For many advisors, the meal-based seminar remains the very bread and butter of their practices. Careful planning, well-orchestrated content and diligent follow-up with prospects can turn the events into your most effective marketing strategy.
There comes a point for many advisors where having a practice that’s “busy enough” is no longer good enough. Advisor Craig Randall had such an epiphany a few years ago, when he realized he was no longer content to settle for the 40 to 50 percent attendee-to-appointment conversion ratio he was earning from the senior seminars he hosted.
That’s when Randall, founder and president of Southern California-based Randall & Louis Wealth Management Group, decided to get serious about his seminars. Now, years later, having honed his seminar blueprint down to the finest details, Randall has emerged as a top-shelf producer (and SMA‘s 2007 Advisor of the Year) on the strength of his acumen as a speaker, event coordinator and advisor. For him, appointment ratios in the 80 to 90 percent range are now the norm. Buoyed by his seminar success, he founded Randall Marketing Group several years ago, mostly to pass on his seminar strategies to other advisors.
Done the right way, seminars are far and away the most effective means to generate leads and build a client base, says Clyde Cleveland, whose company, Seminar Crowds in Fairfield, Iowa, specializes in direct mail marketing for seminars. “It’s very, very difficult to do substantial numbers without seminars. Nothing works as effectively at producing new customers.”
Once an advisor finds a seminar formula that works – one that proves effective not only at getting fannies in the seats, but also in converting attendees into appointments and appointments into clients – he or she should stick with it. The challenge is finding tactics that work in a market flooded with advisors taking aim at seniors for whom seminar invitations are a dime a dozen.
Successful seminar-giving begins with a great attention to detail, says Matthew Rettick, founder and president of Covenant Reliance Producers, a seminar-focused marketing organization based in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s about doing a hundred little things just right,” says Rettick.
From preliminary planning to post-event follow-up, here’s a breakdown of how to go about creating a repeatable formula for a superior seminar:
To get cheeks in the chairs: Attracting well-qualified attendees is no easy task. The experts concur that direct mail remains the most effective means of doing so. Randall says he typically mails 10,000 to 15,000 postcards for each monthly seminar cycle, with the expectation of a 0.7 to 1.0 percent response rate to yield enough attendees for three seminars with 25 to 35 people each. That’s an optimal number for seminars, according to Rettick. “If you have too few people it can turn into a depression session and if you have too many, you have a circus.”
“With too many people,” adds Randall, “what happens is your appointment ratio drops and your food bill rises.”
It’s crucial for advisors to consider the target demographic for the mailer as well as the content of the piece itself, the experts say. Getting well-qualified attendees means targeting the mailing list based on factors such as home ownership and geographic proximity to the seminar venue as well as the advisor’s offices. Randall typically mails to people who reside within five miles of the restaurant where the seminar will be held – and he sticks to venues within 10 miles of his office, so driving distance isn’t an impediment. Convenience is also a consideration in the timing of the event. Seminars held mid-week – Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – in the late afternoon or early evening tend to yield the best results.
Besides having an attractive design that’s light on text, what makes a direct mail piece really resonate is the one-two punch of a good restaurant and a provocative seminar subject, such as IRA and 401(k) strategies for retirement, tips for tax minimization and the like. “You want a piece that’s general in nature, with a bit about the advisor, the free meal offer and a hook for a subject. You don’t want to put too much information on [the invitation].”
The experts vary on the value of advertising to promote a seminar. “I fully believe in advertising,” says Rettick. “I would use half-page and full-page ads in community papers and spots on radio and television. It helps saturate an area and creates a buzz.”
The finer points of planning: Once the mailings have dropped and/or the ads have run, focus can shift to the nuts and bolts of the event. To prevent attendee attrition, Rettick recommends reconnecting with people via letter or phone prior to the event to confirm reservations. Randall goes one step further, calling people three days before the seminar then again on the morning of the event. “If you don’t confirm with them,” he says, “you’re going to lose way more people.”