February 25, 2008

Make a Powerful Statement about your Fund

by Dan Sondhelm

Marketing that Keeps on Giving
Press coverage that stimulates and delivers reprints to a company's constituencies is a cost-efficient marketing program that "keeps on giving." Placement in the publication itself begins to build awareness. As a reprint, this ongoing endorsed sales tool supports presentations and only increases the impact.

"I have become an even stronger proponent of reprints of publicity," says Richard Sincere, founder of Sincere & Co., LLC, a firm that services fee-only advisors who look to impartial sources for product research. "Reprints are a terrific supplement to this research, as they offer fee advisors a 'flavor' of a fund manager that they can't glean from traditional quantitative research sources." He says coverage can tell advisors what a manager thinks about a number of subjects, and more importantly, why. Articles can also expose financial consultants to managers who might not hit their radar because of a recent change in fund management, fund expense ratio or some other criteria that excluded the manager from their screens."

Reprints: Credible, Effective, Efficient
Sincere continues, "Reprints of news articles resulting from public relations efforts are an invaluable tool." When he attends conferences or sends out information about a manager, he relies heavily on article reprints. "Having a respected and objective third party touting the strengths of a product or the fund manager carries substantial weight with a target audience."

"Successful press coverage can help set the stage for a productive board meeting, as well as motivate a sales force," says Peggy Marco, marketing vice president for HighMark Funds. "We created a short compilation of the best sound bites from our video coverage. We then showed it to our sales people. They really liked the support the PR process was providing in their sales efforts."

Because press coverage is a third party's assessment of a company's strengths and capabilities, it isn't associated with the hype and gloss of marketing and advertising. That's what Jeff Battles, Director of Marketing for James Advantage Funds, finds especially valuable. "Our advisors are bombarded with sales calls, advertisements and fund information to the point of overload. We have found public relations to be the most effective, credible and efficient way to cut through the noise and deliver our message to advisors."

Level the Playing Field
For small firms, an aggressive public relations program can often level the playing field against much larger competition. Rather than making a huge investment in advertising, fund executives can turn to the power of the press to attract and retain investors.

But, as David G. Mertens, a principal at Jensen Investment Management, points out "Media mentions are great, but - at least in the print world - they are one time events. Reprints give us an additional shelf life of 30 - 90 days, and sometimes more, by placing them prominently on our firm's website. When a shareholder of The Jensen Portfolio sees our message within the context of a major national publication, it lends credibility to our words. We don't expect anyone, whether an individual investor or a financial advisor, to be 'sold' by these words, but we do hope to continue to educate them on our investment discipline and properly set their expectations. For us, reprints are a powerful, longer-lasting means to that end."

At SunStar, we've seen how positive news coverage speeds the sales process, attracts leads and adds third-party endorsed credibility to sales and marketing efforts. Reprints can be used for:

  • Direct mail
  • Trade show handouts
  • Recruitment and educational supplements
  • Speaking engagements
  • Corporate displays
  • Investor relations material
  • Sales collateral
  • Online promotion
  • Postcards
  • Plaques
  • Posters

What about Compliance?
There is no doubt that regulatory and compliance issues make it challenging for fund companies to use positive articles in their sales efforts. Jim Schoenike President of Quasar Distributors said, "Funds have hurdles to overcome because the FINRA views article reprints as communication. FINRA provides strict guidance for compliance with regulation. Funds need to maintain this compliance or the reprint cannot be used by the Fund."

But that shouldn't stop fund companies from seeking coverage. Working with your compliance officer to find ways to substantiate the statements made is essential. Sometimes excerpts can be taken; sound bites or publication headers can be assembled. At the very least, a litany of the publications carrying your story can be presented to build credibility. It's also crucial to establish a sound working relationship in advance of a story being published so the compliance issues can be addressed quickly and efficiently. News is most potent when it is fresh.

Setting the Ground Rules
Of course, working with the media is not without risks. At times, portfolio managers can be misquoted or words can be taken out of context. It also takes time to prepare and conduct interviews so some busy managers don't want to commit.

Yet, many organizations do take advantage of the press' unquenchable thirst for news about the mutual fund industry by making their senior executives available. The key is to ensure that while providing valuable expert opinion on a host of subjects, you also are prepared to tell your own story. Proper education will help increase the quantity and quality of coverage your firm receives and make the interview process more fun. Strategies learned at a media boot camp, such as those offered by SunStar, can include avoiding the rambling answer, knowing your message and controlling the interview. You'll learn to set the ground rules for the interview at the outset, but understand the reporter might not agree to them, and how to be careful with comments such as "off the record" or "not for attribution."

Companies that are positioned to benefit from press coverage have ongoing public relations at the foundation of a well-rounded, integrated marketing communications effort. For more information, visit http://www.isunstar.com/ or call at 703-894-1046.

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