Is PR worth it? That’s a question financial advisors are wrestling with more than ever as the media landscape shapeshifts at warp speed.
In addition to possessing financial expertise, advisors today must differentiate themselves and actively market their businesses to gain clients. One obvious strategy: hire a publicist. Interviews with experts, however, paint a mixed picture – at best.
Several younger advisors interviewed by RIA Intel insist that given social media’s ubiquity and influence publicists are as passé as pay phones and paper maps. While publicists can certainly help larger corporations, they offer far less value to RIAs.
James Pollard, a Claymont, Delaware-based consultant who works with advisors and runs the marketing-focused newsletter The Advisor Coach, recounts how one advisor hired a very large, well-connected publicist. It produced a fairly generic press release about the firm. The response? Zilch. Not a single follow-up call or media interview. He then hired a freelancer to write a press release tailored to his firm’s niche. Several media interviews soon followed.
Pollard said a publicist can be effective if the “financial advisor is the one steering the ship. Few publicists specialize in working with financial advisors and most don’t understand the nuances or compliance regulations.”
Too many advisors itch to be interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Pollard says, to impress friends, rather than be quoted in niche publications that might better attract new clients. He mentioned a publicist that wrote a press release that got picked up by a dental trade magazine. The story, which discussed how an advisor improved a dentist’s cash flow, helped that advisor gain several dentists as clients.
Pollard says it could make sense paying a freelance publicist $1000 to $2000 for press releases and follow-ups with editors to attract a niche audience. He asks advisors, “What is your time worth?”
When Cody Lummus, managing partner of Dallas-based Delos Capital Advisors, was opening his RIA this year, he hired a highly recommended Dallas PR firm. Lummus felt his firm “was missing that extra piece that caught the attention of our clients and prospects and got people talking.”
The PR firm has handled a variety of tasks including developing and maintaining a website, social media, and placing the firm on videos streamed by Yahoo Finance and TD Ameritrade Network.
Being on these streaming sites “allows us to get in front of the audience, convey our research and thoughts about what’s going on in the financial world,” noted Lummus. Streaming services matter more to Lummus than traditional media because people today “spend thirty seconds looking at headlines. We wouldn’t get traction there compared to video.”
While Lummus concedes that quantifying the PR firm’s value is challenging, he says assets under management have surged from $40 million to $100 million in less than year. “It gives us the ability to present thought leadership and gives us clout when speaking with our prospective clients and current ones.”
When Ann Carrns of The New York Times wrote about the I.R.S. raising its 401(k) contribution limit for 2019, she interviewed Brendan Mullooly, a 29-year-old financial planner who works at the family business Mullooly Asset Management in Wall Township, N.J.
A savvy millennial just starting as an advisor, he recoiled from the idea of paying a publicist. Instead, Mullooly launched Your Brain on Stocks, a blog focused on the intersection of psychology and markets.
Soon, reporters tracked him down through the blog, Twitter, and industry connections. One citation led to another. “Publicity feeds on itself. When people come to my site, they see the publicity.”
Mullooly admits that none of his newer clients have said “I’m here because of the New York Times article,” but he argues “it helps build credibility—especially for me a young advisor.”
Douglas Boneparth, a CFP who is 35 and runs Bone Fide Wealth in lower Manhattan, scoffs at the idea of using a publicist. “Media has become democratized. Virtually anyone can pitch a reporter a story or weigh in on a particular topic, especially through social media.”
Indeed, he has “networked” his way to becoming a much-quoted source through building long-term relationships with reporters. Importantly, when reporters reach out, he responds ASAP.
“Reporters in large mastheads don’t have time to wait around for you to get back them as they’re typically on deadlines for multiples stories,” he said. “Every time you appear on television it adds to your credibility, not just with clients but with the public at large.”
Boneparth, who caters to wealthy millennials, urges advisors to seize the initiative with reporters. He says advisors should develop their own newsworthy ideas based on trends that haven’t been covered. In short, become your own publicist.
Bone Fide, which also charges hourly fees, manages approximately $61 million in assets, according to the firm’s most recent SEC filing.
Pollard says advisors need to “target qualified prospects. I’d rather have 100 targeted prospects viewing my material than a 1,000 untargeted.”
Delos Capital’s Lummus concludes, “I don’t have the creative bones to go do PR outreach. I want someone else to do it while I run my financial firm.”