Marketing challenges have piled up for advisors due to the pandemic, as well as rapid changes in social media, technology and other factors.
To look at the best practices of 2021 and what lies ahead for advisors, ThinkAdvisor asked April Rudin, founder and CEO of the wealth management marketing firm The Rudin Group (shown on the right in the photo), and Meghan McCartan, managing director and head of marketing for Hightower Advisors, to break down the do’s and don’ts of this important area (shown on the left).
In their discussion, the two veteran marketers talk about the impact of working from home. They also delve into the ins and outs of websites, social media marketing, digital advertising, lead generation, prospecting, working with centers of influence, and what lies ahead when it comes to ways to best reach clients and prospects in 2022.
The Rudin Group works with financial services firms on highly differentiated messaging, positioning, compliant content creation and strategic consulting services. It opened its doors in 2008.
Hightower is a Chicago-based RIA, which is led by Bob Oros and had $132 billion of assets under administration and $104 billion of assets under management as of Sept. 30. (This figure was misstated in the video).
The firm won 2021 LUMINARIES awards from ThinkAdvisor for excellence in both thought leadership and in dealmaking and growth.
The full conversation, recorded online Dec. 22, can be watched in the video (posted above) and also is transcribed below.
April Rudin: Hi, everyone. My name is April Rudin, and I’m the founder and CEO of The Rudin Group, a wealth management marketing firm. We work with clients on messaging, content creation and distribution to help them differentiate in sort of a sea of sameness in financial advice, and in wealth management and asset management.
I’m here today on behalf of ThinkAdvisor. And I’m pleased to be speaking with Meghan McCartan, who’s managing director and head of marketing for Hightower.
In case you don’t know, but I would be shocked if you didn’t, they’re a Chicago- based RIA led by Bob Oros that [had $132 billion of assets under administration and $104 billion of assets under management as of Sept. 30]. And also important to note: They’re a 2021 ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES winner in both thought leadership and in dealmaking and growth.
So Meghan, why don’t you spend a couple minutes and introduce yourself and your credentials for our audience.
Meghan McCartan: You did a great job on telling where I am now. So I’ve been in this industry, I feel like I have to say, 25 years now, if I’m really going to be truthful, which means I’m old. But
I’ve been both on the advisor side, on the broker-dealer side and in the financial technology side. So all, you know, a path through and I find myself now at Hightower, and it’s a great firm [that is] growing, growing [with] good leadership and amazing people. So, it’s a good place to be.
Rudin: That’s awesome. And I think we met, I would say, probably more than five or six years ago, right? So we’ve actually known each other a long time.
McCartan: In my fintech days. Yes. In the guise of my fintech marketing days.
Rudin: Exactly. So the theme of our conversation today is just going to be what to do and what not to do — some advice from both sides of the fence here. So let me just kick it off by asking you just a broad question here. What are some of the key lessons that you think you learned in 2021 in terms of advisor marketing?
McCartan: As we were working with a lot of our advisors, I think the thing that really came through over and over is that, even though we’re feeling like we’re remote, there’s such an ability to connect now even more, and you have to. You can’t just plan to go forward with quarterly or once-a-year meetings about performance, because your clients are going to walk away.
So many advisors are having deep conversations now, I feel like there isn’t really anything off the table. People are just talking back and forth, and that enables better conversations. So I feel like that’s one of the big changes. I don’t think we’re ever going to go back. What would you say the big change for 2022 is?
Rudin: Just to echo what you said about 2021, and we’ll dig into this, there have been some challenges, I think, for advisors but, overall, I think it’s really been a marketing moment sort of for advisors where they can, to echo what you said, connect more closely and deeply with clients where they can provide more than investment advice.
People are seeking … that essential worker, which could definitely be a financial advisor, wealth manager — and people are around more, right? They’re not traveling, they’re more available, and you can sort of meet the family, see the surroundings and get to know the person.
McCartan: One of our advisors told this great story that he had kind of been back and forth with the head of the family, but he traveled just extensively [and] was really hard to pin down. Well, that stopped. And he said, all of a sudden, he was able to bring in his wife, bring in his three adult children.
They completely really built up the relationship. And it’s exactly because [as] you said, as priorities change, timing changes. So being ready to have those conversations puts you that much further forward, I think.
Rudin: Yeah. And I heard you say in response to the first question, hybrid, work from home, where do you think we sort of are?
McCartan: It’s interesting. When we first were all headed home abruptly, [Hightower Chairman and CEO] Bob [Oros] was like, “We’re not going to be a work-from-home company. We want to be able to have this collaboration and the connection.”
Well, 18 months later or whatever it is, we’re introducing this Hightower HIGHflex [strategy]. There’s a bit of an argument of who came up with the idea. Bob is claiming credit for the naming convention of Hightower HIGHflex.
But it is a hybrid model. So people are going to be working one solid day in the office, one floating day in the office twice a month, come in and really try to maximize meetings. And we’re also offering the ability to work a month anywhere, so go anywhere and be able to kind of do your job.
It’s great. One of the girls on my team is going to Amsterdam. A friend had just moved there. She’s going to work from Amsterdam through March. So I think that is the model I think that’s going to stick because as we’re in this competitive market of trying to find people still wanting to — I mean, for marketing people, I feel like you have to have that collaboration. You have to have that face time; that’s real time. So I think that doing a mix is, fingers crossed, hopefully the way that we win.
Rudin: I started my firm over 13 years ago and have always had a distributed workforce, have always been work-from-home myself but supplemented that with a lot of traveling and team meetings and things like that. I feel like that hybrid model still really works and it allows you to, as you said, really recruit and retain the best in talent; the same holds true for financial advisors as it does for marketing teams. So I think it offers people what they’re really looking for.
McCartan: When I started at Hightower, I think I was on the road for the first three months, going to meet with a lot of the teams that we were doing high-touch engagements with. And then, as we all started working from home, it was very useful to have that initial face-to-face meeting with them.
That was a great start. So I feel like, if you can, with the clients that you had that one relationship with, do a little bit more of a personal Zoom, and then it keeps that connection going when we’re all so remote.
Rudin: It’s funny. One of the things that I think we’re missing is you can’t tell really how tall people are or, you know, things like that.
McCartan: Yeah. You can’t tell if they’re wearing pants, but I am wearing pants.
Rudin: All right. That’s good. I’m glad to hear that. OK. So, sort of digging into our topics here — what to do, what not to do, websites, social media, digital ads — how much personality should [financial professionals] put into this? How should they, in your opinion, be viewing some of these digital assets that they have online? And what’s the balance sort of between the firm brand and the person for advisory groups? What do you think?
McCartan: You know, you said in the opening [there is] the sea of sameness. So if you’re going to just put the same thing out that four other advisors have, don’t bother. My two biggest, like, mantras are consistency and being genuine, and it’s a lot easier to be consistent and continue to put content out if you’re genuinely feeling like that. I talk about that a lot.
One of our successful advisors is divorced. She focuses on women going through divorce and she doesn’t believe in divorce, but she believes very strongly in helping folks going through a situation like that. And she’s so successful at it that oftentimes they’re able to then work with both sides because it’s just, she’s fair and even.
It is in her soul, it is in her heart. Like this is what she feels good about doing. And as a result, she’s been able to do a ton of different marketing with it. She does a blog. She does a podcast. She writes articles about it that are consistently delivered because it’s genuine to her. What do you think?
Rudin: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, look, there’s a whole gamut. I remember working with an advisory team where, you know, the guy told me he chose his colors because they’re colors he likes and he dresses the same as the colors on his website. I mean you can definitely go too far [with] things that really don’t matter.
And then I think people are aspirational to be a certain kind of advisor in a certain niche like you bring up. But yeah, if you’re really not passionate about it or if you don’t have the knowledge behind it, then you should really move away from that because it’s not going to be either genuine or consistent, right?
McCartan: Or well received. I think that that’s — how am I going to say this, like, politically correctly? I feel like clients are looking through the BS a little bit more, right? So you have to have those genuine conversations and be true to yourself.
Rudin: Just talking about messaging on all these platforms for a minute. I have a little expression: “People will vet you before they’ve met you.” And so if your website, or if your content or anything isn’t genuine to you or doesn’t have something that’s emotive or some differentiation, it’s just going to be like everyone else’s website.
If the messaging is cliched, if the look and feel of the images, whatever, are stock photos throughout, it’s just going to look like everyone else’s. And so that’s a real opportunity, I feel like, to show some personality, and I think advisors sometimes shy away from that.
But I always encourage them that there can be so many different connection points and it’s not really always about managing money. But it could be on different passions or philanthropies or, you know, other things like, you know, wine or, you know, travel.
Rudin: Gardening. Exactly!
McCartan: I have a great story about this woman who was like a big gardener and found out one of her clients was [also]. They were exchanging vegetables throughout the year. And I think one other thing that jumps at me is maybe being comfortable, being genuine, but maybe think what’s a tiny bit out of my comfort zone?
Two of our advisors: Tim Scannell, who’s at [Hightower] Great Lakes, and Barbara Archer, who’s from St. Louis. Barbara’s been in this industry for years and years and years. Don’t you know, she’s the first one to jump on. We were using video technology to send little snippet videos out. Barbara was blasting out ‘’happy birthday’’ videos here, there.
She used it like, you know, whatever the Snapchat filter is for one of them. And Tim’s doing whiteboard videos like with the woods in his background. And they’re quick and short and they’re not professional. … So that’s a connection point right there, right?
Rudin: I couldn’t agree more. I had a client that [was] putting out a ton of content that was really technical content, that was very high-quality, but technical. It only reaches some people sometimes.
One week he told me that he had like a bumper cauliflower crop, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of cauliflower rice. And I said yes, and encouraged him to put out some recipes that he had developed on cauliflower rice. And lo and behold, he had so much engagement on LinkedIn on cauliflower rice, [a U.S. rice trade association] said, don’t call it rice. You know, it amplified it.
McCartan: He caused controversy even. He was that successful. I’ve heard so many people saying, ‘’we connected through cooking and sharing recipes.’’ People are looking for connections. So, and I guess it goes back to when you said “vet you before they met you”: Get your credentials out there and then it’s table stakes, right? And so then the conversation is really the comfort zone, knowing that the advisor is credentialed.
Rudin: Yes. And you know, just to pick up on a point you made also, I think, the authenticity, when you were talking about the videos, Meghan, I started to think about even the headshots on LinkedIn. We’ve been advising clients [to] take down those headshots that have you in a suit and tie and you look really stiff and formal.
People want to do business with people they know and like. And so there’s a real opportunity for advisors to get closer to clients, and things like headshots and pictures and videos are just one way to do it.
McCartan: We worked with a team, like out of our comfort zone. I asked all of them, “What did you want to be when you grew up?” And so their bios on their website are all about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Rudin: I love that.
McCartan: And it was amazing. One was an astronaut. One was a truck driver. So it was cool to be able to hear those stories. That’s an instant kind of connection point.
Rudin: With the move to online and digital, it’s definitely impacted lead gen and prospecting. Maybe you can offer some tips — some of the things that you’re thinking about at Hightower for advisors to be more successful and more targeted in their lead gen and prospecting.
McCartan: We are big believers in content marketing. I talk about storytelling and content marketing all the time. We’ve done a lot of developing and working with some of our teams on developing value-added content that isn’t financial at all. We get some of the most engagement for content that is kind of targeted to clients’ kids.
We did a session, for instance, about getting into college during times of COVID. Then [they] also can say, “Gosh, if I have a junior in high school, they probably have 10 other junior-in-high-school friends, right?” We had a college coach and a high school junior talking about what the facts were, what you should consider. What’s different with test optional? We had over a thousand people watch this webinar and we provided resources, and advisors can take that and use it.
So easy to share something like that: not salesy, not necessarily even financial — just value-add. And that goes a long way with centers of influence as well. So I think that’s what we are really talking about right now. Centers of influence [or COIs] is such a big thing for us because it’s such a referral environment right now.
Rudin: Yeah. So I was going to ask you about that. One of the programs we do quite a bit is actual center-of-influence marketing, because most advisors know that they’re getting referrals but don’t have a formal content marketing plan or any sort of marketing plan that’s aimed at other professionals.
That B2B channel, knowing that CPAs could be sitting on a wealth event, right? And referring not only the right clients, but at the right time, right, is [important] because otherwise it’s opportunistic.
We do a lot of really targeted center-of-influence marketing where advisors can offer CE credits or send out more technical information but aim it toward CPAs or matrimonial attorneys or other types of [professionals including those focused on trusts and estates]. … I think the other thing with center-of-influence marketing is it’s not a one for one. It’s really more [about] …
McCartan: You’re planting seeds, and you can’t think of it [as]: “Well, I gave you a client, where is [mine]?” One of the things, as you’re talking about your program, [is that] it’s systematic. Like you’re not just sending out, like Realtors — not that I’m picking on them — but like, I sold a house in your neighborhood [so you need to ....] . You can’t just do that, right? It’s got to be systematic.
One of our [team members who’s] most successful using COIs … says, “I treat them like my best clients. I call them every week or every month, the way that I touch base with my best clients. I don’t just reach out when I’m looking for a referral. So I think that again, it’s building the closer relationships that matter.”
Rudin: They’re top of mind and they make multiple referrals, right? So they’re even more valuable than one end investor client. So it sounds like a smart advisor team.
So just to sort of close out here, Meghan, looking forward to 2022, what should advisors be thinking about as they’re creating their plans or allocating budget or what does 2022 look like in your mind?
McCartan: I don’t think marketing is a nice to have. I think you have to have a focus on marketing, or you’re going to sink into that sea of sameness. And if that means you’ve got a team that you can leverage to outsource it, there’s a lot of different options.
But sending out one flier at the beginning of the year isn’t going to cut it anymore. You’ve got to be able to figure out a way to get your voice out there through the mechanisms that you are most comfortable with, or you’re going to sink.
Rudin: I couldn’t agree more. And one point that I would add to that is, talking to advisors all the time, just seeing the value in using professional services.
Many advisors will think, “Oh, it’s marketing. I’m a good writer. I can write that myself. I can do that myself.” And so many times we’re telling people, just as you would discourage self-directed investors, I would discourage self-directed marketers.
McCartan: Right. And it’s also the highest and best use of time, right? Like maybe you have a zillion great marketing ideas. Awesome. Jot them down and have someone else write it out unless you really love writing.
Like I, for instance, do some video. I could probably treat myself to edit it, but I also have four kids. They know how to do iMovie way better than me. So like, what’s the best use of your time? And that way you can really focus and make it work.