When marketing consultant Peter Kaufman talks to financial advisors about what makes them different, he often gets this response: "I'm not like other advisors. I focus on pre-retirees, age 50 to 60, with $1.5 million in investable assets." Etcetera.
Not exactly stop-the-presses material.
Fortunately, Kaufman says: "I love to talk and I love to listen and I love to solve problems. It's like peeling an onion. Usually about the 23rd minute they'll say something I can latch onto. You finally get them uncovering what they are good at and excited about. It's all about finding that intersection."
Kaufman, 49, should get plenty of opportunities to, as he puts it, "peel the onion" in coming months. His Richmond, Va.-based marketing firm, The Hoople Group, is one of a half-dozen or so agencies that Wachovia Securities endorsed recently to consult with its 18,000-plus financial advisors.
It probably won't hurt that Kaufman and his partner, Heidi Workman, are themselves Wachovia alums. Until July when they formed The Hoople Group, Workman was the firm's art director and Kaufman was an in-house marketing advisor. They decided to create their own agency after Wachovia Securities announced it was moving its headquarters from Richmond to St. Louis as part of its merger with A.G. Edwards.
While at Wachovia, Kaufman worked with several hundred financial advisors on marketing strategies. Then, as now, he has an overarching goal: to create messages that cut through the noise.
In one notable engagement, Kaufman helped a client market himself as "a veterinarian's advisor" after learning that the advisor's wife and her sister were both well-known vets in their region.
"A lot of advisors are sitting on something they don't even realize they have. This was a guy who early in our first conversation said he didn't really have a niche. Come to find out everyone within 100 miles knows both his wife and her sister," says Kaufman. "All he needed to do was get in front of an audience and say: 'I put my wife through vet school and you all know my sister-in-law. Nobody knows vets like I do.' What you want is everyone in that audience to say: 'You're one of us.' That's the challenge."
In another instance, Kaufman counseled a young advisor who had played high school football and wanted to return to his hometown one day. As it turns out, the man's father is the principal of the high school, and his mother a guidance counselor. The outcome: The advisor now sponsors a scholarship at the annual football banquet, an event that has heightened his profile and attracted a following.
Jennifer Khoury, an advisor for three years, says Kaufman helped jumpstart her practice when he asked her: What are you passionate about? Khoury owns, rides and shows horses. "It hit me," says Richmond-based Khoury, who, with a partner, manages $85 million in assets. "This was a way to expand my business through something I love doing."
As a result, Khoury has twice sponsored an annual brunch next to the grandstand at a prestigious show organized by the Deep Run Hunt Club. She has won two high-net-worth clients and is working on converting three other prospects that she connected with at the events. The exposure also led to an invitation to join the non-profit Thoroughbred Retirement Board, which takes care of rescues.
"It doesn't happen overnight, but this is so much more powerful than putting an ad in the paper. It's about getting to know people through a passion you share," she says. "It gets right to a comfort zone."
Kaufman joined Wachovia Securities in 2006 after working on the creative and business development teams of Richmond advertising agencies. An advertising major at Boston University, he started his career as a copywriter in New York City then moved to Boston where he created The Great American Meatloaf Contest and cookbook. He also wrote a weekly column, called "The Single File," for a Richmond newspaper. In one "pity column" he invited readers to write in. One of the 600 letters he got was from a nanny he later married. "We usually win the 'How did you meet?' contest," he says. Kaufman and his wife, Jennifer, now have four children who are pretty good about steering clear of their father's office: the family dining room.
"We're going to stay lean and mean for a few months, no fancy trappings," says Kaufman. Does he have a business plan? "Absolutely not. I thrive on controlled chaos. You put enough stuff out there, things happen. I know the kind of business I want and that is to work with a select group of financial advisors who want to do things over a period of time. I'm going to keep asking questions, and listening. I'm going to find that intersection -- what you're good at and excited about -- because then you don't have to force anything. It's doing what you love."
Freelance writer Ellen Uzelac is based in Chestertown, Md.; the former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.