PR Doesn’t Stand For Press Release

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David R. Evanson

The Career Advisor, Summer, 2004

Truthfully, public relations should be thought of as one of the arrows in your promotions quiver along with advertising, personal selling, direct mail, et al. And unlike the other tools, public relations is designed to help bring you more business as well as hone an image that positions you in the prospect’s mind.

“This is why public relations must go beyond press releases,” says Marie Swift, principal of Impact Marketing, a Leawood, KS marketing consultant. “No press release could ever accomplish these kinds of goals.” Accordingly, Swift makes her living thinking outside of the box and helping financial advisers execute on ideas that will build their stature in the marketplace. Here’s some ideas that Swift has which go beyond press releases.

Low Down on the Ho Down. Recently, Swift counseled a financial adviser in the Midwest to host a barbeque at his house for the firm’s top 50 clients. “He looked at his book and decided those were the clients he wanted to clone,” says Swift. Rather than casting about blindly with advertising, the $6,000 to $8,000 spent on the event brought in the firm’s best clients and approximately 50 of their friends as well.

“It was a very personable event, where he was able to get very close to his top clients, and get direct introductions to their friends,” says Swift of the event. She adds that he handed out aprons as gifts that said that name of the firm followed by “is cookin’ up something good.”

Of course we couldn’t resist thinking of a few lines that might decorate aprons for a client barbeque. Perhaps: “We sell steak and sizzle.” Or: “Investors are best when cooked slowly” . . . Or maybe, “The Financial Planners Barbeque – Proof Positive that Pigs do Get Slaughtered.” Silly yes, but they do make a point: creativity, sometimes jarring creativity, can capture the attention of prospects, and give you the opportunity to win their business.

The Backpack Distribution Channel. Consumer products marketers learned long ago that the way to the parent’s wallet was often through their children’s hearts. Swift says you can take a higher road and get to parents through their kids’ minds. Specifically, she says that teachers across the nation are increasingly being asked to teach lessons in personal finance and in some states, it’s even mandated. “Advisers can gain visibility for their firms by partnering with teachers and schools to fill this important need.” She says that a curriculum developed by The MoneySavvy Generation provides an affordable, turnkey program (available at www.msgen.com) that makes it easy to provide an eight-session financial literacy course for school-age kids.

The benefits of such an undertaking are three-fold. First, it helps build credibility for the firm and its employees in the community. Second, it enables financial planners to stimulate awareness among parents because of the material sent home with children, and because the last lesson calls for parents to attend. And finally, for those who are ready to wring every last drop of value from an opportunity, be advised the image of an adult teaching children financial literacy is a shoe-in for local media coverage. And it goes without saying that reprints make great client retention and prospecting tools.

Get a Lock on the Doc. Swift says a client of hers in Portland, Maine, teamed up with a pharmaceutical company to host dinners for new physicians in the community. “This made a lot of sense for this planner because he was positioning himself a specialist for healthcare professionals.” The tool, says Swift, gave him access as well as credibility, and there wasn’t a single competitor in sight at any of the dinners.

Civic events such as these are of course adjacent to sponsoring or organizing charitable events, which are also good tools for building awareness in the community. “When you engage in charity, you have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with others.” But Swift counsels would-be do-gooders to check their motives before considering charitable sponsorships. “Seek first to contribute and to be of service,” she says. “People will be able to tell if you have a hidden agenda, and it will undermine what you want to ultimately accomplish.”

Get Advisers. Swift recommends considering the formation of an advisory board for your firm. The board should have 8 to 12 people and should consist of clients, acquaintances you respect and community leaders. The overt objective is to get input on you business model, services and marketing materials, among other items. The other objective is to have important clients gain a vestige of ownership in the success of your practice, which may result in referrals. As for rules of engagement, your board should meet two-to-four times a year, and though cash compensation is considered a no-no, soft dollar perks such as dinner for two, theatre or sporting event tickets are de rigueur.

These are just a few ideas. . . . once you get creative, the possibilities are endless. Here’s a few more from Swift to consider: Give a speech or investment talk . . .host an open house at your office . . . participate in trade shows and hand out something outrageous . . .teach at a community college . . .team up with another organization to jointly sponsor a seminar . . .have a client-appreciation event. . . .sponsor a charity fundraiser . . . host a brown bag discussion on investments at the library.

And here’s one from us: Host a book club focusing on financial literature. Suggested first book: Other People’s Money, which is a play by Jerry Sterner. “Funny, serious, suspenseful, involving, disturbing, and above all, expertly crafted,” reads the New York magazine review.