Marketing for Hire – Impact Communications

A remarkable number of marketing resources are now available in the advisor ecosystem.

This issue highlights marketing resources that are available to financial planners—but before we get to the profiles, let me offer a preamble to fit these challenging times.  Whenever there is great uncertainty in the markets and our cultural environment, the very best financial planners have a tendency to pull back their marketing efforts, and to focus exclusively on helping their existing clients maintain their composure and sometimes their sanity. 

Not only do they not want to dilute their time during a crisis, but they also (understandably) believe it’s somehow insensitive to be pushing a marketing agenda when much bigger issues are affecting their client families.

As you read through this issue of Inside Information, I’m going to ask you to rethink that decision.  One of my readers, Randy Brunson of Centurion Advisory Group in Duluth, GA put it very well, when he said:

“During times like these, this profession is not for the faint of heart.  It requires the ability to be an anchor of stability in the storm, the voice of reason in panic, the heart of empathy when others are fearful, and the spirit of engagement when others believe all is lost.”

Another advisor recently told me:

“These are the times when we earn our money as financial professionals.”

Today, millions of people desperately need that anchor of stability in the storm, and many of them are not going to get it from their existing advisor relationship.  You and I both know that the majority of “advisors” are here for the good times, and the money.  When difficult markets crop up, they’re nowhere to be found.

Marketing professionals will tell you that this is the perfect time to gain new clients.  I will tell you that this is the perfect time to reach out and help people, in a professional capacity, as they struggle to control their anxieties and avoid making disastrous financial decisions. 

In this environment, you should not view an outreach as marketing yourself; you are offering to provide an important and potentially financial-life-saving service to your community, and step up where others will not.

I would also, selfishly, ask you to take market share away from the sales agents, brokers and touts who masquerade as financial advisors and in many cases do more harm than good in our financial landscape.  This is the time when their lack of professionalism—and often lack of empathy—is fully exposed.  The more of their clients become your clients, the better off the world is by any important measure.

What are you going to see on the following pages?  Not long ago, there were very few marketing resources for financial planning firms.  It wasn’t hard to find marketing firms and ad agencies, but virtually all of them had no expertise or even experience with financial planning, which means that they struggled to understand the value connection between professional advisors and people in need of advice.   What they did not understand they could not communicate—unless you spent hours, days and weeks educating and coaching them, which is not a productive use of your time, and certainly not of your money.

But in the most recent ten years, quietly and remarkably, the marketplace has developed a surprising number of firms that offer quality marketing services and advice to our profession.  Part of the dynamic is the disintegration of traditional news organizations; writers who might once have specialized in personal finance columns are now crafting customized articles for financial planning firms.  In addition, we’re seeing a new cohort of digital natives entering the marketplace at a time when many planning firms are still trying to figure out how to share their expertise, educate the community and reach out through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

The bottom line is that in this environment, there are many and varied services that you can choose from to outsource your marketing efforts, your writing to and for clients, your social media outreach, your website design and your branding—at a variety of different price points.  The firms profiled here know what you do for a living and the value you provide.  They can help you help more individuals, in this dark period of our lifetimes, live better financial lives—if you will allow them to.

I believe the best time—for you and for prospective clients—is now.

  I’m going to start with the firms most-often-mentioned in my survey of Inside Information readers, which tend to be the larger and more established organizations, and which tend to work with advisory firms with larger budgets.  From there, we’ll move to firms that are more appropriate for smaller advisory practices with more limited budgets—and in most cases, top to bottom, you’ll be able to see the marketing firms through the eyes of actual advisory firm users of their services.

Consensus branding

Raoul Celerier, co-managing partner of Austin Private Wealth in Austin and Corpus Christi, TX, faced the classic dilemma that every breakaway team would recognize.  “We had been with Ameriprise for 14 years, and in 2019, we decided to move to independence,” he says.  “We had the name ‘Austin Private Wealth,’ but didn’t have much more than that.  No marketing, no branding, no logo.”

The firm’s staff includes six advisors across three generations, and all of them had their own (very different) ideas about how to present the new firm to the public.  “I got in touch with Impact Communications,” says Celerier (https://www.impactcommunications.org/, in Leawood, KS), “and they flew out here and set us in a room downtown.  We locked ourselves in the whole day with them, all the advisors, and at the end of the day we had a consensus tag line: Austin Private Wealth: For a Life of Growth.”

What does that mean?  “We realized that, at the heart of our service, we want to inspire our clients to grow in their financial and personal life,” says Celerier.  “So growth was really the main idea for our identity.”

But that wasn’t the whole of the branding.  Celerier said that a sub-theme that came out of the meeting was being ‘open to the world’—important because the firm’s advisory team and staff are multicultural, and they work with a significant cross-border client base in the Austin tech hub. 

“Being open to the world doesn’t just mean who we serve,” Celerier explains.  “It also means understanding what’s going on outside of our boundaries.  Too many times we’re just thinking about our city, our state or our country, or our own challenges and not looking up and paying attention to the bigger trends.”

The solution?  Create a second competing tag line?  “Impact helped us develop a logo which communicated the ‘world’ message,” says Celerier.  The logo looks like a planet, with rough latitude and longitude lines, tilted on its axis—and of course the ‘For a Life of Growth’ tag line is under it. 

Meanwhile, Impact sent a photographer down to take the pictures that went on the new website.  (You can see the logo and photos on the company’s home page, here: https://austinprivatewealth.com/.)

More recently, Impact’s team has helped Austin Private Wealth create the first podcast broadcast from its office, and the website now includes a video that helps people understand about the firm’s services and philosophies, filmed on different locations in and around Austin.  A blog is in the works.  The firm even features its own customized birthday cards.

A different Impact client, Optima Asset Management up the road in Dallas, TX, was facing a very different challenge.  “When our founder passed away,” says Optima president Paul Lightfoot, “we were wondering: how can we retain our clients when he was the primary relationship?  And how would we attract new clients when marketing was his responsibility?  We had never spent any money on marketing or advertising,” Lightfoot adds, “and we needed somebody who knew how advisory firms can enhance their credibility.”

Lightfoot contacted Impact Communications on a recommendation from a Schwab relationship manager, and immediately started telling the Impact team what he didn’t want. 

“Everybody in this profession tries to sound different,” he says, “but everybody ends up sounding pretty much the same.  You can say ‘trustworthy,’ or ‘working for your interests,’ but everybody else is saying those things.”  His firm, Lightfoot says, wanted to stand out in the sea of sameness.

After a one-day ‘message mapping’ process with Impact’s team, the firm found the tag line: “Partnering with families to ensure smart decisions about their wealth.”  Optima’s website notes that “Wealth is more than just money;” it is the key to financial security, to leaving a legacy and, more immediately, to the freedom to enhance life experiences.  (You can see the website here: https://www.optimaassetmgt.com/.)

Impact helped Optima develop a social media presence, and Optima leans on Impact’s staff to brainstorm content ideas.  Once an article is roughed out by the firm’s advisors, the Impact team will help wordsmith the final draft.   

The result?  “When people look at our website, and see our materials, they can see, okay, this is a legit firm,” says Lightfoot.  “Does that make us completely different from everybody else?” he adds.  “No.  But our website has more personality and a clearer message for what we do and how we do it.  We could not have done what they did for us on our own.”

Marie Swift, founder and CEO of Impact Communications, began her career in this profession more than 30 years ago, handling the marketing work for one of the top ‘producer groups’ in the country.  “I really found my groove in marketing, doing corporate communications for a group of 40 people, including 20 advisors,” she says.  After five years, she left to start her own company and have a child, and her former firm became her first client.

Today, Impact has 13 staff members, some of whom work remotely (the locations include London, Dallas, Sacramento and Miami), and their capabilities are augmented by outside consultants and professionals who are called in as needed.  “We have two service lines,” says Swift; “one for independent advisors, and the other for allied institutions who are helping to innovate and bring solutions to advisors.”

For advisors, the service menu includes the initial brainstorming and branding process, plus public relations, content marketing and a speciality in creating custom content for advisors who are too busy or lack the composition skills to write their own.  Swift divides the ongoing process of attracting prospects and clients into four parts, what she calls ‘the four Cs,’ which are, in descending order of marketing power: Credibility (public relations and facilitating journalist-written pieces about the firm or quoting staff members); Custom (written by the firm with Impact’s assistance); Curated (forwarding interesting pieces from other publications); and Canned (material you buy from third-party sources that other advisors also have access to).

Clients range in size from two-partner firms up to very large ones; what they have in common is a desire to grow rapidly.  Swift cites one client firm that has been growing at a 50% annual rate for the past three years.  Fees range from $2,000 a month on up to $6,000 or more, and the initial on-site consulting is usually a separate charge.

Her advice to advisors?  “Pick one thing to start and do it well,” says Swift.  “Then pick another thing, and just keep building out.”  She mentions a good blog, podcast or video series, or webinar series—and notes that Impact is actively working with advisory firms in all of these media.

See Bob Veres’s letter of support to advisors during the crisishttp://www.bobveres.com/bob-veres-blog/my-support-for-you-in-a-crisis/

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