The rise of the talking head: why City experts are taking over our TV screens and it's not just back-to-back suits

Madeline Ratcliffe
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By eight o’clock on a typical Monday morning Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank, will have been at her desk for nearly two hours preparing for her clients and keeping an eye on the markets. She will also have had to squeeze in a couple of live interviews, providing expert commentary for broadcasters from Sky to Bloomberg and the BBC.

Foley is not alone, she’s one of a number of rising TV stars in the City, familiar faces who appear as markets crash and rates are hiked to provide instant insight. From Brenda Kelly, head analyst at London Capital Group, and Standard Chartered’s chief European economist Sarah Hewin, to Anne Richards, chief investment officer at Aberdeen Asset Management, and Maike Currie, investment director at Fidelity International, these are the commentators the media turn to.

Left to right: Anne Richards at Aberdeen Asset Management; Brenda Kelly from London Capital Group, Rabobank's Jane Foley; Maike Currie from Fidelity and Standard Chartered's Sarah Hewin.

With several appearances a day, Foley and her team have to keep a spreadsheet of their media commitments, which often start before work. Brenda Kelly’s day can begin with a TV appearance at 6.45am and finish at 9.30pm with a satellite interview for Bloomberg in New York.

Some of these are regular bookings for market commentary, but more often than not she’s reacting to breaking news, with five minutes’ notice before going live.

“Being able to do media is part of the deal now, certainly,” Kelly told City A.M. “Over the last few years it’s become part of the day job. We have a remote camera installed [in the office] which is in demand, especially during volatile times. The choppier the markets are, the busier we are.”

Foley agreed: “It’s common now for most banks to offer media training. If you’re willing [to do media appearances] it’s probably an advantage. I did a lot of drama at school, I never realised it would be important.”

Kirsty Good, business editor at Sky News, told City A.M.: “Since the credit crunch, broadcasters have relied on City commentators to explain complex market, financial and economic turmoil. When news breaks, we need the very best communicators with specialist knowledge to get in front of a camera quickly. It can be tricky but these are the demands of 24/7 news.”

They’re particularly welcome faces in an industry underrepresented by women. There are just six female chief executives in the FTSE 100.

John Holliday, a former broadcaster, is managing director at Globelynx, which sets up cameras in offices around the world, allowing broadcasters to get a commentator on air almost instantly. Holliday told City A.M.:

Having women take the lead as the spokespeople and experts for their companies busts the myth that the City is a men only club. Banks are pro-actively offering media training to their female analysts as they appreciate that it’s a powerful recruitment tool to build their female pipeline. [It’s] a great form of marketing for companies as it allows them to showcase their expertise.

A sentiment Foley echoed: “Absolutely it’s helpful to see women performing well in the City. If you make a good impression on TV, it helps boost your credibility.”

This is not about tokenism though. Kelly said: “Being a woman will get you so far, but you need to be good to get asked back.”

Good agreed: “We do work very hard to make sure our output features a range of voices from various backgrounds – no one wants to watch back-to-back suits. It’s more important the contributor provides real insight and analysis and communicates in a clear, jargon-free way to our audience.”

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