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Reaping the Rewards of Radio

Reaping the Rewards of Radio

It isn't cheap or easy, but for many financial advisors a radio show is an invaluable prospecting tool.

John Pollock launched his Dallas RIA firm seven years ago, not long after moving from Denver. Since he knew almost no one in the area — he'd been laid off from his job as a salesperson 30 days after being transferred — Pollock decided the most efficacious way to win clients was to go the seminar route. And for the next five years or so, he ran two events a year, mailing invitations to 5,000 or so prospects and usually winning at least 50 clients a year as a result.

Then, suddenly, interest fell off a cliff — and Pollock realized he had to find a substitute. Best, he reasoned, would be something that would get him in front of a large number of prospects at one time and give him the chance to show off his powers of persuasion and logic. His solution: Host a radio show.

To that end, about a year ago, Pollock found a one-hour, once-a-week slot on an all-talk radio station broadcasting to the greater Dallas area. He had to pay the station $5,000 per show, spent another $2,000 to build a recording studio in his office, and faced a veritable horde of competition from other financial radio shows, but for Pollock, it's all paid off. He has since added about $10 million in assets, which he figures will continue to grow, and he's established himself as a trusted resource for tax planning, one of his specialties. “Doing radio isn't cheap or easy. But in just a year, I have a return on my investment that's large enough to make this all worth the effort,” says Pollock, who has about $200 million in assets.

So it goes in the world of radio. On the one hand, you'll probably have to pay to air the program and, depending on the market, that can mean thousands of dollars each week. It's also likely that many listeners who inquire about hiring your services won't even fit the type of client you're after. Plus, other radio stations — even the one broadcasting your show — will probably feature programs hosted by competitors.

But, done correctly, a radio show can still bring you many benefits. For one thing, over time, you probably will attract enough customers to make it a worthwhile investment of time and money. Take Carl Stuart, who has hosted a one-hour all call-in show in Austin since 1995. “A majority of new clients have heard of me because of the show or were referred by a friend who heard me on the radio,” says Stuart, whose firm, Carl Stuart Investment Advisor, has about $345 million in assets. “I would say a substantial portion of the business today is the direct result of the radio.” And you'll establish a credibility and reputation likely to lead to speaking engagements and other events, not to mention a way to solidify your brand. According to Stuart, he's often asked to speak at conferences and other events, thanks to his radio show.

Your first decision should be pinpointing the most potentially effective radio station for your show. If your choice attracts the wrong demographic, you won't broadcast to the right type of potential client. Pollock, for example, first tried doing a half-hour show at 7:30 in the morning on Sundays on an all-music station. It was a bomb. Then, he switched to an all-news show that, he says, attracts what he describes as an “upper middle class” demographic more likely to want his services.

Similarly, Peter D'Arruda, who heads Capital Financial Advisory Group in Cary, N.C., began broadcasting a radio show as an alternative to holding seminars six years ago. He started out by hosting a half-hour program on an FM oldies station in North Carolina. He figured the audience would more likely be near retirement age. D'Arruda paid $1,500 a week, but, he says, “It became profitable pretty quickly.” Now, he hosts two other shows as well. D'Arruda's business is built primarily around financial plans and insurance.

You also need to avoid a station that reaches listeners who are too far flung. The reason: If they're far away, they won't turn into clients. Jeff Kowal, an advisor in Waukesha, Wis., for example, started hosting a one-hour show on an AM station in Wisconsin about 10 years ago. About three years ago, Kowal, who spends three months or so a year in Phoenix, decided also to broadcast from there. But, after two years, Kowal, whose firm, Kowal Investment Group, has about $250 million in assets, decided to drop the show. “I couldn't do a good job serving clients there,” he says.

The time slot is also important. And, as a newbie, you have to be on your toes. Fact is, according to D'Arruda, who also helps other advisors host radio shows, many radio stations take advantage of neophytes by, he says, “sticking you in bad time slots for more money than you should be paying.” Obviously, you'll attract a following more easily on, say, Saturday afternoon than Saturday at the crack of dawn.

Usually, you'll have to buy the time, either by paying directly for the slot or by purchasing a specified amount of commercial advertising on the station. In rare cases, however, advisors don't pay. Take Stuart. After seven years doing morning market updates on a local Austin station and regularly hounding the program director, Stuart landed a show, first on Tuesday morning, then Saturday afternoon. His approach also helped. Not only does he not try to push products, he also doesn't even identify his practice or how to contact him, a tactic that also came in handy when, in 1998, he moved from a regional firm to go out on his own, as an RIA affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services.

In addition, if your show develops a following, you might be able to get much more bang for the buck. After several years as he became more popular, D'Arruda was able to renegotiate his contract to half of the original fee. When Dennis Tubbergen, who runs USA Wealth Management in Grand Rapids, Mich., with about $50 million in assets, started his first show about eight years ago, he had to pay what he describes as a small local station fee, although he won't divulge the amount. But, eventually, two other stations picked up the show, without asking him to increase his payment.

As for the format, you have some choices, depending on the station's requirements. In some cases, you can pre-record it; in others, you'll have to broadcast live. In fact, Tubbergen stopped doing a show about four years ago when the station asked him to start producing it live, according to Tubbergen; he preferred to record the program several days before it aired. He recently began hosting a new show. Then there's the matter of whether or not to take calls. For some people, they're the kiss of death, because you have less control over the content of your show. Other advisors, however, run programs where they do nothing but take calls. You can also produce a hybrid, where you spend some time discussing a topic in depth, and the rest of the show responding to callers.

For advisors devoting at least part of their shows to prepared content, finding the best format may involve some trial and error. Pollock, for example, assumed he'd simply duplicate one of his seminars on his show. He quickly discovered that was a mistake. For one thing, it didn't sound spontaneous enough. For another, he found that most listeners tuned in for only part of the show, usually when they were driving. As a result, he says, “You have to tell your story over and over again.” He also discovered that, once he started focusing on a specific area of interest — tax planning matters — calls from listeners interested in hiring him picked up considerably, from perhaps one to two a week to as many as 10. He recently landed a $1.3 million account from one such listener.

Other advisors take different approaches. According to Wayne Kelly, a Toronto-based DJ, who helps advisors run successful radio shows, for example, it's best to break a show into segments — five minutes on events of the week, 10 minutes on a particular topic, and the rest on responses to letters and e-mails or questions from listeners. He also recommends regularly doing a series of shows on a topic, each one focusing on successively more sophisticated information “so you hit all the demographics of people interested in investing,” he says. For his part, D'Arruda recommends outlining your thoughts ahead of time, without writing out anything too formal. “If you go with a script, you'll sound like you're reading a script,” he says.

In any case, watch out for verbal tics. According to Kelly, advisors often speak in finance jargon that turns people off. D'Arruda also often finds that advisors have distracting verbal mannerisms. “I just heard an advisor and counted 500 ‘do you knows’ during a 42-minute show,” he says.

There's also the question of preparation. The amount depends, to a large extent, on the format you choose, and your own proclivities. Kowal, who focuses on retirement planning issues, often gets ideas from callers — “It tells me what's worrying them,” he says — then spends about three hours a week reading articles in several financial publications on the topics he plans to cover. He also keeps a pocket reference guide with important financial information, like the contribution limit on SEPs. On the other hand, Stuart spends little time preparing, usually reading a publication or two, then thinking about three or four possible topics to discuss in case there's a lull in the number of callers. “I prepare by being alive and breathing every day and being in this business for 32 years,” he says.

Where you broadcast from also varies from one advisor to another. To cut down on the time needed to do a show, Pollock built his own studio in his office, relying on help from the radio station's engineer. Now, he records the program using an MP3 player, e-mailing it the station. For his part, Kowal prefers to broadcast from the radio station's offices, because he feels the quality of the sound is better. Also, he likes to interact with the station's producers and screeners as the show is going on.

No matter what the format of your show or where you broadcast from, however, watch out for potential minefields. Discussing investment decisions with an individual caller can lead you to run afoul of regulations. What's more, if you're affiliated with a b/d, you'll most likely have to provide compliance with a rundown of what you plan on discussing. Kowal, for example, sends Raymond James Financial, his b/d, a general outline of topics he plans to cover, along with the publications he uses for research. Then there's the matter of laying down the law about your minimum. Some advisors always include that, along with contact information. Others don't, fearing it might turn off potential listeners.

You'll also need a system for handling calls from listeners interested in hiring you. Take Pollock. Listeners either call an answering service or sign up to receive more information on his web site; Pollock receives all messages in his e-mail box. Then, he spends two hours Monday mornings calling them back. Next, after he briefly chats with callers, he sends them copies of three books — one that he wrote, one that he contributed to, and one for which he wrote the forward. “I'm kind of a big deal in that box,” he says. For those callers who meet his minimum, he also includes a postage-paid envelope with a financial profile to be filled out by the prospect. “You must have a process for sifting through all your leads, good or bad,” he says.

If it all sounds like too much of a hassle, you have other alternatives. For one thing, you can upload a show on iTunes, promoting it on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, even if you want to do a conventional radio show, according to Kelly, podcasts can be “a wonderful practice tool.”

But the Internet can be more than just a stepping stone. Take Pam Otten, an advisor in Sheboygan, Wis. In 2009, Otten, who prefers not to disclose her assets, looked unsuccessfully for an acceptable Christian radio station. She ended up deciding to create a weekly show and do it via a web site called She now gets about three clients a month from the show and, she says, “It's been a huge help in building my credibility.” Another plus: Listeners can download the show from iTunes whenever is most convenient. In fact, according to Otten, the majority of her audience is from downloads, not people listening to the actual broadcast.

There are other alternatives, as well. For example, you can pitch a local radio show and try to land a five-minute spot as a guest on someone else's program. Or, there's D'Arruda. He offers his services to advisors, who pay him to co-host shows; they call in remotely, taping the segments ahead of time. The bottom line: If you want to do a radio show, there's more than one way to make a go of it. You just have to pick the approach that's right for you.

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