How to Fill the Room

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David R. Evanson

The Career Advisor, Winter, 2004

How to Fill the Room

By David R. Evanson

February 5, 2004- This is good news of the cold comfort variety. It means that there’s not one true path that you’ve got to be on according to Ed Slott, CPA, who has built a financial planning practice around IRAs using seminars. In fact, Slott is so successful at filing rooms that he’s now hired by fund companies to help train advisers on seminar marketing among other topics.

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So in quick step . . . here’s Slott’s key points to keep in mind.

Commitment. Always a tough one. But if you want to win in the seminar game you must get out of the mindset that it is a one-shot deal. It isn’t. According to Slott, if seminars are going to be one of the big arrows in your marketing quiver, “You need to commit to doing them frequently, once a month, or perhaps 10 a year.”

Slicing & Dicing. It’s not enough to say that you want a room full of high-net-worth individuals. Hey, we all would . . . and while you’re at it make sure they are high-net-worth individuals actively looking for financial planners.

Truth be told, Slott says, you need to define your audience more narrowly for seminars. He built audiences around IRAs with ads that asked ‘Will You Leave Your IRA to the IRS?’ You can build yours around insurance recipients (Is Sudden Wealth Worse than Sudden Death?), empty nesters who just put the last kid through college (School’s Out Forever) or the recently divorced (Real Revenge: How to Make Half Your Assets Work Twice as Hard). The key, says Slott, is to define your market with as few words as possible. “Remember,” he says Slott, “It’s not quantity, it’s quality. You want people in the room that fit what you are trying to do.”

Promote, Promote, Promote. If you are marketing a seminar to existing clients – which is a good way to go if you are just getting your feet wet with seminars — direct mail is fine, but otherwise print advertising is the way to go. “Many more people will see your ad than will ever see your direct mail,” he says. When you take into account the number of people who don’t even open unsolicited mail, Slott raises a good point.

In fact, he’s emphatic about it. “More prospects will see your ad and want to come to your seminar than actually show up at any given time,” he says. And this is why a long term commitment to seminars is important. “The consistent advertising accrues to your image over time and builds attendance.” In addition, it markets to prospects that might never show up but still needs help. Slott likes to talk about a lottery winner who dropped dead from the excitement of hitting it big for $14 million. “His son called me because they needed a lot of help fast. When I asked him why he called me, he said ‘Because I’ve seen your ads over the past five years.'”

Finally, on the advertisements, Slott says to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to run ads in the major daily. “There are plenty of ancillary publications that are read by your target market.” The use of these publications will reduce your overall costs.

Avoid Freebies. Although there is no hard and fast rule, Slott says that it’s probably best to avoid serving a meal – breakfast, lunch or dinner – as a draw to get prospects into the room. It works, he says, but tends to draw the wrong crowd. “You get people who are more interested in eating than they are in financial planning.”

Import Talent. If you are thinking about spending money on food, think instead about channeling these resources toward a speaker that will act as a draw. This person does not even have to be an expert on personal finance, necessarily. “If you are doing something at a country club, you might consider bringing in a golf pro.” So you try to close the pro? No, says Slott, “You now have new relationships with people,” says Slott, “that you never had before, and you can convert these into clients over time.”

Finally, this is going to cost you. Slott says that depending on how many people you have in the room, the costs could be as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per seminar. This is not an insignificant amount of money, but will become insigificant he says, if you bring in good clients from your seminars.