Automated Articles

AdvisorStream sends out consumer articles to clients and prospects—and collects new leads when a client forwards them to a friend.

In this Covid environment, we’re starting to hear a lot about outsourcing your marketing efforts while you focus your own time and energy on helping clients navigate their economic and investment uncertainties.  But most of the services that claim to be outsourcing options actually require a considerable amount of your time and attention.  What if you could automatically, without a lot of individual participation, help clients stay informed, capture new leads, and get some of the writing chores off your desk all at once?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I review the demo I received from a service called AdvisorStream (https://www.advisorstream.com/), which provides relevant content (the most interesting articles) directly to your clients from a variety of respected publications.  The list includes the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Bloomberg, the New York Times, Barron’s, the Globe and Mail in Canada, the Economist, Reuters, Business Insider, Entrepreneur magazine and the Harvard Business Review

You can customize the service by aggregating clients based on their interests, so the system would send your small business clients a sampling of articles weighted toward the Harvard Business Review and Forbes, while clients who want to stay abreast of the investment markets might get more articles from Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s.  You get to look at the articles before they go out and veto ones you don’t like; if you do exercise your veto power, AdvisorStream’s system will instantly send another article that you might prefer.

Clients are encouraged to forward an article they like to friends and neighbors, and if they do, AdvisorStream will capture that friend or neighbor’s email address, which will be added to your prospect list.  An integration with Redtail and Salesforce allows advisors to collect these prospects in their CRM, but AdvisorStream will also manage the client “top of funnel” list for you.

I entered the demo with a bit of skepticism, and actually almost didn’t schedule the interview, because I had once written an article about a company called Vestorly.  On the surface, AdvisorStream and Vestorly appear to do approximately the same thing—bring you (and your clients) fresh article content from popular sources in the mainstream press.  However, unlike AdvisorStream, Vestorly didn’t license the content from the publishers of those articles; it would frame that article on the web and provide you with the first paragraph and a link.  The client would click on an article from, say, the Wall Street Journal, and be told that there was a subscription fee to view the article.  One might, without too much imagination, conclude that Vestorly was simply helping itself to copyrighted content.

Vestorly also did something that I now consider a little bit creepy; it would keep track of the articles that clients and prospects clicked on, and start inserting more articles on those topics, eventually narrowing down what individual recipients would view—which, it seemed to me, compromised the advisor’s ability to group clients according to their interests.  (There were other issues with Vestorly that my readers made me aware of, which is why I backed off on recommending it to the advisor community.)

As I went through AdvisorStream’s functionality, I began to see a lot of important differences, starting with the fact that (as mentioned earlier) AdvisorStream pays to license the content that you and other advisor users distribute.  (No paywalls, in other words, and everything is on the up-and-up with the papers and magazines.)  Other features include the ability to pull email addresses, via a csv file, from your CRM program (unless, of course, you use Redtail or Salesforce, in which case you have a direct integration), and have AdvisorStream manage the outbound mailings. 

You can also add your own content or pull in content from other parties.  If your favorite actively-managed mutual fund offers an online article on the challenges and opportunities in today’s municipal bond market, you get permission from the fund company to republish the article and AdvisorStream will add it to your article feed.  For dually-registered advisors, there’s a compliance engine that streamlines the approval process for sharing articles.  And AdvisorStream is open about the bottom line returns on the service; it automatically provides monthly reports that show the total deliveries, the open rate and the view rate, with a graph that tracks those statistics over time.

Others have provided a certain amount of third-party endorsement of AdvisorStream that its competitors might envy.  Prominently, Envestnet is introducing Envestnet Connect, which combines performance reporting with a customized version of AdvisorStream’s engine, that automatically sifts through the various publications to provide context and reporting around the investment environment at the time the quarterly reports are delivered to clients.  Several of the industry’s largest broker-dealers have bulk licensed AdvisorStream on behalf of their reps.  There’s a certain degree of institutional trust that isn’t always easy to earn.

Open rate

My demo was conducted by Tim Minert, who I had previously known as the national sales manager at Redtail Technology, and more recently as the marketing face of the AdvisorPeak trading and rebalancing platform.  Minert still does work for AdvisorPeak, but he’s now the Enterprise Marketing Manager at AdvisorStream, and he offered me a quick look at this new marketing platform at the 2020 T3 conference.  He was joined by AdvisorStream co-founder Kevin Mulhern.

“In addition to sending out articles directly to clients or a group of clients,” Minert says, “you can post them through social media channels—Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.  “We generate the posts for the advisor,” he explains.  “I have mine set up to be semi-automatic; AdvisorStream sends me a message saying, this is the article that we selected for your social media post this week; approve or disapprove.  I can approve or, if I don’t like the article, disapprove, and literally seconds later, it will send me a new one.”

If you send the articles out directly, AdvisorStream has writers who create a cover letter for you to include in the package, which makes it easy for you to build your own custom newsletter using any combination of the articles.  The typical newsletter contains six articles from the various publications, but Minert says that many advisors will write the cover article themselves.  “If an advisor wants to eliminate or exclude certain topics or words—like, say, politics or marijuana stocks or something,” he says, “they can say, ‘don’t show me that stuff,’ and those articles would not be part of the mix that is offered for sending to clients.”

The system captures which articles are clicked on and by whom, so you can see which of them “work,” and this can also help you define the interests of groups of clients. 

Mulhern says that about 80% of advisors using the service are located in the U.S.; others are in Canada and the UK. Those in the UK are receiving articles from the Guardian, the Economist, the Times and the Daily Independent

How effective has the service been for its users?  The typical open rate for advisors’ client newsletters, says Mulhern, is about 20 percent.  Advisors using AdvisorStream are typically seeing 30-40 percent open rates, and ‘view rates’ in the 10-20 percent range.  “From our statistics,” says Mulhern, “the average advisor will get about 25 new leads a year.  But we’ve had some people get north of 100.”

The two issues that AdvisorStream addresses are 1) keeping your clients informed about the markets, positioning you as the source of information about what’s going on in the world, and 2) making referrals more fluid, by encouraging clients to forward articles they received from their advisor to new prospects. 

I’m not sure AdvisorStream is that holy grail of a fully-delegatable marketing system; you will probably still want to approve the articles (seconds of effort a week) and write occasional commentaries or lead articles in your monthly newsletter (more than seconds of effort).  But Envestnet’s Connect service suggests that you can use AdvisorStream to provide mostly-automated context to your investment process.  I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that discriminating advisors could add my customized Client Articles into the article mix, to make it more customized or differentiated.

Cost?  Advisory firms pay $250 a month for the full suite of AdvisorStream services, with zero long-term commitment.  Minert suggested that I offer a $199 monthly price to Inside Information users who sign up at: http://advisorstream.com/r/bobveres.  But he recommended that you first check with your custodian or broker-dealer, because they might offer a better arrangement under their enterprise pricing agreements.