Photographer Ansel Adams was once asked how he'd been able to take so many iconic shots in his career. He famously quipped, “Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.”
Modesty aside, his point about timing being fortuitous and somewhat out of his hands is well-taken. However, there are plenty of instances in life and in our careers when we can control even the most beguiling variables and use them to our advantage.
If you are a financial adviser with a blog and social-media presence, you are not forced at gunpoint to have an opinion on every issue, but you will want to at least make mention of the major events if you're ever going to establish yourself and gain a real following. Readers don't have time to hop across 50 different sites to get the news of the day; the more they can get from a single source, the more apt they are to make that single source a part of their routine. When something notable happens, you're going to want to demonstrate to your readers that you're at least aware of it, even if you don't have a “take” on it. Moreover, you're going to want to point them toward your own sources, whether by published excerpt or tweeted link.
But a lot of people will be doing that at the same time — other financial advisers, investors with blogs, traders on Twitter as well as all the professional journalists who share their thoughts on the web.
The question then becomes, “How do I stand out?”
TRY TO BE LAST
Barring the superhuman ability to always be first with news or to be the most knowledgeable about every development, I've learned over the years to try to be last, hitting topics with such force that no one else will bother to opine in your wake. To literally crush a subject and put it to bed once and for all, now that's a worthwhile endeavor.
Bloomberg, Reuters, Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal have thousands of reporters and correspondents who are breaking news and writing analyses all day long. Since it is their full-time job, you will not get there first and you will never beat them on speed. Nor should you. You are a financial professional, not a ticker tape of headlines. But what reporters and professional bloggers lack, despite their speed, is depth and context. Not always — there are some brilliant and experienced news people covering the Street — but usually.
That's where you come in, the writer-practitioner. Your take need not be quick or even all-encompassing, only impactful and genuine.
The good news is that your take on the matter can and should wait until you've had time to digest what everyone is screaming about. There is no rush. You can collect facts and opinions while others carelessly weigh in and shoot off all their ammo. You can bide your time until the perfect moment when everyone has tossed their two cents into the pile, and then you strike — with poignancy and passion. Subsume all that's been written before on the matter and make it your own.
I had the definitive opinion piece on the May 2010 “flash crash” by virtue of the fact that I waited; I had spent the whole day on the phone reassuring clients rather than scribbling out a real-time reaction. When my editor at Forbes nudged me that night for “a pro's look at the events of the day,” it was the perfect opportunity to sort through the rubble, emerging with what I knew to be the most crucial insights. This has been the case on several topics through the years — sometimes I've waited intentionally and sometimes it just turned out that I had to.
My review of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is another, more recent, example. The movie had been out for two weeks before I'd gotten around to seeing it. Mainstream media critics had weighed in prior to the premiere, while the financial media's tastemakers had written their columns within days of the film's release. I went into the movie with a firsthand knowledge of the time and place, but also armed with a sense of all that had already been said. This timing allowed me to build on the impressions of others while challenging the reactions I'd read elsewhere. As a result, my review became the most referenced and linked-to piece on the matter on the entire financial web; thousands of people, many of them influential, had read it.
In these cases, I wasn't first or even early, I was last. But I was best.
OWNING A STORY
Owning a story just once or twice is really all that's needed for an opinion writer to cement his or her place in the financial commentary firmament. The hard part is being heard and taken seriously in the first place. Nailing the timing can help you do that, provided you can back it up with something worthwhile to say.
The hard part about waiting for the right time is that it can pass fairly quickly. We live in an age of a 12-hour news cycle, where often the stories of the morning are already stale by the time the evening rush rolls around. Either that or they've been so done to death that no one wants to hear another word. At a certain point, the audience is finished with a particular topic and we find ourselves merely beating a dead horse. This is the risk of holding your tongue for an opportune moment — it may be drifting by. But it's a risk worth taking when you've got something really interesting to say.
There is no formula or equation for gauging this sort of thing. Timing, in this regard, becomes a matter of intuition and experience. Watching the ebb and flow of news and opinion will acquaint you with the cycle, but practice will allow you to someday master it.
Josh Brown is co-founder of Ritholtz Wealth Management and a financial commentator on CNBC.