You’ve read my other posts (Part I and Part II). And you’re finally ready to talk to a marketing or PR agency.

Or are you?

I’m amazed how many prospects contact an agency without any advance preparation whatsoever. It’s not just that they don’t know what services the agency offers. The real issue is, they can’t even explain why they’re calling in the first place.

You might be raising an eyebrow at my suggestion that you actually need to prepare before calling a vendor. Don’t. I want to help you maximize your time, and potential investment.

Here’s why: The best way to use a vendor’s time during an initial call is to conduct a mini-discovery session. At FiComm, we will ask: What is your vision for your business? How do your services address your market’s needs? Where are you headed as a company? What will get you to the next level? What marketing obstacles do you face? That information shapes our remarks, ensuring that everything we say will be directly relevant to you.

Many advisors find those initial conversations enormously valuable in their own right. They help clarify their thinking. But others feel put on the spot. They freeze. They respond in standard brochure-speak: “We were founded in 1984, we have four advisors, we serve 200 households with an average account size of $400,000.”

Or they say, “We were hoping you would tell us the answers to those questions.”

Well, that’s helpful.

Imagine you’re meeting a potential wealth management client for the first time. They have $700,000 in a brokerage account, $400,000 in a retirement account, two kids, a dog and a house in L.A. Great. You start by asking their goals for themselves, their money, and their family.

Puzzled, they tilt their heads and say, “We were hoping you would tell us.”

See what I mean? How can you possibly come up with a solution for clients who can’t even articulate their goals, or speak to their financial pain points?

The same is true for us vendors. Before we can help you, we need to know where your business is going and how you think marketing can help you get there. The answers don’t have to be “right” (and we’ll help you get there), but it you come prepared to participate, our conversations can be very fruitful. If you don’t—well, it’s hard to deliver value for you. We know we’ll constantly have to prove ourselves and remind you why you hired us.

“But, Megan,” some advisors say, “we’re not ready for that. We’re just trying to understand the basics. How will we learn if you don’t tell us?”

If you’re calling an agency just to get a general marketing education, then that’s what you’ll get—general information, most of it irrelevant to you, and lacking the specifics you’re really looking for.

So, don’t call an agency to be your marketing tutor. Instead, read. Advisors have never had better access to self-help insights and information—through trade pubs, custodian relationships, blogs, podcasts, other advisors and industry pundits. Be curious. Be inquisitive. If you hear something on a podcast that intrigues you, follow the host back to LinkedIn. Read what they write there. Email your questions. Attend a webinar. Be an active participant at industry events.

At some point, you’ll understand the basics. You’ll have identified your own issues. And narrowed down your questions. Then, finally, you’ll be ready to call an agency.

Instead of saying, “Tell us what we need,” you’ll say, “We need help with this.

Everybody likes to think they’re open-minded. But what if you’re really not?

As I said last time, there’s no point in paying for outside advice if you have no intention of listening to it. But all of us have trouble admitting when we’re being stubborn or dismissive. That’s why, at FiComm, we’ve learned to look for certain telltale clues that suggest an advisor may not be emotionally ready to trust an outside professional.

Whether you’re a vendor or advisor, watch and listen for these statements coming out of an advisor’s mouth. They could express perfectly legitimate sentiments—but they can also signal that the time isn’t ripe for working with an outside agency.

1. “Couldn’t I just hire someone myself?” 
Sure—if your firm is already growing and adding senior business professionals like HR and Operations managers. But usually, this question simply means an advisor wants to put an admin or an intern in charge of social media. Fine. So, how do you plan to train them? Do you have time to train them?  How many hours a week will they actually spend working in this new role? All too often, when advisors ask why they can’t just hire somebody to do the job, what the really mean is, anybody can do the job. No, they can’t.

2. “We tried it before, but it didn’t work.”
The question is, why not? Sometimes, there’s simply an honest mismatch between vendor and client. But in other cases, something deeper is going on. Maybe the firm doesn’t follow proper processes, or likes to shortchange budgets. Perhaps the entrepreneur-owner can’t let go, or no one on the team will commit to a decision. Don’t try to go forward until you figure out what’s holding you back.

3. “You’ll be the biggest item in the marketing budget, so you better show results fast.”
The other version of this warning sign is: “Can’t you do a month-to-month contract?” If you give an agency a short window to prove its value, you’re not giving it enough time to do its job.

Questions about ROI can be tricky. As I said in an earlier post, we absolutely understand why ROI is so important. Still, if you pepper us with questions about it, you’re raising a red flag. If you expect to quantify all the leads and sales that marketing will generate after a single quarter, your expectations are way off. When you first invest in marketing, you’re paying for infrastructure. You have to create a message, build a positive online experience, expand your media and online presence, set up new processes for acquiring leads, start producing content, and on and on. You have to build your foundation first, and then your ROI will come.

4. “We need new clients, so that means we need PR.”
It’s great that advisors are getting more proactive about building their businesses, rather than just relying on referrals. Many think that means doing more PR. But from our perspective, they’re jumping the gun. PR isn’t about lead generation. It’s really about credibility marketing—gaining recognition in the media for subjects you are qualified to speak about. It will boost your brand over time, but it won’t make your phone ring right away. For that, you need to think about other strategies, like digital marketing. There are a lot of tools in the box.

It’s hard to start working with an advisor who’s stuck on a particular tactic. Because it’s often the wrong tactic for their goals.

5. “I don’t need messaging.”
I’ll be honest. I ask advisors, “Who is your target audience, and what is your message to them?” If they won’t give me an answer, I kind of wish I could just politely end the call.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect anybody to recite a perfectly crafted value proposition during the first phone call. Messaging is our job, after all. But if you have no ideas at all on the subject, or worse, insist you don’t need a message, maybe we aren’t the right partner for you. Because everything we do is based on your unique message. It’s the foundation of your marketing. Without it, we have no way to make your voice heard.

At FiComm, we take all these warning signs seriously—along with metrics like turnover, reputation, BrokerCheck data and so on. You should, too. Because they don’t just help us ensure a good fit with our clients. They also signal whether you’re really ready to hire an outside firm—or if you have internal issues you need to tackle first.

Have you ever wondered, “Do I really need a Marketing or PR agency? Can’t I just do everything myself?” If so, this posts—and the next four that follow—are for you.

Last week, I was on a call with an advisor who asked me those exact questions about working with a PR agency. He told me, he could just write his own press releases and send them out across the wire himself.

“I can do the same thing you do,” he said.

I told him: No, you can’t. 
 
He took some convincing. Until that phone call, the only things he had ever seen coming out of a PR agency were poorly written press releases sent over for his approval. We gave him a glimpse of what really happens behind the scenes. We had to show all our work: the messaging, the strategizing, nurturing relationships with reporters, outreach, follow-up, and then more follow-up. Eventually, I did convince him, but the conversation was exhausting.

Surely there’s a better way.

Continue Reading…

As I said in an earlier post: when you sell to advisors, you have to be authentic to your own product. If you’re not, you’ll eventually be exposed as a fake. It’s inevitable.

Still, people keep trying to fake it anyway. Think of all the vendors who position themselves as “partners” or brag about their “consultative approach.” (By the way, who doesn’t have a consultative approach these days? Can you think of any providers who advertise their “arrogant dictator” approach or their “we-don’t-listen-to-you” approach? It’s meaningless jargon at this point.) Okay. So this joker is now your partner. Try calling this new “partner” of yours for help solving a specific, real-world problem in your own business—say, performing an advisor practice valuation or recruiting a Millennial woman. Chances are, you’ll get to watch them twisting in the wind until they finally admit they don’t actually do any of the things they talk about on their website. They just put the content up because they know you want to read it.

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The Natural

How to be an outstanding PR spokesperson

Public Relations is challenging.  Because it is by nature unpredictable, with no precise formula for achieving a desired result, it can be particularly stressful both for those who practice it as a profession and those called upon to be the standard bearers for their companies in the face of consistent media scrutiny.  In this post we’ll focus on the latter.

The spokesperson’s role is to represent the business well, on the front lines with the media.  Over the course of more than a decade putting clients in front of reporters to tell their stories, offer insights and provide access to their particular expertise, I’ve seen a wide range of skill levels, along with many successes and more than a few failures.  Some are simply not cut out for continuous at-bats with different journalists and publications – you can see the pain on their faces at the very thought of an unscripted encounter with a media outlet.  These don’t last long – better suited to advertising, and should seek safe harbor in words bought with coin.  Others take time to develop, but with the proper coaching, counsel and repeated practice, they become very skilled at engaging with members of the Fourth Estate.  But every now and then, we discover a company representative who seems born to champion the brand publicly and does so with an ease that makes one marvel.  These spokes-folk are rare indeed.

It was apparent not long after taking on Riskalyze as a client that Aaron Klein, their CEO, possessed a special gift with regard to media relations.  He intuitively seemed to “get it”, almost immediately.  Klein seemed to take to PR like an athlete who knows he’s going to perform well, has put in the practice reps, proceeds to memorize the playbook, and then runs out on the field and takes over the game.  Its fun to watch.  I could go on about Aaron’s savvy as a company representative with the press, but in order to understand his approach, and to glean as much as you can from it to incorporate into your own PR playbook, I sat down with “The Natural” himself.

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Right this minute, we are watching the collision of two forces that are shaking advisor firms to their foundations.

The first is the commoditization of advice, driven in part by technology. Face it: investment performance is no longer a credible differentiator. Between the popularity of passive investing and the convenience of robo-advisors, few prospects are likely to be persuaded that your firm is really, truly, reliably a better stock-picker than your competitors. Most advisors recognize this fact, even if they aren’t sure what to do about it.

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This is the story of how we lost an account. It was a painful lesson, but one that’s worth reading whether you’re an agency, vendor or advisor—really, anyone who’s invested in the growth of advisor firms.

Of course, I’ve changed the story to the point where it’s now completely fictional and no longer resembles anything that happened in real life. Only the lesson remains the same.

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These days, every advisor is looking to buy a marketing tool. Which explains why every vendor is trying to sell one—whether they actually have anything to sell or not.

As I’ve written before, the whole industry now understands that the golden era of organic growth has come to an end. Advisors know they can’t sustain themselves on referrals alone. Any firm that sticks to its old formula of rainmaking, pressing the flesh and relying on word of mouth is going to find itself eating the dust of its faster, more modern competitors. Digital marketing is critical. This is why advisors are finally, finally investing in future growth and ramping up their marketing budgets.

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