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Advisors who hire media firms to get their names in the press may get a lot more than ego gratification

Mark Snyder, president of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, radiated success in the pages of Distinction in February. Professional advice and a photo of him ran in the high-tone glossy targeted at the Hamptons rich, the target market for his financial-planning business in nearby Medford, N.Y. Money can't buy attention like this, well not directly, and that's the point.

Snyder pays a public-relations firm some $10,000 annually to build up his business by getting his name in the press. And it works. Before he had even seen the issue of Distinction, Synder got a call from an affluent local woman who had read his remarks in the magazine and wanted to discuss her family's finances. He had been quoted on the risks of borrowing against a home just when she was thinking about how she might invest the proceeds from the sale of the vacation place she and her husband owned.

When the couple met Snyder at this office the next week, “the husband said what I discussed described their situation ‘almost exactly but was not a sales pitch,’ He said I sounded ‘knowledgeable.’ That's what good PR does.”

The couple signed on as fee-based clients after the first meeting. They subsequently turned over management of their 401(k)s and will look to him to manage the house-sale money — which is expected to be close to $1 million.

To be sure, there's no guarantee of getting in the spotlight when you hire a public-relations firm. Nor can advisors be certain that, even if they land favorable coverage, it will produce anything more than a boost to the ego. Still, financial advisors on their own or in small shops might do well to consider hiring media firms — who generally charge between $800 and $2,500 a month to do everything from writing the words to pitching them. Media attention can help you stand out in a crowd. It also helps little guys compete with reps who are backed by wirehouse marketing bucks.

Snyder was a believer even long before his Distinction coupe. He has been featured several times in Newsday, Long Island's daily, national publications such as Worth and the local newspapers that serve the towns in which the majority of his clients live. Mentions in Newsday and Worth have won him some big accounts including attorneys, physicians and business owners, while the local press has attracted more working-class business, he says.

“We track where new clients and inquiries originate, and there have been many that we can directly attribute to our media-relations efforts,” says Snyder, an independent planner for more than 30 years.

Ghost Writer on Retainer

Peter Mooney, an Ohio-based advsior also traces wins to his public-relations efforts.

“We were competing for a 401(k) account of a manufacturing company against other firms,” he recalls. “When the client recognized me in a meeting after seeing an editorial I'd written on Social Security reform in a local business journal, it tipped the scales in our favor and we won the account. How do we know? They told us so.”

The article, which appeared in Columbus Business First and was ghost written by his media firm, helped give Mooney's prospects deeper insight into the person they'd be dealing with by revealing his stand on a controversial issue. It had helped create an image for his firm, Source Financial Group, that turned a prospect into a client.

Similarly, when Mooney was trying to pitch “life insurance auditing,” he thought public relations would be the way to get the word out. The editor at Annuity Selling Guide, a trade publication, liked the auditing idea so much it was made into a full-length feature article in December with Mooney as the key source. Again, it was engineered by his media-relations representative.

“The life audit article brought us a lot of recognition from our peers,” says Mooney. “It positioned us as experts in a highly specialized area. When clients or business associates see it, it says we're pioneers in this area.” Mooney keeps a copy of the article along with other press clips in a presentation folder he uses when pitching new business.

Like Snyder, Mooney gets his name in local and national media about once a month. He has a regular weekly call with his media representative during which they discuss what's new with his business and how they might promote it. Depending on the idea, they may issue a press release or, instead, target a select group of editors and writers. Each has a list of editors and writers covering their areas of expertise on national and local levels.

At William Tell Financial Services in Latham, N.Y., each of the firm's 10 advisors has access to a freelance media representative, who has been on retainer for about two years. When advisor Tracy Brown was called by a reporter to comment in a Black Enterprise article on mutual fund investing, it helped her with existing clients.

“Lots of my clients saw it and became excited,” says Brown. “It added credibility and created a good opportunity for me to talk to them and pitch new business. With an article about mutual funds, it's easy to move to talking about the client's portfolio.” To get more mileage, the William Tell office features press clips on its Web site.

“You never know who's scouting your firm,” says Joseph Ventura, another William Tell advisor. “If a prospect visits our Web site and sees the clips, it helps distinguish us from the pack. They can see us in a different way, as sought-after subject authorities.” In addition to Black Enterprise, William Tell Financial has appeared in The Business Review (Albany), Investment News, Vista and Financial Planning, as well as in local community papers.

“We were featured in an article in Capitol Region Living on how people should budget to care for exotic pets,” says Ventura. Latham is near Saratoga, where raising horses is a very common and expensive pastime. “That week we got several calls as a direct result of the article and three new accounts came on board.”

Advertising, it should be noted, has limitations the press just doesn't have. “Financial advertising has a lot of restrictions attached to it,” says Kathryn Morrison, president of SunStar, which specializes in media relations for investment advisors.

By getting press, sums up Dan Reid, chief executive officer of GreenTarget Global Group, a financial-services public-relations specialist.“You have a forum to bring your thinking to life.”

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