MakovskyThursday, January 21, 2016
“Would you have known those concepts when you started working here?” asked my boss the other day. We’d been discussing our reactions to The Big Short, a financial thriller centered on the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and inevitable market collapse. He’d been referring to my understanding of a CDO, or in human speak, a collateralized debt obligation. The majority of the film’s audiences had the term explained to them by pop culture icons like Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain.
So, to answer his question, no. Before most PR professionals begin their careers in a sector as specific as financial communications, they are as financially literate as the next person—which for most Americans is actually very little. We have a vague idea of the stock market and an even fuzzier idea of its impact on the global economy. That’s not to say we’re all naïve, rather that we may be missing opportunities to develop a strong knowledge in any given industry until it is forced upon us, like the start of a new job or new client.
On a recent trip to Wall Street, I passed the High School of Economics & Finance, a public high school dedicated to providing a financial education to students in grades nine through 12. My first impression was that this is a wonderful investment in our nation’s children, but a rare one at that— the school is the only one of its kind. I imagined that the students who attend ESEF would become the next generation of bankers, hedge fund managers, and traders. But what about the rest of us?
Just because we’re not Wall Street execs doesn’t mean we can afford to wait for these opportunities to learn. As communicators, it’s absolutely essential to understand what our clients do and the industries in which they work. Without it, our work is meaningless. For this reason, developing strong financial literacy is as vital to doing our jobs as is learning the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry for a healthcare PR practitioner.
Let’s not wait for pop culture icons to break down our industry for us. That would be the biggest short of all.