Why (and how) you should take a stand with your content

Taking a stand with your content may sound like a scary prospect for financial services professionals. Let’s be honest, presenting your best (and polished) self is the norm and revealing how you really feel, imperfections and all, seems like it may damage your reputation.

It won’t. The financial services industry is going through the same massive changes that all industries are grappling with and making a real connection is now expected from your clients and prospects.

Be authentic

People immediately see through inauthentic content, so be the real you. Inauthentic sounds scripted and it sounds like it’s been repeated many times before.

People immediately see through inauthentic content, so be the real you.

Authentic content, on the other hand, shows that you have something most people feel is now missing in the financial services industry … a heart. Your opinion on an issue, expressed in your voice, is unique and people with appreciate it.

Be client focused

Whatever you decide to focus your content efforts on, make sure your current (or ideal) audience is interested as well. So take a stand on an issue that matters to your clients and prospects.

To start, find out what inspires or concerns them. How? Ask. You can ask for feedback online, in person or, if you have a list of people who have signed up, through email. Review the responses and see if any of the issues that matter to your audience matter to you as well.

Be interesting

Don’t underestimate the power of being interesting. When it comes to content, being boring may even be worse than being wrong. We all make mistakes … but once you’re boring, you’re always boring.

By taking a stand your voice will inevitably shine through. When you focus on an issue that gets your heart racing and stirs up emotions, you’ll have fun. Your audience will feel the same way.

When you focus on an issue that gets your heart racing and stirs up emotions, you’ll have fun. Your audience will feel the same way.

Be motivated

We know this for a fact: producing content over the long haul is a real test of your will power. On those days when you feel like you’ve run out of ideas, you’ll be thankful you can produce content that interests you.

If you care about your content, you’ll stay committed to it; week in and week out.

Some issues that matter

Don’t know where to start? Here are just a handful of financial and social issues that matter to many savers and investors:

  • Socially responsible investing
  • Low fees
  • Fiduciary responsibility
  • Retiring well
  • Gender equality
  • Animal rights
  • Environmental protection

Do any of them align with your beliefs? If so, start brainstorming and see if you’re interested in producing content that explores these issues.

The world’s most successful financial services firms choose us for their content initiatives. Contact us to find out why: 416.925.1700, 844.243.1830 or

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Ask for the easy yes

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5 ways to spark your marketing team’s creativity

Imagine that work has been hectic lately for your marketing team. In addition to creating some product brochures, they’ve just cranked out a portfolio manager presentation, a couple of ads and maybe an infographic.

Now they’re being asked to develop a suite of materials for a fund launch, where the expectation is to whip up something innovative that will capture the attention of advisors and investors.

Give your team a boost with the following five ideas for sparking creativity.

Work together

Tackle creative challenges as a team to build upon each other’s ideas.

Focused, facilitated brainstorm meetings can work for specific initiatives, or maybe hold general creativity sessions with guest presenters and interactive segments to get everyone engaged

Log creative ideas

For reference, maintain a running log of creative ideas, industry best practices and ideas from other industries that can apply to financial services.

When your team needs a shot of inspiration, they can scan through the log for thought-starters.

Assess external campaigns

Have your team do mini case studies of a successful external marketing campaign. They can assess what works and why, and how they can apply the learnings to their own materials.

Regular sharing and discussion of marketing insights can jump-start the imagination.

Regular sharing and discussion of marketing insights can jump-start the imagination.

Leverage collective talents

Innovation and creativity aren’t limited to marketing materials.

Leverage the collective talents of your team to improve work processes or create a more vibrant and inviting work space. The benefits of this mental exercise may carry over to their respective jobs.

Give ’em a break

Let your team catch their breath by briefly switching them to a more mundane task like reviewing and updating existing materials. The goal is to let them refresh their batteries and do a creative reset.

Creativity can be a tough nut to crack. We hope these ideas help.

For more ideas on fostering an innovative, creative environment for your marketing team, contact us at 416.925.1700 or

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[Insert catchy headline]

Delivering the right information at the right time

4 ways to create an amazing editorial calendar

Creating content over the long haul takes dedication. To guarantee you stick to your plan, the best tool at your disposal is a well-organized editorial calendar.

A good editorial calendar will:

  • Cut down on the time and effort involved in creating content
  • Act as an internal to-do list that everyone can rely on
  • Help you frame the content required for campaigns.

Here are four tips to help you create a solid editorial calendar:

1. Create a communications goal

In many ways, creating an editorial calendar is just like any other project. Put together a work-back schedule with S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based) goals and give key stakeholders an early heads up.

Outline what you want to achieve with your content. Is it higher engagement? Increased sales? To build a positive reputation around education? Your answer will drive your creative, so make sure you’ve got buy-in from the whole team.

2. Focus on bench strength

Content marketing is an ongoing commitment. To keep readers engaged and interested, you’ve got to publish through good times and bad. The best way to ensure you stick to your schedule is to create a reliable team of all-stars who can make things happen.

Consider looking outside your usual marketing communications team — including accessing individuals from your executive, sales, operations and finance teams for fresh ideas.

3. Time to brainstorm

You know your goals and you’ve put together your content team. Now what are you going to write about? We’ve found it helpful to build a database filled with as many content topics/ideas as possible.

If your plan is to post one article per week, try to leave your brainstorming session with at least a dozen ideas. Keep any extra ideas you don’t plan to use in the near term — they might get you out of a pinch one day.

If you’re looking for some guidance about leading effective brainstorming sessions, click here to read our post on the subject.

4. Stay flexible

Even if you’ve built out your editorial calendar for three months, six months or a year, you still have to expect the unexpected.

Let’s say something dramatic happens in the markets, but your scheduled content that week is on health and wellness. Gather the troops: it’s time to produce something fresh. Find an expert to give you a few talking points and give your readers something timely. Write about what’s happening in the news, and save the health and wellness post for another day.

We hope you find these four tips useful as you prepare your next editorial calendar.

Can you benefit from a solid editorial calendar? Contact us today at, or 416.925.1700 or 844.243.1830 to discuss your editorial needs.

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Five easy ways to create better newsletters

Presenting a few helpful PowerPoint tips

When brainstorming is like playing chess

We are not expert chess players. Heck, we are not even good chess players. But we’re good at brainstorming creative ideas and solutions.

After learning a little bit about chess, we’ve noticed a parallel between the two. Namely, that brainstorming is like listing your “candidate moves.”

What’s a candidate move?

There are some extremely complex definitions of candidate moves on the internet, so we turned to everyone’s online “frenemy,” Wikipedia, where we found this:

“In abstract strategy board games, candidate moves are moves which, upon initial observation of the position, seem to warrant further analysis. Although in theory the idea of candidate moves can be applied to games such as checkers, go, and xiangqi, it is most often used in the context of chess.”

That’s a mouthful. So to simplify the idea, let’s just say candidate moves are the moves you could make next.

How does this relate to brainstorming?

The theory goes that successful chess players go through the complete list of their candidate moves first. Only after the complete list has been created do they begin to dig a little deeper and eliminate potential moves.

Chess players, the successful ones at least, take these little steps over and over again, making further eliminations until the best move remains.

That’s the lesson: there’s something powerful about laying out all your options before you begin any kind of critical analysis.

And that’s just like brainstorming.

The best brainstorming sessions get the ideas on the board first. There is no time for criticism of any kind. Only when you’re done – when you’re completely tapped out of ideas – should you turn your critical eye to your ideas.

The best brainstorming sessions get the ideas on the board first. There is no time for criticism of any kind.

If you start thinking about an executive’s possible response, the complexity involved in executing on an idea, or any other limiting thought, you’re in trouble. It’ll be checkmate for your creative output.

So explore the possibilities and resist the urge to be critical early in the brainstorming process.

Contact us at 416.925.1700, 844.243.1830 or for creative solutions to your marketing challenges.

Read more:

How to lead a brainstorming session

Idea-generating tips for financial services pros

Idea-generating tips for financial services pros

With new product launches, ongoing regulatory updates and an ever-growing demand for increased communications, financial services professionals have had a lot on the go recently. No surprise that it is hard for people to find the time to come up with great new ideas.

Here are five easy ways for you to generate more great ideas:

1. Keep pen and paper handy at all times

The idea toolkit is simple: all you need is an open mind, a pen and some paper. We know that mobile devices are just as good as pen and paper but, from our experience, these “old school” tools help us to log our ideas, and also help to spark more ideas once we get writing.

Whatever your approach, make sure you are able to record your ideas at all times and in any location.

2. Move your body, clear your head

The irony of great of ideas is that they often pop up when you’re not trying to find great ideas. If you’re in a jam and stuck for ideas, get moving. Exercising – like simply going for a walk – can provide well-needed creative fuel.

3. Cast a wide net

Get everybody participating in idea generation. The best ideas often come from unexpected sources. Try setting up quick meetings, hosting one-off brainstorming sessions and sending unexpected emails to anybody willing to participate.

4. See the trends

If you’re looking for great ideas for your business, you’ll want to keep an eye on trends. Business success often depends on determining what people want today and what they’ll want tomorrow – and then delivering on these preferences.

To get there, you’ll need to be on the leading edge. You can start by listening to what your clients and prospects are saying on social media.

5. Test the water

Just because you think it’s a good idea, that doesn’t mean it is. Put your ideas to the test by getting your colleagues to review them. Be prepared for some honest – and occasionally painful – feedback!

For more creative ideas – and solutions to your most pressing marketing issues – contact us at 416.925.1700, 1.844.243.1830 or

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Five techniques for more effective self-editing

Smart way to cut down on meetings

How to lead a brainstorming session

One of the biggest misconceptions about creativity is that it can’t be constrained – that creativity must go wherever it wants.

That sounds good, but it’s not necessarily true, especially when your goal is to produce something of practical value. If you are launching a new product or solution – with corresponding microsite, brochures, presentations, emails, etc. – remember that structure can actually help ideas flourish.

If you’re a project manager running a brainstorming session, here are a few ways to make the best ideas see the light of day.

1. Split up time

Try not to schedule gruelling, three-hour meetings with a “no one’s leaving until we hash this out” mentality. People will run out of steam and your team’s ideas may stray too far, or just stop.

Try scheduling three shorter meetings instead. Thirty minutes, if run well, is a good length.

  1. Your first meeting can act as a brief introduction that closes with some high-level idea generation. The outcome should be a few strong options for the team to reflect on after the meeting ends.
  2. In the second 30-minute meeting, the team can generate more ideas based on the strongest options from the first meeting.
  3. In the third meeting, the team can refine, and then choose, the best ideas to keep.

2. Help people generate great ideas

It’s easy to tell when you’ve run a great brainstorming session. If the table is messy, if people are exhilarated and if the walls are filled with ideas, you’ve done your job well. Here are a few things you can do to help make this happen:

  • Inspire people to say their wildest ideas, especially during the earlier sessions. These ideas can serve as fuel for later sessions.
  • Don’t judge anything that is said. People need to feel safe to speak up without being judged. If someone is too negative or judgmental, ask them to keep their comments positive and maybe think twice about inviting them to your next brainstorm session.
  • Record everything and keep all the ideas from your brainstorming sessions. Bring sketch pads and sticky notes, and get ready to write. To keep things moving fast, forget about spelling and neatness.

If the table is messy, if people are exhilarated and if the walls are filled with ideas, you have done your job well.

3. Invite people from outside the creative team

If you’re looking for a truly big idea, invite people from different teams and departments. Think about bringing in someone from production, sales, research or IT. Outsiders bring fresh perspectives, so they may provide that “something different” you’re looking for.

Contact us at 416.925.1700, 1.844.243.1830 or for more brainstorming and idea-generating tips.

No time for writer’s block? Banish it forever

Here’s the scenario: You’ve got an article to write on an interesting topic. You have more than enough time to meet your deadline and an editor lined up to perfect your words. There’s one big problem, though. The words won’t come. You’ve got writer’s block.

You’ve been staring at a blank page for days. And your deadline, which seemed generous at first, is starting to close in on you. Every writer has been there. What can you do about it?

One idea is to put your article aside until the eleventh hour. There’s nothing like the adrenaline of an immediate deadline to make you put pen to paper – or hand to keyboard. We know from experience that this trick often works, but it also leads to plenty of stress. What it likely doesn’t lead to is your best work.

Try one of these other tips, which we think you’ll find more productive.

Do something fun

Writers are often told that they should write early in the morning. Science says that’s when writers are most creative and least likely to be distracted by all the other things they have to do that day.

But when you’re completely stuck on an article, going straight into writing mode first thing in the morning might not work. What’s more, it might derail your day as you spend hour after hour trying to figure out what you want to say.

Why not start your day with a project you’re excited about? It’ll be more fun, make you feel productive and put you in the right mindset.

Take it one step at a time

At this point, you just want to get this article done. You’ll be tempted to start at the beginning and work your way through until you’re finally – finally! – done.

When you’re dealing with writer’s block, though, we find the best approach is to break your task up into chunks.

Step 1: Get organized

Start with something small, like creating a new folder (physical or virtual) where you’ll keep all your research and drafts. With this one little step, you’ve accomplished something and you’re one step closer to meeting that deadline.

Step 2: Research

Do some reading. Find out what other people have to say on the topic you’re writing about. Make a bullet point list of any ideas you find interesting, and add your own thoughts to those bullet points.

Step 3: Create an outline

Use your bullet points to create a rough outline. It doesn’t have to be great at this stage, because you’re going to do a bit more research and continue putting more and more ideas under each of those bullet points. Move those bullets around until you have groups of ideas that fit nicely together. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid outline.

Step 4: Write

With a solid outline, getting started on the task of writing will suddenly seem much easier. All you need to do is turn those bullet points into sentences and paragraphs, and you’ll have a first draft. The draft may still need some polishing, but you’re most of the way there now!

Procrastinate productively

Remember that writing is more than putting words on paper. It’s also about thinking through your ideas and deciding what you want to say and how you want to say it. You should feel free to walk away from what you’re writing when you need to for some quality “thinking time.”

And if you use these breaks to do something productive, you won’t think of it as time wasted. Here’s an idea: offer to go on a coffee run for your colleagues. You’ll get fresh air and exercise – which are both known to be good for creativity – and your colleagues will thank you.

With writer’s block, know you’re not alone

If none of these tricks are working for you, we have one last tip. Kick back, have a drink and take comfort in knowing that every writer has been where you are right now. May we recommend some Writers Tears (the Irish whiskey of choice for the writers at Ext. Marketing Inc.)?

Stuck on content that was due yesterday? We can help. Contact Ext. Marketing Inc. today at 416.925.1700 or

Are your creative pipes backed up? Here are five ways to unblock them

Writers working on anything from ad copy to executive speeches can get their creative pipes backed up. Project managers creating a robust brief can get backed up, too.

Luckily, there are many ways to flush out those pipes and get the creativity flowing once again. Here are five ways to do just that:

Get some exercise

No, we’re not talking about jogging or lifting weights. We’re talking about writing exercises.

These are our three favourites: photo-prompt writing (find an image online, write what you see and then write the story behind the photo); freewriting (write about something and just keep going); and the short-story challenge (write a short story in 100 words).

By giving yourself less time to write, you may sharpen your focus and stoke the fire you need to get your task done.


That empty screen may be the result of your surroundings. If things are getting drab, find another desk to work at. Go to a different area in your department or, better yet, go to a different floor and start working at the first empty workstation you find.

Bump up your deadline

This may sound counterintuitive, but a little extra pressure can actually help. By giving yourself less time to write, you may sharpen your focus and stoke the fire you need to get your task done.

Embrace your inner contrarian

Write everything down that works against your position in the piece you’re working on. It’s natural to be uncomfortable with this technique. It is, however, an exceptionally productive exercise because you’ll uncover potential objections and questions. But remember: the outcome of this exercise is for your eyes only.

Out of ideas? Ask.

Email top clients. Ask your social network. Organize an impromptu meeting with your team (five minutes maximum). Sometimes getting out of your own head for a while will clarify your thoughts. This is also a great way to ensure you’ll end up with copy that people want to read.

We hope that the next time you feel backed up, you can try one of these tips and free that creativity flow.

For more creative ideas – and solutions to your most pressing marketing and communications issues – please contact us at or 416.925.1700.

Smart ways to cut down on meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of office life. They can help your team reach an important decision, or build consensus on a critical issue. Meetings may also be helpful when you just need to talk things through as a group.

However, meetings can also be time killers. Here are some smart ways to reduce the amount of time you spend in meetings.

Create an agenda… and stick to it

Every so often, you just need a good brainstorming session. If it’s not one of those times, have a solid agenda for your meeting. Circulate it at least a couple of days ahead of time, and encourage people to ask questions or suggest changes as soon as they get the agenda. Don’t save these things for the meeting, or you won’t stay on track.

What should go into your agenda? A list of what topics you plan to discuss, who will be leading each discussion and how much time will be spent on each topic. It’s pretty simple. The bigger challenge is often sticking to the agenda once the meeting has started.

Of course, you’ll want enough time in your agenda for relevant questions and discussion. But if a discussion starts to veer off topic, it should be moved out of the meeting and discussed at another time. As the meeting organizer, it’s up to you to enforce this.

Also, make sure you start your meeting on time. There is no bigger time killer than spending 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of a meeting waiting for all the key players to arrive. Start on time and stick to your agenda, and you’ll be more likely to end your meeting on time, too.

Invite fewer people

Does it ever feel like you’re having a meeting just because everyone wants a say on a certain decision that needs to be made? Even when that decision isn’t particularly relevant to their role. It happens to all of us.

You’ll cut your meeting time down significantly by inviting only the people who really need to be there. Others may be interested in what’s being discussed, and that’s great! We all want an engaged workforce. After the meeting, send those people a summary of what was discussed and what decisions were made, and let them know you’re happy to have their input.

Other times, you’ll find the opposite is happening. Somebody has a big decision to make and doesn’t really feel comfortable doing it without everyone else’s input. Most issues aren’t this critical. When each employee’s role is clearly defined, and they feel empowered to make important decisions within that role, you may find you need far fewer meetings.

In other words, don’t use meetings as an exercise in hand-holding or passing the decision-making buck to the next person. If it seems like this is what’s happening, try a quick phone call or one-on-one chat instead.

Try standing

Don’t hate us for this one, but a 1999 study from the University of Missouri showed that meetings are 34% shorter if you’re standing up (source). True, it’s a 15-year-old study, but we have a feeling the results still stand today (see what we did there?).

Try taking away the chairs during your next meeting. Allow us to state the obvious and say that standing is harder than sitting. People will be less likely to veer off-topic during a standing meeting, because they’ll really want to get back to their desks.

You might want to make an exception for the person responsible for taking notes during the meeting. And you’ll definitely want to make an exception for anyone who can’t stand for 30 minutes. But try this one out, at least once, and let us know how it goes.

If you’re looking for marketing and communications help, contact us at 416.925.1700, 1.844.243.1830 or

A last-minute blog post about last-minute blog posts

I’m sitting here at my desk and my eyes are darting between the clock and the blank page in front of me. I’ve got a meeting to go to in 15 minutes, and I need to write a post for our blog right now.

But there’s a big problem: I don’t know what to write about.

We should have seen this coming. We’ve written about running out of ideas before, and we’ve also written about how to avoid it from happening again; for example, here, here and here.

What’s the simple solution? How can we avoid this stress?

First, create an editorial calendar. We’ve done that – so far so good. Next, sustain the editorial calendar. We slipped on that, which is why you’re reading a post like this today.

Not all is lost. There is a very straightforward way to get out of this situation.

After we post this we’re going to follow a simple process for staying on top of content deliverables. We will:

  • Set up a content brainstorm
  • Invite a core group of our best “idea” people
  • Open it up to the broader team (where, truthfully, many of our best ideas come from)
  • Assign the topics to people who want to write them
  • Schedule our posts in the editorial calendar
  • Book another content meeting long before we are out of posts, so that we never run out of ideas again

That’s it. Hopefully, we won’t have to write a confessional post like this again.

If you need help with your marketing strategy or execution please contact us at 416.925.1700 or