Advisory firms appear to be aware of the importance of building and promoting a unified and identifiable brand, according to experts on the “Marketing and PR” panel at the 2014 PLANADVISER National Conference, held earlier this month in Orlando. Panelists each said they believe the fundamental question for advisory firms to ask is, how do you identify and craft a compelling brand? And once a brand is established, how do you get the message out? Steve Jenks, a panelist and head of defined contribution marketing and product at Putnman Investments, boiled it all down to a simple mantra: “Similarities bore and differences sell.”
“As you think about how you are going to set up your brand and who you are as a business, you need to think about what it is that truly makes you different from the person down the street,” Jenks said.
Jenks discussed the PR and marketing topic alongside panelists Michael Doshier, currently vice president of retirement marketing at Franklin Templeton Investments, and Brandon Shea, managing director and defined contribution investment-only (DCIO) national sales manager at RidgeWorth Investments. Together, the industry experts urged advisory firms to be authentic in their approach, providing words that match their actions and actions to back up those words. Companies must take pains to be clear with the proposition for their brand and to speak to the buyer in a language that will resonate.
Firm representatives must also be consistent in what they say, what they do, and how they do it, panelists warned—as clients are increasingly connected and eager to get input from peers during the adviser-selection process. Beyond setting the basic PR messaging, firms must also work hard on the ongoing measurement and evaluation of marketing and PR performance. Benchmarks should be set and monitored to help determine how a company will continue to define itself.
Panelists said the marketing team always needs to understand how the brand is perceived in the marketplace. Evaluation can be done by asking the opinions and viewpoints of current clients, but it can be even more informative to question prospects that the firm did not win over. In addition, a team must regularly self-evaluate its performance. Discussion should be facilitated within the marketing team about whether or not the true value of the business is being articulated during the public relations effort. The most important thing is to make the discussion and evaluation a standard part of firm operations, panelists said.
The industry leaders acknowledged that PR and marketing can have a big impact on participants, both positive and negative. Word travels fast among clients and prospects, further boosting the importance of the choice of words used in a strategy. And while different avenues of social media can be used to spread the company’s message, clearly defined controls and review processes remain critical to ensure a unified and appropriate message is being sent to clients.
“We live in a 24/7 news cycle, so word spreads on everything extremely quickly,” added Sean Ciemiewicz, the panel’s moderator and a principal at Retirement Benefits Group. “If you are able to make yourself available to a public relations person or a reporter who writes articles on things like new legislation or anything else with regards to 401(k)s, you’ll be seen as an expert and can use it to your advantage down the road.”
Panelists concluded that PR and marketing ultimately involve sending a defined message out to a vast and diverse audience. Teams should remember to focus on the three principals of authenticity, clarity, and consistency. Further, a company needs to define and express its unique brand, sending a message that is of interest to journalists and other centers of influence. Everyone in the industry has the credentials, panelists explained, but it is a company’s character and philosophy that makes it unique.