"At first I was afraid, I was petrified."
Even brokers must get used to market risk, the attendees think.
"Kept thinkin' I could never live without you by my side."
Well, brokers do need clients.
"But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong ... "
You mean some of us went to a discounter?
Wait a minute, that's not a broker's spiel they're listening to, it's from Gloria Gaynor's song "I Will Survive." And Trauma Flintstone, a drag queen in a sequined gown, is belting it out.
Flintstone's performance is part of Thomas Swift's "Financial Extravaganza" seminar. And with drag queens, high camp and Peter Allen songs, it is quite extravagant. The seminar may be one of the most unusually entertaining financial meetings anywhere.
Swift, a rep with Horton Advisory Group in San Francisco, may be unique among those giving themed seminars. But he is not alone in going to the extremes of salesmanship to lure prospective clients to seminars. Baseball games, magic shows and dance lessons have become popular tools to entertain prospects and clients.
And it's about time, says Frank Maselli, director of sales development at Nvest in Boston. Brokers, Maselli says, are "stuck in the ancient ways of boring people to death. There's not a lot of creativity. The quality [of most seminars] is abysmal."
Maselli wrote a book on conducting financial seminars, titled "Seminars, the Emotional Dynamic." "I recommend brokers do something--anything--to get their message out," he says.
Breaking the Rules Anything goes at Swift's seminars. As an openly gay broker, he uses cultural icons to connect with his niche market--the gay and lesbian community. In particular, he serves the unique financial needs of HIV-positive clients (see "Surprise of Life, Page 110).
Swift is proud that his approach is unorthodox. "I want to break every unwritten financial rule," he says. "Finances can be boring and dull, but who says you can't have fun around finances? Warren Buffett is one of the biggest hucksters around, and I mean that in the best sense of the word."
But Buffett probably won't adopt many gags from Swift. In addition to gender-bending entertainers, his seminars include games with a twist. "We play 'The Price is Right,'" Swift says. "Guess how much I pay annually for drug therapy and you can win a free financial consultation."
Offensive and in poor taste? Not to Swift's audience. He has had 150 people attend his Financial Extravaganzas, held in a church in San Francisco's Castro district. "I have a background in theater and we want to have some fun," he says.
Fun, yes. But Swift adds, "I'm deadly serious when it comes to money."
Making Magic So what's a broker who happens to be less flamboyant than Swift supposed to do? Rely on magic to bring in clients?
Al Lemcke does.
Lemcke, a rep with MassMutual in Hingham, Mass., presents a financial management workshop that features a four-course meal ... and a magician.
Clients and prospects are invited to a seaside restaurant. A jazz trio is playing in the background as guests arrive. After a cocktail hour, clients enjoy dinner and hear a 45-minute presentation by Lemcke during dessert. Lemcke wraps up his presentation with a pitch for a consultation and introduces a magician who puts on a 45-minute show.
A direct-mailing service Lemcke uses donates luggage and provides a buy-one-get-one-free cruise ticket prize as part of a raffle at the event's close.
Lemcke finds the dinner/magic show an effective sales tool. He offers the event twice a month.
Play Ball! Meanwhile in Minnesota, baseball fan and Dain Rauscher broker Bob Hansen has had good luck with a financial seminar for clients and prospects--in a skybox in right-center field at the Metrodome, prior to a Minnesota Twins game.
"Game time is 7:05 and I give a quick, almost generic seminar, at 6:15," Hansen says.
He had about 65 people at his first event, Hansen says. "They all were given a three-ring binder. The presentation was low-key and not product-specific. I had a guy from our downtown office speak about managed accounts and we talked about mutual funds.
"I came away with three new accounts, including one worth 425,000 dollars," Hansen says.
His baseball game seminar was so successful that he plans to hold another, this time with a former Twins hero, such as Tony Oliva or Harmon Killebrew, on hand for autographs or pictures.
Dance Up a Storm How does Hansen market when it's snowing and baseball season is months away? He goes dancing.
"It may have been the coldest day of the year in Minnesota," says Hansen of a seminar he conducted at a country club this past January. Clients and prospects were offered swing dance lessons as part of a seminar/social event.
"It was quite a mixer," Hansen says. "I danced with clients' wives and prospects' wives and got to know some folks."
Dancing also works for Bonnie Packo, a Dain Rauscher broker in Bellingham, Wash.
She conducted a "Swing Into the Millennium" series in late 1999. Her three-part program started with two separate educational presentations followed with a country club dance for all the attendees who came to the two prior workshops. The dance featured a big band and a catered meal.
Complicating matters for her, the featured speaker at the finale/dance was taken ill at the last minute. She scrambled to put together a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"-type quiz show with personal finance questions.
"It was a big hit," Packo says. "I got tons of business as a result. I learned that people want to be entertained. There should be some education element, but people enjoy food, parties and entertainment.
"The usual dry seminars that are all education leave you exhausted, tired and without clients," she says.
She doesn't discount the entertainment value of seminars. "You'll spend more money focusing on entertainment, but you'll make a better impression and bring in a lot more clients."
Packo's events drew a total of 130 people.
The bottom line: Brokers today need to show some imagination to make their seminars work. Unfortunately, good ideas and advice alone won't put fannies in the seats or accounts under your management.
Brokers should plan seminars armed with some facts, but don't abandon the idea of having fun. That's what prospective clients are looking for. Think P.T. Barnum meets Robert Rubin.
Behind the glitter, camp and dark humor of broker Thomas Swift's Financial Extravaganza seminars is a very real purpose.
Swift got the grim news he was HIV positive five years ago. He cashed in his insurance and assets, and went on a spending spree to enjoy what he thought were his final few years.
However, in 1997, he was told his powerful AIDS drug treatment was working and that he could live another 20 to 25 years.
"I realized that there could be thousands of people just like me," says Swift, with Horton Advisory Group in San Francisco.
An HIV-positive diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence--and if a person is in the same boat he is, Swift wants their business.
"Thousands of people have had to restructure their lives," he says. "They're not going to die and suddenly they have to face some real financial issues." They may have spent down their assets, but now they need to manage them to last two decades or more.
In considering this predicament, Swift quotes popular singer-songwriter Annie Lennox. In her song "Cold," she sings, "Dying is easy, it's living that scares me to death."
Swift tries to ease the financial fears of someone who has just been told he's going to ... live.
Glenn Wilkinson, owner of Wilkinson Financial Group in Fayetteville, N.C., conducts about 100 seminars a year. Like a traveling show, he is heavy on theater and props.
During one part of the seminar, Wilkinson peers into a glowing crystal ball and makes "predictions." He also uses props such as toy vehicles, magazine covers and dollar bills stretchedcompletely across the room.
Then there's the life-size cutout of a famous Hope, Ark., native. He tells his audience of pre-retirees and retirees: "There are two things you can do with your money. You can give it to him. Or you can have a tax-advantaged investment strategy."
The gimmicks work. "Use props and tell stories," Wilkinson advises. "You can whet their appetites and get your message across."