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Top funds industry news July 27, 2020: Luxembourg court cites GDPR in blocking transfer of account information to US, and other business-critical news

Conflicts between the now-generalised systems of exchange of information between countries for tax purposes and the requirements of the EU’s General Data Protection regulation have been highlighted by a Luxembourg appeal court ruling barring, at least temporarily, Israel’s Bank Hapoalim from transferring client data to the US Internal Revenue Service. The case involved an ‘accidental American’ client with an account at the Luxembourg branch of Banque Hapoalim Suisse who claimed successfully that even when anonymised – or pseudonymised – the data to be transferred contained personal information protected by the GDPR. The judgement, which opens the way for a hearing on the substance of the case, could potentially create problems for the 2014 inter-governmental agreement with Washington requiring Luxembourg’s banks to comply with the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

— Simon Gray, Editor in Chief

Sustainable Finance

Asset managers urge UK government to commit to EU sustainable investment rules

The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, a trade group representing asset managers, is urging the UK government to commit to the EU’s rules for green investments and to publish its regulations quickly to prevent the country falling behind Europe as a hub for investment according to environmental, social responsibility and governance criteria. The EU rules take effect next March, but the British government has not proposed legislation as the Brexit transition period draws to a close, making it likelier that any framework will lag that of the EU.

Best source: Financial Times (subscription required)

Fund Services

Allison Whaley appointed head of funds at Intertrust Luxembourg

Fund and corporate services provider Intertrust Luxembourg has appointed Allison Whaley as head of funds, while Matt Breuer and Derek Russell have been named as client directors. Whaley joined the group in March from JPMorgan, where she was global head of fund custody in its London office for six years. She will work alongside Derek Ramage, who was appointed head of the fund operations team in May.

Best source: Delano
See also: Paperjam (in French)


EU supervisory authorities say draft PRIIPs regulatory standards failed to get board approval

The European Supervisory Authorities say they cannot submit draft regulatory technical standards for packaged retail and insurance-based investment products to the European Commission for approval because the measures did not obtain the required qualified majority of board members in favour. Although the boards of the European Banking Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority approved the standards by the needed qualified majority, that of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority did not. Its members objected to revision of the delegated regulation at this time and indicated a preference for including the past performance graph in the key information document.

Best source: Asset Servicing Times
See also: European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority

Bank of England aims to enable funds to make longer-term investments after Covid-19

The Bank of England says its goal is to make it easier for pension schemes and investment funds to take long-term stakes in companies as they seek to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Alex Brazier, an executive director at the central bank, says a requirement for more realistic redemption periods for funds invested in illiquid assets would level the playing field among investment providers. Insurers may have greater flexibility to make equity investments when the UK leaves the EU, Brazier says, also noting that pension funds produce daily valuations though they have no obligation to do so.

Best source: Reuters

Crime and Litigation

Luxembourg court cites GDPR in blocking transfer of bank account information to US

Luxembourg’s appeal court has forbidden Bank Hapoalim Suisse and its Luxembourg subsidiary from transferring client data to the US without the approval of one of its clients and the assurance of adequate data protection provisions in the recipient jurisdiction, a ruling based on the provisions of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. The case had been referred to Luxembourg by the Swiss courts. The Israeli bank had agreed to provide the US authorities with data on more than 2.000 client accounts as part of a settlement of charges of abetting tax evasion, also including an $874m penalty, but the transfer was opposed by an Israeli national who was born in the US but left the country more than 50 years ago, at the age of 19. The Luxembourg court ruled that even the anonymised data that Hapoalim proposed to transfer were subject to protection under the GPDR.

Best source: Reporter (subscription required, in French)

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Private Equity In The Covid-19 World: Hero Or Villain?

Covid-19 impacts economies across the globe

The private equity industry has long struggled to overcome a public reputation for maximising profit and jeopardising healthy businesses by loading them with unsupportable debt and charges. In light of the new world we live in, can the sector restore its image by helping to relaunch economies after the Covid-19 pandemic?

Over the past two decades the private equity sector has evolved from a marginal and mostly obscure corner of the investment industry into a core element of the financial system.

Now the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath poses unique challenges for private equity firms and their investors living in a world where company valuations are fluid and volatile, creditworthiness is cloudy and governments seem set to play a far more prominent role in economic management than at any time this century.

In terms of financial heft, private equity should be well placed for a leading more in economic recovery. Worldwide, the industry is flush with cash — or at least commitments.

Private equity funds have a record $2.5 trillion available in ‘dry powder,’ money pledged by investors that firms have not yet drawn down.

The environment promises to be welcoming for firms with money to spend, especially those specialising in distressed debt, of which there is plenty expected to emerge over the coming months and years, or those seeking to build industry-leading portfolio companies through bolt-on acquisitions that add scale.

Alternative to turbulent public markets

True, the market environment for private equity investment was looking less favourable before the pandemic emerged and lockdowns began. The huge pile of dry powder reflects in part an increasing shortage of suitable investment targets, which had been pushing up prices.

But private equity, along with other types of more complex and longer-term investment, looks more attractive to institutional investors than turbulent public equity markets, cash earning next to nothing in interest and bond markets yoked to the imperatives of central bank monetary easing strategies.

Not to mention the clouds gathering over that staple of institutional investment portfolios, commercial real estate.

However, private equity has its own hurdles to overcome to position itself as a saviour of struggling companies and stuttering economies.

First and foremost? A wretched public image, fuelled by both misunderstanding of what private equity is and does and by the industry’s frequent tone-deafness to wider concerns of society.

Private equity’s opaqueness, complexity and lack of public accountability is often placed in contrast with the (supposed) transparency of companies listed on public markets.

Critics such as Sheila Smith, a former senior economist at the UN Development Programme, describes the sector as “termite capitalism”, targeting a business model characterised by reliance on borrowed money rather than investors’ capital, asset stripping and job destruction, opaque fee structures, unsustainable extraction of returns through dividends funds by further borrowing and use of debt and offshore structures to reduce, often to zero, tax liabilities in the companies in which portfolio companies operate.

Investing for the long term?

In vain do private equity companies protest that their business involves not wanton extraction of assets but the creation of value through the restructuring and re-energising of struggling, directionless companies, the empowering of capable managers and the incentivisation of employees, and that they focus on companies’ long-term development, not just the next quarter’s bottom line.

Because it’s such an emotive phrase, they don’t like to speak of ‘creative destruction.’

But that’s a key driver of the private equity model: stripping away dead-end jobs and businesses and replacing them with new ones that are more productive and have a long-term future.

Some of the criticism is certainly unfair. The obsession with the offshore tax haven structures of private equity (and other alternative investment firms) tends to ignore the key classes of institutional investor that are non-taxpayers, such as university endowments and charitable organisations.

Rather than a pure creature of plutocratic vampire capitalists, the private equity industry is driven principally by the needs of their investors: pension funds to meet their commitments to retirees and insurance companies to meet policy-holder claims.

It’s against this unfavourable reputational backdrop that the private equity sector must face the challenges of the post-pandemic world.

What will it look like?

Swings and roundabouts

In the short to medium term, the industry is suffering similar hits to revenue and profit as other businesses. Antoine Drean, founder of private equity placement agency Palico and consultancy Triago, expects profit-sharing – carried interest – on above-benchmark returns to dry up, especially for firms with heavy exposure to the most vulnerable areas of the economy, such as the hospitality, travel and energy sectors.

Hugh MacArthur, Graham Elton and Brenda Rainey of consultancy Bain & Company argue that dealmaking is set for a slump while firms focus on the health of existing portfolio companies and bank lending to the sector is likely to be significantly constrained and subject to significantly tighter conditions (although this is likely to be offset by the sheer volume of dry powder and likely lower valuations of acquisition targets).

They say private lenders, a significant force in the market since the global financial crisis, should also help fill the gap while the need to exit mature portfolio companies in order to provide returns to investors will also spur deal flow.

The Bain & Co. partners also warn that some investors may find themselves financially squeezed if calls on existing capital commitments exceed private equity distributions.

This points to a reduction in fundraising, at least temporarily, after a decade of soaring inflows from investors looking to private equity’s historically higher levels of return to offset the impact of interest rates at rock-bottom or worse.

While the industry’s overall levels of return are likely to take a quick hit from lower valuations on existing investments, especially those made near the peak of the market, the recessionary environment should yield more profitable opportunities.

Private equity and Covid-19: Core role in institutional portfolios

Can we expect a better reputation for private equity in the months and years after Covid-19? There’s no guarantee that public perceptions will change radically in the near future.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the sector has drawn fire from politicians and others over the insolvency of venerable names of American retailing such as Neiman Marcus and J. Crew, although the critics tend to ignore that the businesses have been deteriorating for years in the face of changing consumer habits and growing internet competition.

However, with near-zero interest rates apparently locked in for years to come, barring an upsurge in inflation that stubbornly refused to materialise despite a decade of loose monetary policy, the core position of private equity in institutional asset portfolios seems more likely to strengthen than to diminish.

In a world where job preservation is now a central economic policy objective, private equity firms will also be under pressure to avoid wholesale layoffs and business closures.

They and their investors likely will have more skin in the game as the peaks of bank leverage of recent years recede and the days of egregious debt-driven dividend recapitalisations are probably mostly over for the foreseeable future. If private equity can claim to be playing a role in saving viable companies and jobs, it may become less of a bogeyman for critics of capitalism.

But it shouldn’t count on being better loved.

You might also be interested in: 

Donald Trump, Despicable King of Content

Donald Trump supporters at a presidential campaign rally

It’s a long-standing joke – going back to early 2016 – among my family and friends: “Don’t ask David about Donald Trump.” 

So I want to get this clear at the start: I loathe the American president. No president in my lifetime has earned the degree of contempt I feel for this imposter. I believe he’s a force for evil — a “wicked stage master,” as American journalist George Packer calls him — the living representation of what I think is wrong with this world: racist, anti-semitic, xenophobic, narcissistic, misogynist, nationalistic, fascist, authoritarian, selfish, greedy, fraudulent, classist, arrogant, cruel, hypocritical, vain, cynical, pompous, domineering, inept, frivolous, materialistic…for more, go here.

And yet, I have to give him credit for a single skill. Honestly, I do. 

Before I’m deafened by the collective gasp from those family and friends — “Hypocrite, David!” — let me explain.

Donald, the content marketer

As a media professional, I have to acknowledge his mastery of one of the keys of effective content marketing:

He knows his audience. 

And he knows how to appeal to them. Again and again, despite howling opposition from all corners of his country and the entire planet. 

He is maddeningly consistent — even in the face of occasional and usually mild critiques from his allies — and loyal to that core base that may yet inch him to reelection in November, although I shudder at the thought of the havoc he will wreak if given another four years.

I’ve often likened him to the original Godzilla, made only stronger by the force of the bullets, missiles and electric lines lobbed at him by the Japanese military. 

Godzilla from the original film

And this modern Godzilla, with his “shrewd, reptilian brain” (Packer again) knows better than anyone how to play to his audience, calling on his singular skill with persistence and flair.

In a famous essay, philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs and foxes. He drew the distinction from a saying by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Donald Trump is a hedgehog, albeit one wearing an orange wig. He has nailed that one big thing.

Playing to the crowd

The signs of playing to his audience are legion. In the past few days alone, he insisted on holding his first campaign rally since the Covid-19 lockdown in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site in 1921 of one the worst racial massacres in US history that left some 300 African-Americans dead — and on the same day as Juneteenth, an important holiday for black America, marking the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read out Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation in Texas, freeing slaves in the final holdout state.

In a nod to the outcry in a country torn by growing social protests over racial injustice, Trump agreed to reset the rally — for the next day. But he’d already won the points he was doubtlessly looking for from his diehard core supporters.

Donald Trump supporter holding pro-trump poster

Last week, his administration erased protections for transgender patients against discrimination — announcing the move on the four-year anniversary of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida — and in the middle of Pride month, which commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall riots, an important date in the history of the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. 

In the midst of the protests, he suggested via tweet (with no evidence) that a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo, New York, who was seriously injured by police may been a “provocateur” who staged the event (and presumably his injury).

A day later, Trump argued against renaming American military bases named after Confederate leaders — even as military leaders themselves expressed support for the idea.

In a country roiled by the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over the horrifying abuse of black Americans dating back since before the country’s founding, Trump stays true to his base.

Nationwide polls show that despite the fact that he’s losing against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, he still holds on to 93% of his Republican base.

As CNN wrote recently, “Trump has made a clear play during his presidency of satisfying the Republican base, and the polling indicates that this effort is clearly paying off. His base is not abandoning him, even as his overall numbers remain weak.”

But while most Republicans would deny they’re racist — as Trump himself does repeatedly — the data would indicate otherwise. “Donald Trump’s support in the 2016 campaign was clearly driven by racism, sexism, and xenophobia,” researchers Vanssa Williamson and Isabella Gelfand wrote in a piece for the Brookings Institution. “While some observers have explained Trump’s success as a result of economic anxiety, the data demonstrate that anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and sexism are much more strongly related to support for Trump.” 

You think I should learn from this?

As deplorable as is this element of his support, what’s the lesson for content marketers?

“The more you know about your audience, the more powerful your digital marketing efforts will become,” Mindy Weinstein wisely advises in Search Engine Journal. “It isn’t enough to know the demographics and location of your prospects. You have to know as much as possible about them, including their personality traits, interests, values, opinions.”

I would argue that Donald Trump is a master at that aspect of content marketing, instinctively and with a political organisation around him to reinforce and build on those instincts in their own communications with his supporters.

In our world as content marketers, Weinstein points out that the outcome of this exercise is practical and hard-edged, resulting in:

  • accurate topics and keywords to target;
  • information that helps you craft your pages to trigger more effective conversion;
  • a better user experience;
  • content optimisation;
  • messaging that leads to the specific action you seek from your audience;
  • leads to key influencers.

To get to know that audience, she recommends starting with the basics: Market research, compiling all the data and details about your targets that eventually will feed any personas you build. 

Two tools Weinstein recommends are YouGov, whose free version offers access to data pulled from more than 200,000 consumers, and Demographics Pro, which analyses Twitter and Instagram profiles for insights into their followers, starting with basics like age and gender, then digging deeper into brand affinities, audience interests and more.

She uses other tools such as qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys and personas.

Donald Trump’s content shapes a powerful ‘brand story’

For Trump, the “success” of his content inherently relates to the brand story that has evolved since his presidential campaign, and the impact it had then and still has on his target audience — those Americans most likely to vote for him.

His 2016 campaign aimed at specific concerns and prejudices of his likely pool of voters and presented Trump as the solution to those issues — “I alone can fix it,” as he famously claimed — through a brand story that presented him as a successful and experienced businessman who isn’t afraid to speak his mind or take on entrenched political and economic powers (fictional as that claim was).

Trump’s “content” consisted of his Tweets, declarations and actions. I know this isn’t traditional content marketing — but he’s not a traditional president.

The results for his candidacy? His base ate it up. They still do.

Agree with him or not, we’ve all been talking obsessively about him since 2016.

Some share and engage enthusiastically with him on social media, while others complain. Doesn’t matter what’s said. Ultimately, we (myself included) all have helped spread his brand story wider and wider, in the process helping him reach even more potential supporters.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s campaign received billions — yes, billions — of dollars worth of free media. In fact, according to data tracking firm mediaQuant, he amassed $5.6 billion in free earned media throughout his campaign, more than Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio combined.

Trump also got 50% more media coverage than Clinton during the election.

What he truly understands, better than most, is how to speak to his audience. He intuits how to offer them the kind of content that will appeal to them, get them emotionally charged and move them to consider the value he says he has to offer.

And therein beats the heart of content marketing.

Reading minds

As Benyamin Elias, director of Content Marketing at ActiveCampaign, puts it: “When you know your audience, you can pluck the words right out your customers’ mouths and use it in your marketing. You can read minds.”

Elias then draws a straight and convincing line to more leads (“because people feel you understand them”), more customers (“because leads feel like you understand them:) and more referrals (“because customers feel like you understand them.”). (Emphasis, mine.)

From there, he believes that conversion rates, social media shares, email opens and clicks and sales will all rise. 

By the way, this should not be because you’re trying to manipulate your audiences. Rather, its should be because you understand them, their needs and their desires in ways that enable you to bring them value with your product, service…or simply, information that helps guide them (which is the core of our business at VitalBriefing).

Interestingly, Elias also criticises the exercise of building personas if you’re missing the psychographic piece that must accompany the demographics in order to provide the “AIO” element – activities, interests and opinions.

Add to that data analytics to “help you send your messages to the right people at the right time.”

His ultimate point is that you need to arrive at the ability to speak (or write) in the language that your audience uses and understands.

Sound like a certain American president?

Of course, it’s fair to argue Trump is manipulating the public with false information — which he certainly does on a steady basis. (As of May 29, according to The Washington Post, Trump had made false or misleading claims 19,126 times in 1,226 days in office, an average of one per every waking hour of the day.)

Obviously, this is not an approach I endorse, recommend or advocate. In fact, I’m depressed by the fact that his behavior doesn’t send his support plummeting. But the reality that he maintains a considerable well of support indicates to me that he understands the kind of content that appeals to a significant portion of this base.

As Search Engine Optimisation guru Neil Patel says (not referring to Trump), knowing your audience is more critical than identifying keywords to stuff into your content: “Catering to a specific and defined audience is far more powerful than targeting keywords.”

Shares, engaged time and comments matter most to publishers when measuring audience engagement

It makes sense. As Patel notes, engagement is far more important than generating traffic to your website. Because if they get there and you can’t engage them, you’ve lost the battle, and the audience.

If they’re neither commenting, sharing or buying, bringing them there brought you (and them) nothing.

All those actions reflect an understanding by publishers that the game is about far more than attracting eyeballs. If they’re sharing your content, spending time with your content or on your website, commenting on what they read and see or visiting various pages, then you’ve connected with them in one way or another.

In short, you speak their language. You know your audience.

Just like the president I can’t stand to hear or see.

But still…I have to give him credit for that one big thing.

Writing right: How to create effective content marketing

It takes a lot of work to write effective and engaging content marketing articles and blogs.

As content specialists, we know that for a fact.

That said, as brands across every industry look for cheap inbound marketing opportunities, many are now pursuing content marketing strategies.

That makes sense. When produced in-house, among other benefits content marketing articles:

  • serve as a relatively low-cost form of marketing that can be leveraged to target specific audiences and prospects
  • boost leads and conversions
  • improve site traffic
  • raise brand awareness and credibility
  • support the sales cycle.

These benefits explain why market research company Technavio forecasts that the content marketing industry will be worth nearly a half trillion dollars by 2021, more than doubling in value in the five years from 2016.

If you’re considering devoting time and resources to a content strategy, however, heed our warning: don’t bother unless you intend to create high-quality material.

If you’re here to discover what that actually means, be patient. We’ll get there.

First, we need to explain why this is so important.

two pairs of hands with text imposed

Avoid creating content for content’s sake

The old days of “put out anything” are gone. Publishing low-calibre articles or blogs today is counterproductive, and even can alienate a company from its targets and prospects.

Does it really makes such a drastic difference for your material to be well-written, researched and optimised for SEO? Take it from us:

Yes. It. Does.

There are two major reasons that lead to the same end: the value of your content.

Don’t be a salesman

The idea of brand relevance that offers value to the public aside from selling products or services has become crucial.

No one engaged in business research wants to feel like a sales mark (unless, of course, they’ve arrived at the purchase stage in their buyer’s journey.)

Rather, what people are looking for is useful information that helps guide decisions.

That was a major finding we uncovered during our research at the dawn of VitalBriefing, before we even launched the company. Our extensive market research found that people are sick and tired of companies trying to sell them products and services.

Indeed, 71% of buyers agreed that they’re turned off by content that seems like a sales pitch, according to research from the Economist Group.

Plus, in the wake of major events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, coupled with the explosive growth of ‘fake news’, consumers are looking for — and demanding — credible, authentic, reliable and high-quality content.

Meanwhile, the sales cycle is growing increasingly longer. On average, B2B buyers now consume between 10 and 14 pieces of content before committing to a purchase. But nobody wants to deal with a salesman.

Since the focus should no longer be on ‘selling’, we all must provide value, guiding prospects through the sales funnel/buyer’s journey with content.

But if it’s not high-value material, don’t bother.

Playing by Google’s rules

The flip side of this value relates to SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation.

In response to content consumption trends, Google, in the way it ranks results on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), has increased its emphasis on content quality and authority.

In 2018, Google made a number of significant changes to its algorithm. One of those is known as the Medic Update, and it changed the way Google measures the quality of a webpage.

To offer users the best possible experience, Google’s algorithm evaluates web pages first and foremost for the value it believes they will provide audiences.

Google scores an article or blog on key metrics in relation to value provided to the audience, such as bounce rates, average time spent on the web page and whether a reader clicked out of a domain after reading the material or if they further explored a site (think: your site).

This means that if you intend to write effective content marketing articles and/or blogs, you had better ensure you’re doing the best job you can.

In addition to supporting your sales funnel, good (and great) content also will improve the SEO of your entire website, ensuring your homepage and content rank higher for the most relevant searches and keyphrases.

Find the right topic

Remember, you should ensure that the topic of your article or blog:

  • reflects your company’s expertise and brand values
  • is relevant to your target and sector
  • provides value to the reader

To achieve that assurance, you’d better do your due diligence — which in this case translates to doing your research.

For instance, if possible find an angle or connection to major recent news and events to discuss in your article.

Also, what subjects are experts in your space creating content to address? Look for the industry-specific buzzwords and hot topics that you could take on.

You could also do some keyword/search phrase research and create content that targets a specific search query.

And, of course, remember we’re talking about content marketing articles rather than simple marketing or sales material. These pieces should clearly reflect your organisation’s mission and values in order to resonate with your audience.

Get them to believe in your story and they’ll believe in your brand.

If you think you’ve found a good topic, ask yourself this: are you offering expert insight or opinion, or even actionable advice? If not, then what makes your article noteworthy to the reader?

Other factors to keep in mind:

  • Think of the consumer experience. Will your blog appeal to your target’s problems and aspirations? Don’t focus on you or your company (except for bottom-of-the-funnel content). Instead, your content topic should appeal to your prospect’s problems and aspirations.
  • Buyers — especially when doing their initial research — don’t look for solutions. They make searches in relation to, and consume content that helps with, their problem or opportunity.
  • Consumers particularly like talking about experts who inspire, challenge, educate and get them emotionally charged. By homing in on the right emotional triggers, the best stories will show how you can solve their problems, satisfy their desires, identify opportunities and even threats to their future (B2C) or their business (B2B).

Formatting your article

Users spend an average of 15 seconds on a webpage. You must do everything possible to ensure your content is appealing from the lede (first sentence) and entices your audience to read to the kicker (last sentence).

Although optimising the formatting of your piece won’t guarantee success, it certainly will help. The more attractive the formatting, the more likely your audience will keep reading — and to take that crucial next step after consuming your content, from engaging with you on social media, visiting your homepage or downloading something off your site.

Here are some tips that will help. (Take special note of the last one on the list):

  • Write shorter paragraphs (1-3 sentences)
  • Define a consistent writing style (Voice? Tone?)
  • Use bullet points to break up text
  • Use proper subheadings (H2, H3, H4, etc.)
  • Define a consistent typography and colour pallet
  • If possible, use boldfaced, italicized and underlined text
  • Include key takeaways at the end
  • Embed image(s) or video(s)

Don’t forget to showcase your value proposition

Remember this: you are trying to achieve a goal with your content marketing articles or blogs. You are striving to convince your audience of something — to get them to do something.

You need them to take that next step at whatever stage of the funnel they’re at. To get there, make your value proposition clear in the right way.

Easy to say (or write), harder to pull off. Somehow, without talking about your company and its services, you must make it clear that your company and services are first-in-class.

How can you do that?

Prove it through your competence and knowledge — after all, these are the qualities that distinguish you from your competitors. The subjects you cover should make it easy for your expertise to shine through.

The importance of a call-to-action (CTA)

Throughout this process, remind yourself of your end goal — which isn’t simply to see your company’s name in print, online, or in any particular medium. You want your prospects to read that piece of content and continue their way through your funnel.

Remember to match whatever you’re writing about with the appropriate CTA to accompany the article.

For instance, if your desired outcome is audience download of a white paper or ebook so that you can capture qualified leads (e-mail addresses), you’ll probably want to cover a more technical topic that leaves them hungry for more in-depth information.

On the other hand, if your ambition is to boost social media engagement, you’ll probably target a broader, more attention-grabbing topic with broader audience appeal.

Ultimately, it may seem there’s a lot to consider. Don’t be dissuaded or discouraged. Practice makes better, if not perfect, and the more you write, the easier most of this will become.

Eventually, you won’t even need to think about many of these elements — they’ll just come naturally.

Do you need more content marketing tips and advice to help you creatine effective and engaging material? You might be interested in:

Our CEO’s #1 Content Marketing Tip: You Need To Read

I was born into a family of readers. Long before I knew what that would mean for my life, my well-being and my career, I had been gifted both a healthy addiction and key tips to creating effective content marketing that would drive what I would do with my life.

Young man sitting on books drawing creative ideas while looking at computer

In fiction, I revel in great writing and great writers and my taste is eclectic, crossing centuries, countries, styles. At the top of my favorites, and who have had profound impact on my life and thinking, sit Chekhov, Dickens, Nabokov, Munro, García Márquez, Austen, Tolstoy, James, Tyler, Bellow, Roth, on and on.

I’ve hauled their books around with me over more decades than I want to admit here, in dozens of boxes, across continents and countries, in vans, cars, trains, boats, planes and briefcases.

What do they all have in common, the gift that keeps on giving?

They tell great stories.

They tell us about those around us, as well as ourselves, and the world we live in.

And they show us the way to creating great content ourselves. How they do it is both subtle and obvious, and always delightful (even when the subject matter is painful).

The lives they lead

From David Copperfield to Elizabeth Bennett to Colonel Aureliano Buendía to Augie March to Humbert Humbert to Anna Karenina, their characters illustrate aspects of our existence and make us think about what we do, how we do what we do…and why.

That’s why when I enter someone’s home for the first time, I try to make a beeline for their bookshelves. That way, I have an immediate sense of who I’m dealing with, how they think and what they care about. It’s one way to anticipate what to expect from our time together.

It’s an insight into my audience of the moment.

It’s amazing how what goes around, comes around. I had no idea when I founded a content company that the lessons of literature and great writing would underpin our approach as content creators and content marketers.

Whether we’re reading for personal or professional reasons, we return to the sources we trust, the authors we believe, the analysts we consistently value because the content they create is meaningful to us.

And that’s what we should represent to our own audiences. They should value our content for the same reasons we value those we trust.

As content creators, we have much to learn from the wisdom and brilliance of great writers. There are the obvious ways:

  • Effectively structuring complex material (payoff: logical flow of content, easy to follow)
  • Unlocking the power of the telling detail (payoff: a critical example is worth paragraphs of description)
  • Ensuring economy of language (payoff: wasted words waste time)
  • Displaying empathy and understanding of the audience (payoff: enriching your buying personas)
  • Showing, not telling (payoff: creating visual images with language improves recall)
  • Surprising and delighting, informing and educating (payoff: increases engagement and loyalty)

Life’s Pleasure

As a young journalist, I learned that what matters most is the single sentence – a few, if you’re really good – that a reader will remember from your story later.

For me, that means opening sentences like this, from Vladimir Nabokov’s wonderful autobiography, Speak, Memory: “The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

Or this, from Jane Austen’s Emma: ” “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Such sentences are packed with meaning, every word carefully weighed, building to a conclusion that foreshadow everything that’s coming — and keeps the readers (think: your audience) moving to where the author (think: content marketer) wants them to go.

It’s the kind of writing that opens a window — a door, really — to walk through and escape this world while learning about it at the same time, guiding the audience into seeing things differently, imagining possibility where they might not have otherwise.

Content Marketing Tip 101: Walk The Walk

To one degree or another, isn’t that what we all want for the content we create? A well-crafted, well-told, engaging story that will seduce our audience — regardless of the medium.

If the audience believes in your story, blog, infographic, podcast or video, they’ll believe in you, your brand, your product, your service. “Hook” them with content that’s irresistible, that invests them in you, and you’ll see better results — for example, social likes and shares, longer and more sustained engagement with your material.

Then they’re on the way on the buyer’s journey to your golden land, leads that evolve from unqualified to qualified and, finally, to conversion.

As a foreign correspondent some years ago, I had the great privilege to spend time with Gabriel García Márquez for a story I was writing. It was late in his life and he knew time was running out.

How did he spend it?

“I don’t read new fiction any more,” he said. “I reread the books I love.”

As content marketers, that’s what we want for our audiences. If they believe in us, they’ll keep coming back. But to win that loyalty, we must consistently be authoritative, credible, entertaining, timely, relevant, authentic — and interesting.

Losing the reader

As a newspaper and magazine journalist for many years, I knew brilliant investigative reporters who could unearth incredible stories, spending months digging deep, amassing facts, unearthing evil and wrongdoing — then put it all together into an incomprehensible story that lost its readers after the first paragraphs.

I’m thinking of all this now after reading an insightful piece by Carina Rampelt of Find a Way Media for the Content Marketing Institute in which she makes the compelling case that “reading fiction can make you a better content creator.”

By now, it’s obvious how much I agree. All good writing makes you a better content marketing creator because the elements of storytelling and writing are the same in any medium — from long-form print to short-form digital blog posts, from Facebook and LinkedIn posts to thought-leadership-content headlines.

Even tweets, today’s digital poetry. (Of course, there’s also the can’t-take-the-eyes-away-from-the-car-crash tweets of American President Donald Trump. But of all the factors I listed above for winning audience that he’s missing, he can’t be faulted for not being interesting.)

Even as Rampelt emphasizes the lessons to be learned from literary fiction as they apply to effective content marketing, she aptly cites William Faulkner on the virtues of an expanded horizon: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.”

Faulkner was right, partly

Who am I to argue with Faulkner, although at the top of the heap I would rate the merits of great non-fiction equal to those of great fiction in the practical help it offers content creators.

In different ways, each genre imparts invaluable keys to organization of material, structure, storytelling and use of language — all critical to content marketing that resonates with audiences.

Non-fiction is particularly helpful in a different way than fiction because it relies on the notion that accurate and credible facts matter — presumably as does the content you will produce.

Let me add to Rampelt’s point. Often our clients ask us whether “the story” is really so important given that what they want is a sales-focused result — be it leads, conversions or sales.

Our answer is yes, it really is that important.

All results, including those driving to the sale, will be enhanced by ensuring you tell a good story (great story, even better) in whatever format you’re telling it — from text to video to whatever. Even your website copy and content need to follow the rule.

Storytelling = ROI

There’s a wonderful example of how effective storytelling creates ROI. In 2009, an outfit called Significant Objects launched an experiment, gathering 100 talented writers, assigning them an object bought for a few dollars as fodder for a fictional story, then putting the object and story up for bid on eBay.

ROI of storytelling is $27.06

The group was testing a theory: “Narrative transforms insignificant objects into significant ones.”

And it did. In their first outing, the group sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. They repeated it several more times, raising money for various charities.

The formats of digital platforms create different challenges — the need for scalability of content, multiple screen sizes, specific requirements of SEO and search.

While they have a huge impact on how we shape and present our content, the elements of effective writing still apply: clear, concise language, well-organized structure of information, clean and error-free copy, an understanding of the audience that will consume what you have to offer so that what you create resonates and creates loyalty.

And again, first and foremost, last and most important, for creating effective content: a compelling story, well told.

So we’re back to the beginning, coming full circle to the most important content marketing advice I can give: Never stop reading.

Do you need more content marketing tips and advice to help you creatine effective and engaging material? You might be interested in:

From the 2008 Financial Crisis to Coronavirus Recession: Are the Banks Safe This Time?

It took massive public-sector bailouts financed by unprecedented levels of borrowing to reverse the global financial crisis of 2008-09 brought on by rash lending and investment policies of banks in the United States and elsewhere. With the world on the brink of a coronavirus-triggered recession, how is it different this time?

“In 2008, the banks were to blame for the crisis, but the real economy was not in crisis,” CSSF CEO Claude Marx observed recently. “Now we are in the reverse situation, where a health crisis is causing an economic crisis, and…the banks are part of the solution.”

In fact, the abrupt cutback of bank lending in 2008 and 2009 contributed to the plummet of most countries’ economies into recession.

However, Marx notes, the confidence enjoyed by the banking sector is a critical aspect of governments’ response to the current coronavirus pandemic. One reason: new rules designed to ensure that institutions are substantially better capitalised than 12 years ago, as well as guarantee schemes expanded to protect retail deposits.

Imprudent parents

Increased transparency affecting both regulators and investors, as well as tools such as stress tests, have been established to prevent both a ‘business-as-usual’ mentality and disregard of the lessons of the century’s first decade.

In the grand duchy in particular, cautious business practices are a well-engrained habit already. For that, we can credit the two Luxembourg institutions that required state rescue: Dexia BIL and Fortis Banque Luxembourg, both brought down by the imprudence of their parents abroad.

For the most part, privately-owned commercial banks have played the key role in channelling government funding into loans and guarantees to preserve businesses and jobs.

But Marx acknowledges that the risk of a recession brought on by the coronavirus cannot be ruled out altogether.

If the economic shutdown prompts widespread bankruptcies and defaults on the share of government-backed loans where the risk is retained by commercial institutions, as well as on previous lending, we may be headed again for trouble.

Because of the banks’ capital strength, and in several cases deep-pocketed shareholders, the risk of a coronavirus-based recession affecting Luxembourg is lower than in most other countries.

But policymakers worldwide must consider seriously the risk as the confidence of a rapid rebound that was widespread just months ago — remember the famous V-shaped recession and recovery? — has begun to fade.

Today, economists are illustrating the recovery with hockey stick charts more like Nike’s trademark swoosh logo.

Risk of losses

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell has argued that US economic activity could contract temporarily by as much as 30% and that a full-scale recovery may be delayed until the end of 2021. He says it depends on people regaining confidence that their risk of illness is low, which in turn may rest on the widespread availability of a Covid-19 vaccine.

He expects unemployment to continue to climb for at least another couple of months before a rebound begins in the second half of this year.

Already, the Fed has warned in its semi-annual report on financial stability that US banks are at risk of material losses that could strain even their post-financial crisis capital and liquidity buffers, as well as the billions of dollars they have set aside in provisions for potential non-performing loans.

Any renewal of volatility in financial markets could create additional financial stress if asset prices fall, it adds.

There is also concern in France’s banking sector about the longer-term implications of the government’s credit guarantees. Industry members warn that a significant number of companies taking government-backed loans could be heading for a debt crunch over the next next years — perhaps as early as this summer — given that their profitability is likely to remain depressed for some lime.

Encouraged by the European Central Bank’s ultra-low interest rates, companies have been loading up on debt in the form of bank loans and bond issues for years.

“The risk is that by putting French companies that were already not in good health on life support, we could be adding a financial crisis to today’s consumption crisis, perhaps in a year, when companies are no longer able to refinance themselves and banks may be closing the credit taps,” worries Pierre-Arnoux Mayoly, a partner with law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Apart from general concern about businesses, especially small ones, and households whose financial equilibrium may have been eroded by loss of income since March, policymakers are closely examining companies in particularly vulnerable sectors, along with those that were already heavily indebted before the pandemic took hold.

Potential problem areas that were already causing concern before the pandemic include highly-leveraged hedge funds disproportionately affected by market volatility and asset price declines.

They also may have contributed to the turbulence by having to sell assets to meet margin calls or reduce portfolio risk. A year ago 14% of US hedge funds accounted for half the industry’s net borrowing.

Leveraged but not covenanted

Red flags are also waving over so-called leveraged loans — lending to companies that were already highly indebted, typically with debt exceeding five times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda).

These include a significant number of private-equity-owned companies burdened with debt from their acquisition cost or from special dividends paid to investors — paid not out of profit but additional borrowing.

Analysts say the two high-profile, private equity-owned US retailers, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus, that have filed for bankruptcy over the last two months were crippled by debt burdens — $1.7 billion and nearly $5 billion respectively — that prevented them investing to meet the challenge of e-commerce and new shopping habits.

The sector’s problems aren’t purely coronavirus-recession-related. Indeed, they have been worsened by the steady erosion over the past seven years of loan conditions imposed by banks, especially for leveraged loans and private equity-backed companies.

This trend has developed over the past decade amid rock-bottom interest rates that prompted lenders to compete for the business of more lucrative but riskier borrowers.

According to Moody’s, syndicated leveraged loan covenant quality set a decade-long low in the fourth quarter of 2019, with the majority of credit agreements permitting, for example, collateral-stripping asset transfers, the retention by owners of excess cash flow of the proceeds of asset sales, and substantial ebitda adjustments.

Easing capital rules to avoid a coronavirus downturn

Meanwhile, central banks and regulators have been accommodating with banks in the interests of keeping loans flowing into the economy, allowing institutions to draw on capital buffers introduced since the global financial crisis and to delay for a year compliance with new Basel III capital standards, measures designed to prevent a repeat of the banking sector’s problems in 2007-09.

The European Parliament is considering legislation that would ease stricter bank leverage ratio requirements due to take effect next year.

In addition to a one-year delay, the European Banking Federation also is backing an existing measure that would allow national regulators to exclude deposits held at the European Central Bank from their balance sheet total for the purposes of calculating the ratio.

Some governments want to go further. France’s finance ministry says the government-guaranteed loans issued by banks should receive the same treatment. There are even calls for the state debt on banks’ books to be excluded from leverage ratio calculations, a measure already temporarily in place in the US.

So while the banking industry may be confident right now that this time it is not the problem but the solution, a little caution is appropriate — the potential of a coronavirus recession is very real.

Neither the Covid-19 pandemic nor its economic consequences are close to being fully played out, and not even the most prescient expert can predict with assurance where all the chips are going to fall — or when.

You might also be interested in: Coronavirus’s Impact On Sustainability – What To Expect

Covid-19 Business Update

July 21, 2020: Luxembourg budget deficit hits €2.6bn in first half, and other European and worldwide news

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Covid-19 Business Update
21st July 2020

Pandemic is not an insurable risk: ACA’s Marc Hengen

Marc Hengen, managing director of Luxembourg’s Association of Insurance and Reinsurance Companies, says the loss of business earnings resulting from a pandemic cannot be insured against since it can affect many people at the same time and thus jeopardises the sector’s risk-sharing principle. However, he says the ACA is working with the government on devising mechanisms to protect companies from major health risks in the future.

Best source: L’essentiel (in French)

Unemployment rate stable at 7.0% in June

Luxembourg’s unemployment rate remained at 7.0% in June, unchanged from two previous months but 1.5 percentage points higher than in February, according to Statec. The number of people registered as seeking work with state employment bureau ADEM totalled 19,876 last month, a 32.2% increase from a year earlier. The number of non-resident unemployed was 44.5% higher at 3,551, while the increases were 51.9% for those under age 30, 35% for those in the 30-44 age bracket and 20.9% for those aged 45 or older. ADEM says that the unemployment rate reflects a lack of movement in the job market.

Best source: RTL 5 minutes
See also: RTL Today (in French)
See also: Luxembourg Times (subscription required)

EU leaders reach agreement on recovery fund and budget after marathon summit

After negotiations in Brussels stretching into a fifth day — the second-longest summit in EU history — EU leaders have reached agreement on the planned €750bn European recovery fund, which will consist of €390bn in grants and €360bn in loans to member states. The non-repayable element is less than the €500bn originally proposed by France and Germany but more than the limit initially sought by the so-called frugal four — the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden — which will in turn receive increased rebates on their contributions to the EU’s €1.074trn budget for the next seven years. The agreement provides for mechanisms under which recovery fund payments can be halted temporarily if recipients are failing to adopt economic reforms, and has deferred a decision on a controversial proposal to make receipt of EU funds contingent on adherence to the rule of law. However, unresolved issues as the talks stretched into Monday evening included the incorporation of climate change targets into the recovery plan, a governance mechanism for disbursement of funds, and whether and how to link payments to respect for the rule of law.

Best source: Financial Times (subscription required)
See also: L’Echo (subscription required, in French)
See also: Les Echos (subscription required, in French)
See also: The Guardian

Eurozone current account surplus narrowed further in May

The eurozone’s current account narrowed from €14bn in April to €8bn in May, while the surplus for the previous 12 months was down from €318bn in May 2019 to €264bn, according to the European Central Bank. The decline was mainly driven by a fall in the surplus for services, from €99bn to €31bn, and of primary income, from €89bn to €69bn. Net acquisitions of foreign portfolio investment securities by eurozone residents climbed from €72bn in the 12 months to May 2019 to €468bn, while non-resident net acquisitions of eurozone portfolio investment securities rose from €132bn to €355bn.

Best source: Reuters

Pandemic unemployment payment claims in Ireland continue to fall

The number of people receiving receiving Ireland’s pandemic unemployment payment has fallen by 31,800 this week to 313,800, according to the country’s Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, down from a peak of 598,000 in early May. In the past two weeks, the number of people ending claims as they return to work has reached almost 100,000. The top three sectors in which employees are currently returning to work are hospitality and food services, wholesale and retail trade, construction and motor vehicle repair.

Best source: RTÉ News

Julius Bär reports 43% increase in first-half profit

Julius Bär has reported a 43% year-on-year increase in net profit during the first half to a record CHF491m, along with a 9% rise in operating profit to CHF1.85bn. Profitability was fuelled by a surge in trading activity related to the Covid-19 outbreak, which outweighed the impact of lower net interest income and higher net credit losses on financial assets. Net inflows amounted to CHF5bn, down from CHF6.2bn a year earlier, while assets under management declined by 5.7% to CHF401.8bn due to negative market performance as well as a stronger Swiss franc. CEO Philipp Rickenbacher says the private bank, which is cutting costs to boost margins, is well prepared for a challenging second half of the year.

Best source: Finews
See also: WealthBriefing (subscription required)
See also: L’Agefi (in French)

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I Dare To Hope That We Will Not Waste This Crisis And Get The Wake-Up Call From Nature!

Raymond Schadeck
Raymond Schadeck, Member, VitalBriefing International Advisory Board

In my April 2nd article (I dare to hope that the world after COVID-19 will no longer be as it was), I referred, among other ideas, to the link between the current turmoil generated by COVID-19 and the effects of climate change.

I also shared my deep hopes that with our full support as corporates and private citizens, decision-makers “will dedicate the same energy and authority toward the development and deployment of a similar action plan to cure and save the lungs of our planet, i.e. our forests and trees”. Indeed, as Indian author and environmental activist Arundhati Roy puts it: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

Personally, I don’t see why this shouldn’t hold true in our current context or why we would be too foolish to miss this opportunity to mend what is broken.

As Winston Churchill noted, “we should never waste a good crisis”!

Let me develop this idea further by first repeating the direct links between this virus and climate change followed by an investigation of the major parallels, but also differences between the two. In doing so, I aim to provide some reflections on the lessons learned from COVID-19 and ideas on how to take this fight forward.

COVID-19: A message from nature!

The COVID-19 virus attacks our lungs or, more precisely, the pulmonary alveoli at the exact point where the exchange between air and blood takes place. Scientists have made it very clear that forests and trees play a similar role for our planet as lungs do for us.

As such, forests and lungs are integrally connected. In 2011, when Milda Sebris turned 100 at the Ellen Memorial Health Care Center, she described this symbiotic relationship so beautifully: “To breathe is to live embodied. Without this exquisite process going on day after day, year after year, moment after moment we would not be functional – we would not be alive! Trees help the planet breathe by turning carbon dioxide into clean, pure oxygen. Plants are considered the lungs of the earth because plants produce oxygen, which is necessary for all life, so in essence, since our lungs keep us alive and trees keep our lungs alive, we can consider trees to be a part of our lungs’ existence. This is all part of the deep interconnectedness of all life”.

Scientists provide any evidence we need (except for those who cannot or do not want to understand) as to how much our increased CO2 emissions and our continued killing of forests, and the global warming that comes with it, have been deeply linked to the development of dangerous viruses over the last decades. Of all emerging infectious diseases, 75% come from wildlife and our destruction of the natural habitat for farming, mining, housing and energy.

So, we need to make a choice: Do we want to live in harmony with nature, or will we keep fighting it?

It’s obvious – and we’ve received a clear demonstration of it over the last weeks – that the planet does not need us to survive but we desperately need it. In fact, we are the most dependent of all different forms of life. Nature on the other hand, existed long before us, and even seems to be better off as we humans are confined. As we have been immobilized, Nature serenely carries on; it keeps growing, keeps breathing, keeps giving life irrespective of the turmoil humankind is currently facing.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) states it so well: “Nature is sending us a message…we are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we do not take care of nature, we do not take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally“.

I hope we get this wake-up call nature sends us!

Parallels and differences between COVID-19 and climate change

A sad parallel can be drawn around the president of the United States, who has denounced both COVID-19 and climate change respectively as a “Chinese hoax” and as topics embraced by Democrats in hopes of winning the November elections. With both crises far from being a hoax, we must look deeper and analyze the serious parallels and differences that exist between COVID-19 and climate change. They must be laid out and understood with clarity so that we may generate much-needed buy-in from the public and become proponents of a well-thought-out strategy that can tackle climate change with the urgency it deserves.

The first major parallel between COVID-19 and climate change is that both seem primarily to hurt the most vulnerable segments of global population. Climate change, through its global warming effect, has disproportionately impacted developing countries that often lack the required infrastructure to cope with such drastic changes in climate, weather, and natural disasters.

Even within OECD countries, the most vulnerable people of the population suffer the most, for example the elderly, those with pre-existing health problems and those whose immune functions have been weakened by their living conditions. Therefore, as we discuss which segments of our population should be most protected and receive priority access to health services, we must realize that in developing countries, and even some developed countries, health care is far from a given. In fact, half of the world’s population has no access to the health care it needs.

Similarly, with respect to climate change, it is those countries — at this stage at least – that are the least affected by the effects of global warming and which have the required infrastructure to cope with its effects — and are responsible for the vast majority of CO2 emissions. Here again we can draw a parallel with the current pandemic where those who are most responsible for spreading it are not necessarily those who will suffer the most!

Another major parallel is the need to react and act with the highest sense of urgency! Both COVID-19 and climate change have the potential to be catastrophic for humanity but they operate on different timescales. If the degree of emergency is the same for COVID-19 and climate, the speed of our respective reactions is far from the same.

This does not come as a surprise as both are not actually perceived with the same sense of urgency. In terms of the pandemic, we feel it and we suffer from it today; climate change, on the other hand, started by affecting the more southern countries first and, as such, is perceived by us (if at all perceived) as a remote and not immediate threat. It’s not knocking at our front doors the same way COVID-19 is.

I dare to hope, though, as the link between climate change and an increased risk and frequency of pandemics is clearly proven, that this pandemic will allow us to understand and perceive the real gravity and urgency of the climate issue before it might be devastating in its impact and possibly become irreversible.

In fact, there is another major difference here: while health conditions might eventually go back to normal, many of the damages caused to our environment are irreversible. So, we need to accept that if we do not change anything, we will globally surpass the Paris Agreement targets by 2028.

Yes, in 2028 and not in 2050 as planned in the Paris agreement. Despite the good intentions of all the signatories of the Paris Agreement, today there is only one single country that has developed and deployed a concrete action plan to meet the commitments taken by all, and that is Morocco. However, Morocco cannot win this battle on its own.

Major lessons learned

Optimist by nature, I am pretty confident that most of us – whether policy-makers, decision-makers, businesswomen and men, citizens, elderly, young, wherever we may live – will come out of this crisis with a strong commitment not to go back to ‘normal’, as ‘normal’ has clearly proven to be ‘the’ problem. And I hope that we will learn as much as we can from the present crisis to avoid repeating the same or similar mistakes going forward.

First, COVID-19, as well as climate change, are global issues, and as such they need a global response: we need to listen to the warnings and trust the assessments of scientists and other experts.

The present crisis has proven that despite the level of the crisis varying by country or community, we try as best as we can to align approaches among countries and are ready to help each other when needed — for example, China helping Italy, or Luxembourg taking on emergency cases from Lorraine.

Yes, there will always be selfish decision-makers (like in the US or Brazil) who continue to defy scientists and who do not see the value of global cooperation. But that should not serve as an excuse to all others not to join forces. And I dare to hope that the citizens and voters of countries who refuse to buy into a shared strategy will be smart enough to realize over time that the personal selfishness that drives their leaders’ actions will not pay off in the medium and long term.  

But more importantly, I hope we realize that we need to acknowledge and react to the warnings we receive. Though we’ve had scientists pushing us to recognize the increasing risk of pandemics for some decades now, we must admit that we have not done much to prepare ourselves for that risk over the last years. It is now that we need to make the fight against climate change a priority, combat its root causes and reduce CO2 emissions to zero.

Time is of the essence if we want to avoid dire emergency situations going forward. It is crucial that we embrace the warning calls with respect to climate change and act now. The Paris Agreement cannot remain a best intention only. All the countries that signed it now need to develop a serious action plan – not only a best intention plan – to make it happen. Morocco has shown us the way!

This COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated clearly that it is those countries — South-Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Iceland…– which were the fastest in trusting expert opinions as to the magnitude and risk of the issue, and which were the fastest, in partnership with those same experts, in taking appropriate measures, and which are coming out of this crisis the best.

The fact that many of these countries are currently under the leadership of female top decision-makers should make us reflect on whether there is a clear root cause relationship between both. This interesting topic has generated a lot of discussions lately around questions like: Is there a cultural aspect to it? Meaning, is the culture of those societies encouraging and supporting female leaders more than others, or do citizens trust female political decision-makers more? And if ‘yes’, why is this the case? Do women have better competencies to deal with crisis situations? Are they less selfish?  

It is definitely not my intention to enter into that discussion here. I leave it to the experts. Although I realize that all those countries that have best handled this COVID-19 crisis seem to have something in common — following the experts’ advice and learning from the experience of first-hit countries, they all developed a crisis action plan which:

  • gives the highest level of priority to public welfare, not only in the short term but also in the medium and long term (as opposed to continuing to pursue short-term economic and financial gains)
  • was not led by, what I would call, selfish ‘action heroes. Quite the contrary: these plans favored constructive cooperation over selfishness and a competitive spirit.

And — surprise, surprise – I dare not to hope this time but, rather, to confirm that again this is exactly what is needed to fight the large looming climate crisis!

In fact, as we speak about climate change or the broader sustainability challenge, we tend to speak about ESG (Environment, Social and Governance), or more specifically about the triple bottom line of PPP (People, Planet, Profit) — for example, about strategies that do not chase only the highest short-term profits but also those that recognize a healthy balance between serving, developing, rewarding and respecting people at all levels, not harming the planet and generating reasonable profits.

And what makes me even more hopeful, not to say confident, for the future is that large parts of the respective populations agreed to these strategies and accepted all the sacrifices of being confined, of not being able to see family members and friends and to shop freely, having to wear masks, on and on. And they all endorsed a crisis management strategy that re-prioritizes objectives, puts the public well-being at the top, recognizes that sacrifices need to be made by all and redefines the roles of each of us.

So, if the citizens endorsed it for COVID-19, why should we not utilize this momentum and build on their compliance for a thoroughly developed climate change action plan? The impetus is there. What’s left to do is to realize the urgency of fighting climate change and developing a plan that clearly defines the expectation and role for each of us.

Way forward – we all have our role to play!

Going forward, all of us – political or economic decision-makers, associations, media and journalists, employees or workers, retirees, teachers or students – need collectively, but also individually, to adopt this ESG, or triple bottom-line mindset. If most or all of us collectively and as individuals assume our respective responsibilities, there is no doubt we will win the fight against climate change. We have demonstrated that we can make it happen for the COVID-19 crisis. We have realized that “if we replace the ‘I’ with ‘We’, even ‘Illness’ becomes ‘WEllness’“. There is no reason we should not be able to do the same with the climate crisis.

Media and journalists

This COVID-19 crisis is a tragic reminder of the key role played by our media and just how essential fact-based, outspoken journalism is. It has also demonstrated the crucial responsibility of journalists to push back on fake news and those decision-makers who try to hide or even deny plain facts.

During this COVID-19 crisis many journalists have realized and reinforced the kind of public service role they have in keeping us informed as factually as possible and challenging those who tried to spread fake news or hide information. Now we count on them for deploying the same rigor and required urgency towards the most important challenge of our time: climate change. We now need these same media and journalists who have done such an exceptional job in this pandemic to use the same best practices when reporting on climate change and its risks, including the increased risk of future pandemics.

Economic and financial decision makers

As already mentioned in one of my previous articles, I strongly believe that the current crisis will drastically increase the urgency and pressure on companies and their decision-makers to convert to more sustainable business models and adopt a real triple bottom-line strategy.

The objective of such strategies will obviously remain to generate enough profits to assure their long-term viability. However, they will achieve this in full respect of people (employees, suppliers and people in the supply chain, clients, shareholders and any other stakeholders) and without damaging our planet any further. They need to realize that it is a matter of survival that extends well beyond the short term.

The current pandemic has made all of us more sensitive to the effect of nature on our well-being, to how desperately we need our family and friends around us. It has made us move from a pretty materialistic set of values to a more sober set of values positioned around caring and solidarity or, as I’ve phrased it previously: ‘to be’ has taken the lead on ‘to have’.

Hopefully, the result of this change in mindset is that in the near future we will all be much more sensitive to these same values when choosing how and with whom to spend our time and money. Companies that do not realize that their ‘why’ (why they exist, i.e. their purpose and values) and their ‘what’ (what they stand for) are much more important than the quantity and price of what they sell, might have no future!

Political decision-makers

We have realized how effective many political decision-makers – in close partnership with scientists – have been in identifying early on the upcoming risk, in developing and deploying concise mitigation packages and even in preparing for the impacts that couldn’t be avoided.

Their actions are rooted in the conviction that public welfare must be the top priority in a crisis. I dare to hope that these same politicians, strengthened by the endorsement they’ve received, will now have the comfort and motivation to tackle the climate change crisis with the same determination. Just as they did for COVID-19:

  1. I hope that our political decision-makers will trust our scientists and inform their citizens factually about the looming threats of climate change, not only for their own nations but also for our global population as well as future generations. I have no doubt that the efficiency of their partnerships with media and journalists during COVID-19 can be replicated, even strengthened, in the context of climate change.
  2. I also hope that leaders will not only develop but also deploy targeted mitigation packages: indeed, as signatories of the Paris Agreement, many countries have communicated extensively about their respective commitments. Some have even done a good job of developing thorough roadmaps to accompany those commitments, although we can’t ignore the extent to which deployment plans are drastically lagging behind. The obvious risk now is that with the substantial public support and finance packages centered around COVID-19, deployment of climate change, mitigation strategies might drop down from the top of the priority list.

    Climate change mitigation needs to become a core element of these same COVID-19 support packages. It would be irresponsible towards younger generations not to tie eligibility for these support packages to sustainable development obligations from beneficiaries. It would be irresponsible to utilize current stimulus packages to finance dying sectors of the economy that have no future in sustainable business. It would be irresponsible to finance fossil fuel companies for anything other than their transition program to cleaner energy technologies.

    Hearing many of the key decision-makers over the last weeks, I am pretty confident that most of them got the message. As the Prime Minister of France recently noted in an interview with the Financial Times:“There is a realization that if people could do the unthinkable to their economies to slow a pandemic, they could do the same to arrest catastrophic climate change”.
  3. I believe that there has never been a better moment to start converting our present ‘labor-based’ tax system to ‘a natural-resources and pollution-based’ system. The present labor-based system causes unemployment as it encourages companies to minimize human resources, while leaving natural resources untaxed, thereby stimulating overconsumption and pollution.

    As the COVID-19 crisis will dramatically increase the challenge of unemployment, there could not be a better moment to start this transition than now. An increase in taxation on scarce natural resources not only will allow us to protect our environment but also to reduce the cost of labor, thereby mitigating – at least partially – the risk of unprecedented unemployment levels.
  4. Finally, governments also have realized how crucial it is for them to lead by example and, as such, they should do the same with respect to climate change. Just imagine the strength of the message to our local Luxembourg community, and the powerful global branding opportunity for our financial marketplace, if Luxembourg were the first country able to claim that all of our cash in the public pension scheme is invested exclusively in sustainable finance products and offerings. And nothing, really nothing prevents us from doing so. It just might require that we as citizens (because in the end it is our money managed by public authorities) express our support and, if needed, exert pressure on the public officials who manage our pension funds.

And that brings me to the last category of actors with the means to play a crucial role in all of this.

We the citizens! We the consumers!

The key role lies with us as citizens and consumers.

I am pretty convinced that, due to the aforementioned shift in our mindset and values, we as citizens are ahead of both political and economic decision-makers in terms of our determination to fight climate change. Therefore, we must use the power offered to us by technology and media to make ourselves heard. Decision-makers need to hear us loud and clear: that we not only support them in their responsibilities in the fight against climate change, but that we require it from them and that we will sanction those who don’t act.

Here again, there is no better way to exert pressure on economic decision-makers than to lead by example. We need to change our behaviors clearly: fly less, and if we do fly, then choose the company with the most sustainable offer; consume less and consume locally; spend our euros on companies with a clear sustainability focus; use the most sustainable transportation offerings and all become active agents of a circular economy. We have demonstrated that we can do it if our hand is forced – so why not take a more preventive (and comfortable) approach over time for climate change, as opposed to a delayed, reactive (and uncomfortable) approach once the panic spreads?

We need to realize that it is all in our hands! If we citizens start to move in this direction, political and economic decision-makers, even the media and journalists will have to follow – or else they won’t survive.

So, in my opinion we are all set to unleash a similar arsenal of mitigation and management strategies to the climate change crisis as we have with COVID-19. There is no doubt about this. The last remaining challenge is to adopt the right behavior. This can be difficult in our western countries, where the climate crisis is not yet felt as dramatically as in other parts of the world.

The most powerful illustration to convey the required sense of urgency might be the famous “boiling frog” fable that says:

  • If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out and survive – this is exactly what happened to us in the COVID-19 situation. 
  • But if the frog is put in tepid water which is then slowly brought to a boil over time, it won’t perceive the danger and will be cooked to death – this is exactly what risks humanity if we fail to realize the urgency of the risk posed by climate change.

To conclude, I will leave you with the powerful words of Inger Andersen, whom I already referred to in the introduction: “The better we manage nature, the better we manage human health…because keeping nature diverse, rich and flourishing is part and parcel of our life’s support system….we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this ‘different economy’ that must emerge, one where finance and actions fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure.”

(N.B. Big thanks to you, Julie and Felix, for your support)

You might also be interested in: Coronavirus’s Impact On Sustainability – What To Expect

Content Marketing ROI: What Does It Really Mean?

Content marketing has grown into one of the most critical elements of any digital marketing campaign.

That makes sense considering that the average B2B buyer now consumes some 13 pieces of content — up from five just a few years ago — before committing to a purchase. Moreover, studies have found that compared to traditional marketing methods, content marketing is cheaper and produces higher numbers of leads and conversions.

Content marketing boosts leads and conversions - infographic
Content marketing yields great results

Yet, although business leaders increasingly acknowledge the importance of content and the need to create it, persuading company executives to invest time, budget and resources to ensure a consistent and dynamic output of original, high-quality content often turns into an uphill battle.

Why is it so hard to turn the obvious into action?

Content marketing’s ROI conundrum

Here’s the problem: Content marketing and ROI are not easy bedfellows. “There’s very few benchmarks, a little research and some examples that have been published on content marketing ROI,” explains Michael Brenner, CEO of the Marketing Insider Group.

For such a widely-used marketing method, that isn’t much to go on.

From the outset, this means that the sector hasn’t yet found a reliable answer to the ROI question. It also makes it that much tougher to convince decision-makers to buy into content.

The relationship between spend on developing content and the revenue those efforts generate isn’t in-your-face obvious. Rather, it generally requires a combination of educated conjecture and guesswork.

And because no widely-accepted, foolproof formula to gauge the return on content marketing yet exists, justifying the spend is all the more challenging. Indeed, every C-suite wants sales metrics — data that showcases in real numbers the correlation between strong-performing content (or a content-focused campaign) and the bottom line.

Not so easy.

Content marketing support sales…but isn’t a sales tool

Content marketing sits very nicely somewhere in between marketing and sales.

What we mean is that it most certainly is not a sales-specific tool — but a tool that supports sales. This reality presents a substantial problem for marketers.

On one hand, the impact that original, well-crafted content can have on digital marketing metrics (e.g. lead generation) is impressive. Just look at how effective content marketing on LinkedIn can be:

Content marketing on LinkedIn boosts leads and conversions
Content marketing on LinkedIn boosts leads and conversions

On the other hand, though, finding a reliable way to measure the link between a specific piece of content and the sales it yields is counter-intuitive. It’s simply too hard to prove a cause-and-effect in relation to revenue.

Yet, that’s what many content marketers have to do.

Focus on value

The business approach to content marketing has evolved over the past 15 years. No longer can selling serve as its focal point. Straight sales pitches increasingly are ineffective — simply spewing facts and figures doesn’t have the desired affect.

Instead, digital audiences are after content that provides tangible value. Indeed, engaging, high-impact material that offers valuable information or insights — for example, content marketing, branded content and thought leadership — will sell a service or product online far more effectively than a sales pitch.

In part, this shift has been driven by consumer preferences. Nobody wants to feel like a sales mark. However, a newer and powerful factor has ever-greater influence: how search engines determine the value of web content.

In its rankings, Google, for instance, has doubled down on content quality, expertise and authority. In other words, high quality content that performs well with audiences because it addresses a clear need will rank higher on search engine results pages for related searches.

Great content that answers a visitor’s intent in a clear manner without appearing as condescending will go a long way. And, of course, high quality content gets shared and viewed more.

The idea of ‘staying relevant’ is crucial for content. As the focus shifts from ‘selling’ to providing value, content is your best tool.

The truth about ROI and content marketing

However — and we know it’s not pleasant to read — don’t expect fast results. Experts across the board — including digital marketing guru Neil Patel and the Content Marketing Institute — all offer similar advice: with content marketing, you must play the long game.

Business leaders who obsess over ROI are making a serious mistake because that obsession forces their marketing teams into a flawed content strategy.

“If you are defining your ROI metrics solely to demonstrate results and to justify your organization’s content marketing budget, you may get a confusing picture when you try to look at your analysis to determine what’s working, what’s not, and how you can make your content marketing strategy better,” says Brenner.

Now, we’re not advocating that you throw ROI out the window. It’s imperative for content marketers to figure out how their strategy will boost the bottom line.

But, if your content isn’t outwardly selling anything, how exactly do you do that?

Measuring the success of your content

Success metrics and KPIs of content marketing
Top success metrics/KPIs of content marketing

As we explained in another recent blog, the success of content marketing is about measurement and “defining the key metrics that will most significantly impact sales, which vary from one company to the next and hinge on factors including the type of content, platform and media type.”

We’re not talking just in terms of your sales-affiliated KPIs such as qualified leads or conversions. Experts agree that non-financial gains including audience growth and SEO rankings are also important.

Ultimately, content marketing only works well if your campaigns post strong numbers for those metrics that are most crucial to your ambitions. Trust us: the return on investment will follow.

Metrics to consider include brand awareness growth (social engagement), SERPs rankings (SEO), average time spent on content/site, subscriber growth and site traffic growth (page views, page users, pages per session).

Free tools including Google Analytics and Hotjar can help with these types of KPIs.

ROI of content marketing: tips and tricks

Ultimately, you need to consider three key elements for your content-marketing ROI: cost, utilisation and performance.

Cost: This is a standard ROI component. A good way to figure out whether your ends justify your means is to know how much you spend on average to produce original content and compare it against your core performance KPIs.

Utilisation: Don’t create content for content’s sake. Ensuring your content is being disseminated as widely as possible and that it isn’t going to waste will boost its performance.

Performance: The success of your content is, of course, tied directly to its quality. And as already stressed, you can calculate that value by bringing it back to those success metrics you should have identified. Don’t look only at the major content KPI categories such as pageviews and social shares. Although good indicators of your content’s performance, you should still pay close attention to the original business case that got you started on this content journey.

Finally, there are a number of free guides online that can help. Brenner, who also is the author of The Content Formula offers strong guidance in this blog.

Discover the most important tips and tricks that will help you create effective and engaging content marketing:

Ingesting Clorox for Coronavirus, and Lessons on Why Facts Matter

Trump names Mr. Clean

What’s next, leeches?

Since 2016, I’ve been ranting and raving about how public policy — starting with the Brexiteers in Great Britain followed by the Trumpeteers in the United States — is being driven by misinformation, lies and manipulation of selected information.

I try to stay rational, really I do.

Even as they agree with me, my friends and family roll their eyes when I get started – my poor wife begs me to stop reading her the news stories that fuel my outrage before we go to sleep – while my colleagues make jokes just to enjoy my rage.

But, come on. Can you blame me, given the ever-faster, ever-more-intense flurry of lies, distortions and quarter-truths by selected leaders that led first to Britain exiting the European Union, then to the election of Donald Trump, whose inconceivably irresponsible declarations day after day (and attacks on the reporters challenging him) only confirm what so many feared from the outset: that no one in modern history has been more supremely unqualified to hold the job as the most powerful person in the world.

He is what he’s always been: The boor standing at the bar, provoking everyone within earshot with his uninformed opinions and lies, based not on an understanding of…well, anything, really.

As you can guess by now, this is not a piece analysing the perfect economic, political, social and global storm that created the opportunity for such a person to rise to that pinnacle, the American presidency.

Raising the dead

In fact, I’ve often fantasized of a conversation I would love to have with my mother – who died in 1988 – and my father, who died in 2003 – both alive in the years when the current leader was something of a national joke. It goes like this:

“Guess who’s the president of the United States?”


“Now guess what he speculated could be an effective treatment – injections, even – for a new virus that as yet has no vaccine or cure?”

The answers, as the expression goes, would send them spinning in their graves.

Bleach? Disinfectant? Ultraviolet rays? It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic, if millions of Americans weren’t so ignorant as to believe a man who puts his own ignorance on public display virtually every time he opens his mouth.

We’ve already had the chloroquine-and-hydroxychloroquine-Covid-19-treatment “miracle” cure story. Well, maybe — but clearly no miracle, at least not so far and not yet, according to pretty much every reputable medical and health source that’s responsibly studied their effects, culminating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning on 24 April that using the drugs outside a hospital setting or clinical trial is dangerous, with the potential to trigger serious heart problems for coronavirus patients.

Yet, his habit is to present these notions like that guy in the bar, absolving himself of responsibility for verifying information that he presents to the world as if he had any authority on anything he talks about beyond his own flawed intuition.

Here’s the tragedy: As stupid, ignorant and foolish as the man is, he has the highest and loudest bully pulpit on the planet and his musings have consequences. In this case, they triggered a surge in prescriptions when he recommended those treatments for Covid-19.

According to Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of the Boards of Pharmacy, a resulting shortage “put patients at risk who depend on these medications” to treat conditions including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, various skin conditions and tropical diseases such as malaria and amoebic dysentery.

The message seems to have gotten through now that both he and Fox News personalities have gone quiet on this particular miracle cure based on the solid and undeniable information now pouring in.

That said, we’ve seen, as one columnist put it succinctly, “the societal costs of having a leader who relies on his gut and random members of his family rather than on bureaucratic and medical experts now seem clear.”

Lysol, Clorox warn about coronavirus treatments

Which brings us to….bleach and UV rays, and the now-infamous video, co-starring Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the government’s coronavirus response, and her pained expression throughout what one can assume to rank among the most agonising few minutes of her professional life.

It seems the guy at the bar may have gone too far this time, so overwhelmed by a global onslaught of abuse, derision (and some delightfully funny satire) that it may even have convinced him to give up his cherished two-hour-a-day mouthings-off.

Yes, funny. Until you read things that chill you, like the fact that after his bleach-and-UV-rays speculation, government officials, disinfectant companies and medical experts emitted streams of statements warning people not to ingest products such as Lysol or Clorox bleach.

“This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous,” pulmonologist and global health policy expert Dr Vin Gupta told NBC News. “It’s a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves.”

Here’s where I’m driving: Facts matter. Uninformed speculation, even when it’s laughable — particularly out of the mouths of national leaders during a crisis — is irresponsible at best and life-threatening at worst.

Facts are what I traffic in as a journalist — and what the company I founded and lead does for its business. We live or die based on the quality of the facts we produce for our clients. We strive to provide them with information that will help guide them and their clients and customers into informed decisions because, at the end of the day, that’s the only path to making the right choices.

You can overlay those decisions with emotion, analysis, good faith, whatever. But if the facts are wrong…well, you’re in trouble long before you get to your decision.

Another fantasy would be to hear this from the president’s mouth, not just from Ohio Republican governor, Mike DeWine; “When I’ve made decisions that I’ve regretted, it was often because I didn’t have enough facts, I didn’t ask enough questions, I didn’t ask the right people.”

Several decades ago, I co-wrote a general health book with Dr. Dean Edell, a popular American radio-and-tv personality who built his career on debunking the exact kinds of misinformation Trump traffics. In it, we praised science as “that force which has lifted us from the dust and the darkness, slain the demons and fears of yore, and brought us the world we have now. It is the application of reason and logic, of trial and error, of scientific method and experimentation Through science we have created our world and vanquished the great medical foes of the past…That’s the fundamental beauty of science. Most scientists will change their minds with the evidence.”

Covid-19 and bleach: it’s not that complicated

It’s one of the reasons I so admire German Chancellor Angela Merkel — herself a doctor of quantum chemistry — who clearly, rationally and consistently explains to the country the reasons and science behind her government’s Covid-19 policies. It’s heartening that more than 80% of Germans approve her sober, effective and reasoned handling of the crisis.

And I would take that as one of the explanations why various polls — the most recent before Trump’s sunlight-and-disinfectant dust-up Thursday — show more than half of Americans disapprove his handling of the crisis (and the Republican Party reportedly getting increasingly nervous that he’s leading the party into an electoral disaster in November).

If he had the capacity, Trump would learn a thing or two from his German counterpart: that communicating with accurate, responsible information based on scientifically-proved, verifiable facts could work…even for him.