It’s not always easy to stand out in a crowded, competitive industry. Along with understanding the market and developing media relationships, advisors need innovative ideas and good timing. Whether it’s establishing yourself as an expert or utilizing the latest technology to reach prospects and gain publicity, advisors across the country share creative, no-cost and low-cost ways for promoting products and services.

Before you pursue a new marketing direction, identify your business development goals and consider the available time you have to devote to the effort. Analyze your strengths and the type of client interaction that feels most natural to you. Then, get inspired by these fresh ideas to invigorate your public relations and marketing strategies.

Marketing by the book
If you have the gift of writing and presenting complex material in a clear and interesting way, perhaps you should consider writing a book. Securing a traditional book publishing contract can be difficult for an unpublished author, but self-publishing is an option that no longer caries the stigma it did in the days of “vanity” presses; Stephen King recently self-published a book. Publishers like Xlibris.com and IUniverse.com utilize print-on-demand technologies that can enable an advisor to self-publish a book quickly, with a reasonable upfront cost. Because POD publishers don’t usually provide promotional or distribution services, this option is best for advisors who are comfortable handling the book marketing and sales aspects.

Marketing by the booklet
Leonard Martin, founder and CEO of Martin & Associates in Warwick, R.I., wrote a booklet entitled How to Protect Your Life Savings from Nursing Homes and Medicaid Spend-down Rules.

“I used simple language to make the information more understandable,” Martin says. “I also researched the rulings for my state and had several attorneys review the material to make sure it was accurate.”

Next, he developed a marketing campaign around the booklet, advertising it in the newspaper and sending a copy to his existing clients. He also identified a target list of attorneys and sent them a copy of the booklet with a letter offering his insurance advisory services to complement theirs – when they were updating clients’ wills or creating living trusts, for example. As a result of his efforts, he received a number of new referrals from lawyers that resulted in sales of both annuities and life insurance to new customers.

Martin is on the second printing of the booklet. “We bind and print the books here rather than outsourcing,” he says. “My initial investment was about $700, and the first sale I made from the booklet was $8,000, so it’s produced an excellent return on the investment.”

Write what you know – and get paid
Magazines and newspapers always need relevant, timely content. If you’re good at structuring information into a well-written, tightly focused article, you might get a paid assignment with a publication that even allows you to include your contact information in the story. Byron R. Moore, CFP, managing director for Ruston, La.-based Argent Advisors Inc., writes a regular column about financial issues for the daily News-Star in Louisiana.

“The reason we use Byron and others like him is because we’re interested in delivering that expertise to a general audience,” News-Star business editor Greg Hilburn says. “We look for a writer who can connect with a general audience, and provide good, sound advice. Bryan obviously doesn’t hawk his products, but I’d guess the column is a good promotional tool for him.”

Hit the airwaves
If you’re comfortable talking about current-interest topics in an entertaining and informative way, radio talk shows can be an excellent medium for advisors to gain exposure and recognition.

“American radio stations need thousands of guests per day to fill their shows, and financial topics are always of interest,” says Joe Sabah, author of the book How to Get on Radio Talk Shows All Across America Without Leaving Your Home or Office. “If you can provide the listeners with relevant information that will teach them something new or help them financially, you’ll be a welcome guest.”

Sabah recommends that advisors get a sense of the local market first, “Tune in to the local talk stations in your city. You’ll soon realize they usually need guests. For instance, one radio station in Pittsburgh has a 24-hour talk show that requires over 500 guests every year.”

He also recommends all radio speakers develop a sound bite, “Whether you have a story to tell or a product to sell, radio is a viable medium.”

Robert J. O’Brien, CFP, is the president of Financial Security Advisory in Virginia Beach, Va. He regularly answers listeners’ questions and shares his knowledge on a call-in radio talk show that focuses on Christian stewardship and financial issues.

“A pastor friend invited me to be a guest 15 years ago and I’ve been a regular ever since,” O’Brien says. “I’ve built my practice on referrals, and I often gain new clients who have heard me speak on the show. That kind of response takes time, however. You can’t go on the radio once and expect to get new clients, because it takes time and consistency to build trust. Many of those customers listened to me for years before they finally called.”

Podcast news
A podcast is a Web feed of an audio or video file, usually accessed via the Internet. The user can listen to the program at the computer, or download the content to a digital audio player and listen at their leisure. Richard Oring of Oring & Co. in Princeton, N.J., presented a podcast seminar about long term care insurance for the law firm Stark & Stark.

Oring, who owns both tax and financial planning practices, already had a good relationship with the law firm and had referred many of his clients there. He also had a proven track record as a seminar speaker and had appeared on numerous radio shows. He proposed the seminar to augment the law firm’s estate planning services. The two firms did a joint mailing of an invitation to promote the event, which attracted 55 attendees.

The podcast production was seamless; Oring didn’t notice any difference as a speaker from the process of presenting a regular seminar. “They recorded me live while the meeting was going on,” he says. “A digital recording was created, which was then uploaded to the Stark & Stark Web site. The firm produces weekly podcasts for the benefit of their clients, many of whom are in-house attorneys for corporations.” One of the promotional benefits of the podcast is that it is picked up by computer search engines, thereby exposing it to millions of potential new viewers and listeners.

Web of the future
The next technological frontier for Oring & Oring is Web conferencing. Later this year, the firm will begin using the new software, and Oring envisions a time when the virtual appointments could supplement – if not replace – face-to-face meetings.

“I often drive to my clients’ homes, especially if they are seniors, which limits the number of meetings I can have in one day to about three,” he says. “With Web conferencing, that number could jump to seven or eight clients.”

Using Web conferencing, advisors can make real-time virtual presentations, share documents and interact with customers via quick surveys and instant question-and-answer sessions. Some systems require the purchase of software and others use an online, hosted service. Web conferencing is a young industry, however, and advisors should carefully research costs and options.

Friendly meetings
While seniors are becoming increasingly computer savvy, many are still not ready to embrace Internet technology or watch a presentation online. However, the telephone offers a trusted and simple way for advisors to connect with senior audiences.

Oring & Oring utilizes teleconferencing to host audio seminars – with great success. Using the service provided by Liveoffice.com, multiple clients can dial a special toll-free number and get connected to the meeting, which is essentially like a multi-person conference call.

“Our customers like the format because they can listen to all the information from the comfort of their home,” Oring says, “even in their pajamas.” Because the processes are relatively new and people are curious about them, the potential for public interest and publicity with new technologies like podcasts, Web conferencing and teleconferencing is vast.

When all else fails, get your spouse to call
Bruce Chantra, president of CE Financial and Insurance Services Inc. in Westlake Village, Calif., developed and wrote a commission tracking program, Commission Minder, that he wanted to expose to the market. After brainstorming with his wife Delores about publicity strategies, he says, “One day Delores just picked up the phone, called a magazine and talked to an editor. The result of that connection is that the magazine wrote a [product description] about the program, and I received responses from all over the country.”