corporates, but are you seeing a lot of new people coming onto the list and doing things in new and interesting ways?
MB: There wasn't a lot of change the first three years, because our focus was definitely on social media. That was a new thing back then, but I just had to look at the list this morning and you'll definitely see a change, but it is peer-voted. So they have to make sure that they do share it with the community that they are going to be part of the list. We're seeing a diversification on specialties, whether it's someone who's great on social, someone who's into ethical investing, for example, or retirement.
Technology that used to be like, oh only a fraction of the financial planning community know about, whether it's Asana or Monday or MS meetings or Instagram, but now it's a given. I think you've highlighted that in your advice tech report, that just being at the forefront of technology is no longer a nice-to-have. It's a prerequisite. We're seeing that with the FS Power50, where they are all using all these new tools to be successful.
MH: The FS Power50 list has really become, in some ways, an advocacy list for the industry?
MB: Absolutely. This is, again, really just shining the torch on best practise advice and then allowing them a voice to talk about their successes. Because as you know, with Financial Standard, with the daily news, we will be covering what's happening with the Royal Commission or legislation. Amidst all that, all the positive things that are happening in the industry get buried. We feel that FS Power50 is about championing good advice and showing the world, if you like, that yes, the U.S. have a different financial planning culture, same with Europe, but look at Australia. This is the next generation of financial planners who are going to shape the industry.
MH: Fantastic. Are entries currently open for the FS 50, or is it getting close to being finalised for the year?
MB: It's definitely close to being finalised. The voting has closed, so that's it for the year, but if anyone's interested, they can always have a look at all our previous guides and start prepping for next year.
MH: Also great advice. Michelle, that's been a fantastic chat. Thank you so much for your time.
MB: Thank you.
Views expressed are of the interviewee and may not be the opinion of Netwealth or its related companies.