Tips for Effective Retirement Practice Marketing

Marketing skill is essential in building up a retirement advisory practice, says Sean Ciemiewicz of Retirement Benefits Group, but public relations can be overwhelming for the unprepared.

Ciemiewicz is one of the principals of Retirement Benefits Group (RBG), which currently employs about 50 advisers and oversees some $12 billion in client assets across the United States. The firm was founded a little more than five years ago and remains in a growth-oriented posture, he says, making marketing and PR efforts especially important.

The first marketing lesson Ciemiewicz shares with advisers, both independents and those affiliated with a larger firm, is that it is possible to be successful in marketing without spending all that much time on it. Even a few 30-minute sessions per week spent working on the company Facebook and LinkedIn pages can go a long way towards improving visibility, he says. What matters is putting in the effort, and ensuring all those who contribute to the marketing effort are doing so with a unified brand and objective in mind.

“If you’re an individual producer, of course you’ll have more of the responsibility to shoulder for yourself, but this shouldn’t discourage you from taking up a more aggressive marketing effort,” Ciemiewicz tells PLANADVISER. “I always tell independents and smaller advisory firms, and we do it even as a large group, to try to take advantage of all the different service providers and what they’re willing to do for you in terms of marketing support.”

Advisers may be surprised with the amount of support available from retirement plan service partners, Ciemiewicz observes, especially when it comes to the big recordkeepers and plan wholesalers. Service providers will be especially eager to support advisers who prove themselves to be capable producers of new retirement plan business. These advisers help grow the providers’ assets under supervision, he notes, an attractive proposition for basically all recordkeepers and wholesalers in the retirement space.

“They may have some educational articles you can rebrand and deliver to prospective or existing clients, or maybe they have fliers or other deliverables that you can use,” he explains. “And as you grow as a producer, you can even work with their back office marketing people to get some guidance about things like creating a mission statement, and even the practice management effort as a whole. They will be able to help you with the basic positioning you can use to grow your practice.”

Many public relations firms have finance- and retirement-focused practice segments. These partners can often be engaged at an affordable rate, Ciemiewicz says, and they can help the adviser make and maintain key contacts with trade journalists and other centers of influence. PR firms are also helping advisers produce written materials and other forms of thought leadership that help firms stand out in a competitive business landscape.

Another practical tip for advisers Ciemiewicz shares is to consider hiring a dedicated marketing manager. It’s not something that can be done overnight, and not all firms will be able to afford it, but the function is certainly important enough to get its own dedicated staff, he says. In cases where the budget is tight, consider bringing on less expensive entry-level workers with a background in marketing.

“It was maybe three years ago at this point, we had an intern who ended up becoming our marketing manager when he graduated from school,” Ciemiewicz notes. “He already had a lot of talent and skill with regard to the websites and even artistic ability to work on the brand. He was just a natural for us to start off in that role, and he developed the website and has made it into something pretty decent I think.”

The situation developed into a win-win—the intern got a compelling job opportunity with RBG, while the firm got an affordable-but-skilled marketing manager to invigorate its web presence and improve marketing deliverables for existing and prospective clients. Of course, hiring new staff is not something that an advisory firm wants to rush into, Ciemiewicz adds. It will be a matter of testing the budget and deciding whether existing staff can shoulder key marketing functions.

There should be no doubt about the potential benefits of bringing on skilled marketing staff, however. Ciemiewicz suggests the current retirement planning environment, in which plan fiduciaries feel driven to shop around more aggressively for their services to reduce litigation risk, is favorable for firms with dedicated marketing staff. These firms will be more viable and more articulate in their messaging, he notes, meaning they will be invited to participate in more requests for proposals (RFPs).

“Today so much of the adviser search is driven by Google, quite honestly, and sponsors are using the Internet to find those folks who stand out to invite into the RFP process,” he notes. “It’s so easy for sponsors to use the Internet for this purpose nowadays, so we know it is extremely important that when someone is trying to search for information about us, they can find it and understand us through the Web.”

Looking to the RFP process, Ciemiewicz notes this is another area where having a dedicated marketing manager can help a firm be successful. “We’ve had the marketing team and other staff start to develop a bank of answers to questions we typically receive on the RFPs,” he notes. “We want to try to minimize the amount of time that goes into responding effectively to an RFP, and when we do a response, we try to do it in a way that really presents us as partners and consultants, in a way that really puts the value forward.”

And when skilled plan sponsors submit highly detailed RFPs, marketers can be essential in helping to tell the firm’s story in a compelling way.

“Sometimes we can respond to the RFP with a template, but other times the sponsor will be more specific and will really be seeking detailed information about how our firm operates and what we can accomplish for our plan clients,” Ciemiewicz says. “It’s hard to differential yourself in this process other than through the written answers you can provide, so it’s important to have the right staff in place. The hope is always to get into a finals presentation, where you can really show who you are and what you’re all about.”