From the July 2004 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

FROM TACTICAL TO PRACTICAL- Media Partner

We live and practice in a world of look-alike competitors where consumers often can't tell one investment product, service, or advisor from another. They have no way of knowing who's competent and who isn't. To the average consumer there are no obvious wrong choices, only unfamiliar ones. So in formulating your marketing campaign, begin by making yourself known and familiar within your local community.

Sounds simple, right? But the problem for many advisors is that "making yourself known" is diametrically opposed to a deeply ingrained belief that self-promotion is inappropriate when it comes to serious financial matters. You might also believe that people who promote themselves are arrogant egomaniacs who are more interested in stoking their own ego than in looking after their clients' best interests. Because of this belief, financial advisors rely more on visual clues to confirm their expertise. It's one reason why advisors dress carefully and conservatively--that's a visual clue that communicates they are methodical and attentive to detail: "Conservative" equals predictable and reliable behavior that encourages clients' trust.

The more of these visual clues you can adopt, the more recognizable you become, and the more comfortable and confident prospects feel about choosing you. The question remains, however: How are you going to stand out from your competitors?

Before we explore a viable solution, let's first reframe the word "promotion." Promotion does not have to be self-aggrandizing, but can be a way to make the value of your work speak for you. Rather than wonder how to humbly express why you are so good at what you do, promote stories of those who have benefited from the value of your beliefs, methods, and solutions.

The manufacturing and marketing of business people to stand out is not taught anywhere. A few people know how to do it in Hollywood and Washington; but beyond that, it's largely unexplored territory. Look at how financial celebrities like Peter Lynch and Suze Orman have created the same classic entertainment model of fans flocking to a star. Even Charles Schwab merchandises his stardom with the excitement of a blockbuster movie.

In the past, most local celebrities did not seek visibility; they acquired it as a byproduct of their occupations and lifestyles. Increasingly, local celebrities are turning to professional image consultants and marketing professionals to help increase their "well-knownness." They're looking to widen their audience while lengthening the duration of their visibility. Greater reach and longer duration translate into greater success.

Those who understand how to use the media for these purposes will realize a significant advantage over their competitors. Getting your ideas and processes into print media is the single greatest marketing device I have ever encountered. It immediately accomplishes four things: Your credibility increases; the value of your ideas is validated; your thinking is solidified, and your processes are systematized. When the media emphasizes or echoes your values, ideas, or beliefs, it validates your local-expert status. You move up the visibility pyramid.

Step by Step

The first step on the visibility pyramid is to use image-building activities accelerated by becoming a source for the media. You do this by coming up with something of value to say, being interviewed, writing articles, and supplying the plethora of material that reporters or editors need to fill their daily time or space requirements. Reporters are always looking for interesting stories about people, and everyone in every story is grist for a potential news mill. Reporters create one-day celebrities daily.

How long does well-knownness last? Will it only be for a day, a week, a year, a generation, or forever? At most, members of the investment community may make the news for a day in their own hometowns with the announcement of a new vice-presidency or an office opening or through the sponsorship of some event, but most visibility submerges again shortly thereafter.

Even one-day celebrities can turn this limited coverage into unlimited mileage by using a reprint strategy in their marketing program instead of sending out preprinted mailers. Though there are no hard rules on this, ideally your clients and prospects should be reading about you every quarter.

As simple as this process may sound, it doesn't work overnight. Just as prospecting requires an ongoing effort, diligence and consistency are necessary to gain visibility. Think of the people in your local community who are constantly in the news. What makes them more visible? Look at leaders of the major institutions, the leading banker, business owner, lawyer, physician, football coach, or politician; what are they doing that you're not?

Take a look at the Visibility Pyramid at right. Notice the base is very broad and consists of people who are invisible. As you move higher up the pyramid, the levels thin out rapidly, until only a few people are left at the pinnacle who command the highest visibility. These people also are the highest compensated. They may be advisors who have talk shows on the local channels or regular monthly newspaper columns. These are regional celebrities whose names reach beyond their own immediate areas. Every major city contains well-known people drawn from the ranks of business leaders, fashion trendsetters, and athletes.

Building Visibility

What are the odds of getting your name in print? It's actually not all that difficult. Every afternoon, reporters and editors have to ferret out news and information to fill their magazines and newspapers. This is your opening. It's the place where you can concentrate part of your marketing effort.

In addition to their own ideas, reporters get story ideas from press releases, other publications, and from people working in the industry, i.e., people like you.

Reporters are always in a hurry, always up against a deadline, always looking for a good story. They also constantly need expertise or knowledge you may have that can add to a story they're already working on. Sometimes they are young and inexperienced and don't know where to get information; yet even experienced reporters need you in critical ways. Reporters are evaluated by the quality of their stories. The stories determine a reporter's reputation and space allocation. Reporters need someone like you to provide a fresh angle or explain the details or ramifications of a straight news story to them. Reporters and journalists prefer to work with someone they know and trust, and will call on you as a reliable source if you cultivate a relationship with them. It's up to you to take action, but like a Boy Scout, you have to be prepared. Understand their difficulties, pressures, and needs, and you can become a trusted source for reporters.

Relationship Skills

How do you establish this relationship? Find out what your clients read and notice who wrote the stories that relate to your areas of expertise. More and more reporters leave an e-mail trail to contact them. If you can't find their e-mail addresses, contact the publications and ask for the reporters by name or request a list of the newspaper's e-mail addresses.

Your objective is to find out what the reporter is writing, and offer to supply information and research on the subject. Send them a note and explain that you work with their readers in helping them solve their financial problems. Include an attractive package of information that represents you. It can greatly improve your chances for placement in a publication--or even get you a local radio or TV interview. Suggest that your clients' frequently-asked questions and concerns create patterns that can possibly be turned into dynamic stories, and that you would be more than happy to share that information. If you're a regular at one of the national investment conferences, offer to be a source of any research you might bring back. All you ask is that you receive credit for any data and research you might provide, so that the reporter understands your agenda.

When you contact the writer, don't offer an interview and don't talk about yourself or your service unless she asks. I know that's a hard one for some Alpha types, but resist the urge to talk about yourself.

Rather than targeting a national publication, start out by approaching local business journals, the business section of the local newspaper, and your town's Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club newsletter publishers. Don't forget about industry trade magazine reporters and editors. This is an excellent place to begin. These people are usually very friendly, despite being overworked, and are still willing to take your calls. They have the same basic needs as their national counterparts.

Consider this case study: When John Bowen was a young financial advisor, he hired a national PR company that got his firm profiled in Fortune magazine. He was surprised by the lack of response to the article, considering the tremendous reach of a national magazine. He later discovered the reach was in the wrong direction; less than five percent of his target market read consumer magazines such as Money, Forbes, or Fortune. Bowen also discovered that his target market--self-employed businessmen--are voracious readers of "problem/solution" type articles and stories that relate to their industry. Bowen shifted his approach, concentrated on industry trade magazines and journals, and moved even higher up the visibility pyramid, reaching over 95% of his target market by writing a column in an industry trade magazine.

Armed with knowledge of how the media operates, prepared with information and ideas that will make their job easier, and through making contact with your local reporters, you become a valuable resource to the media and well-known and familiar to your local community.

Larry Chambers spent 10 years as a broker before becoming an independent coach and writer. In addition to his 30-plus investment-related books, he has helped high-profile industry spokesmen gain expert-recognition status. He can be reached through www.competitiveforce.com.

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