“If you form a strategy without research, your brand will barely float. And at the speed industries move today, brands sink fast.
— Ryan Holmes, marketing coach
Only 28% of RIAs report having a marketing plan, leaving most of the industry flying blind — wasting money and missing out on new prospects.
To learn how to create a plan that feels authentic to your firm and effective in the market, we went to Nitrogen’s Fearless Investing Summit, where Craig Iskowitz, CEO of Ezra Group, tested experts Justin Mack, Financial-Planning.com WealthTech reporter, Emily Binder, Founder & CEO of WealthVoice; Shannon Rosic, Director of WeathStack Content at Informa; and Jason Lahita, Founding Partner of StreetCred PR on their marketing knowledge.
Is quickly creating a high-level plan better than spending the time to build a comprehensive one? Should you try to measure every aspect of your marketing efforts? Is complex language better than simplicity? In this article, we’ve collected the best insights from the panel including how to create a focused branding foundation, authentic storytelling, the basics of PR, reporter relationships, and mastering the video content trend.
Back to Basics: Defining Your Brand
“The number one killer of trust is inconsistency,” Binder warned. Rather than jumping in head first, take the time to define who you are as a company and who your customers are before establishing your marketing plan, she said.
All buying decisions are emotional, she explained, and a unique brand is what forges those associations, memories, and emotions with the client. Binder noted. The only reason for someone to pass up a competing brand offering the same service is because of their relationship to your brand.
To create strong bonds, your marketing content must feel authentic because most people don’t trust advertising. A focus on organic content through channels such as podcasts and PR can have a much higher return than sponsored posts and pay-per-click (PPC) ads, especially since $84 billion in ad fraud was recorded in 2023 alone.
The downside of organic content is that it’s hard to measure. While some statistics are essential to measure, most of the features which set you apart will be intangibles. Outreach through videos, podcasts, and blogs can bring potential clients to you indirectly, but provide an authentic connection to your audience.
In Rosic’s view, it’s better to lean into what you’re good and what’s resonating, even if there are not direct metrics to measure success. It’s more effective (and enjoyable!) to do something that feels natural over what just checks a box.
Clients most often question the numbers when given a PR plan, Lahita recounted. How many times is the phone going to ring? How many press releases will you do a month?
“The best way to measure success is by your business growth,” he insisted, not raw statistics. Lahita recalled starting out with United Capital Financial Advisors, where from day one the leadership was doing media interviews, speaking directly to advisors, and treating marketing as a priority. Even without measuring all aspects of their marketing plan regularly, they knew it was working because new advisors and clients were coming in and the business was growing.
The starting point for marketing should always be your website, which Rosic rated as the number one consideration when building a marketing plan. If a client isn’t ready to talk to you, they’re probably searching for you online, so make sure you’re showing up consistently, professionally, and authentically, she advised.
The first thing potential clients will come into contact with is your home page. Your home page shouldn’t be cluttered with unnecessary information or background, it should be clear and concise, explaining how you can help the client.
“The reality is that perfect is a little boring, especially when everyone is trying to present perfection,” Mack warned. It’s much more interesting to watch Rocky succeed and run up the Philly steps if you watched him be defeated first — our flaws reveal our humanity and make people want to root for us, he said.
Wealth management is not an industry that often shows its humanity to those on the outside, he observed, but once you step inside it you see all the mission-motivated people who are doing the work.
Clients want to work with someone they can relate to, who they know will stay with them through good and bad times. Allowing the public to see that you’ve experienced difficult periods can make potential clients more interested in working with you, though this may seem counterintuitive, Mack explained.
As a press person, it can be tempting to hold the client’s hand and try to control everything they say, but Mack offered a more open approach. Sometimes there can be a fear when a client starts telling a story and you don’t know where it’s going, he admitted, but there are times when that story becomes very honest and vulnerable. And at the end of the day, how the advisor tells their own story is the most important thing.
When people are scripted it shows, and the audience is less likely to trust you. Rosic recommends doing general prep work and media training but taking care not to write out every line beforehand. Podcasts and interviews are similar to reality TV, in the sense that the audience wants to feel like they know you personally. If speakers sound scripted or rehearsed, the listener won’t feel like they’re forming a personal relationship with you.
Escaping the Jargon Trap
One of the most common mistakes made by those new to public communications is overusing industry jargon. In Mack’s experience, the most exciting part of a story can be lost to the audience because it gets concealed underneath layers of terms they don’t understand.
“You undermine yourself when you use words that don’t mean anything,” he admonished. The reporter is the filter and will work to make you sound eloquent, but they need to understand why you’re excited to be able to communicate that excitement to the audience. Clients don’t want fancy acronyms, they want to know what you do and how you can help them.
Simplicity is key. Binder advises aiming for an eighth-grade reading level when communicating to the general public. “Your voice is your most powerful instrument,” Rosic declared. “Telling a story is like playing the piano, and using jargon is like hitting the wrong note.”
To hit the balance between compliance and comprehension, Lahita recommended pairing approved wording in a press release with a strong hook that journalists can grab onto. If you can get them interested, they can then call you to follow up and you can explain the details.
While it may be tempting for an RIA to hire a PR firm right away, Lahita strongly recommends getting your marketing house in order first. “PR is an adrenaline shot for a good marketing campaign,” he noted, “but it isn’t the foundation”. Once you hire a PR firm, they’ll start by reviewing your website, social media, and messaging, so you want to make sure you have a solid marketing base.
PR agencies are expensive, due to the resource-heavy and time-consuming nature of the work. A PR agency is like a small army, going out and researching publications, talking to reporters, writing articles and getting you involved in conversations. You should already have a certain amount of scale and an internal marketing staff before making this decision.
The PR basics can often be handled by smaller RIAs on their own by directly contacting reports, Lahita said. When starting out, it’s best to try and do as much of that work yourself as you can. He pointed out that every reporter puts their email address at the end of their articles to make it easy to send them ideas or feedback.
While it may seem intimidating, Mack echoed that reporters are happy to be contacted and you don’t need a PR firm to seem official. All you need is a great story idea.
Besides the cost barrier, hiring a PR firm should wait because it requires you to already have a solid reputation. As Lahita put it, PR is “credibility marketing,” and credibility is something you need to build for yourself.
Making Friends with the Media
In Rosic’s view, the most important aspects of an advisor’s reputation are trust and credibility — not only with journalists but with the wider ecosystem in general. “I always look at building relationships with the media as buying a little bit of insurance, because in a time of crisis you might want us to write something nice about you,” Rosic advised. Your company’s credibility improves the more news outlets publish stories about you, whether those stories are good or bad– no press is necessarily bad press.
It’s important to cultivate your media relationships, Rosic encouraged, and advisors should act as a resource to journalists, because they rely on industry professionals to provide content.
She also emphasized the importance of keeping all outreach authentic, and not expecting anything in return. The relationships shouldn’t feel adversarial, but you also shouldn’t go in expecting reporters to automatically promote your firm.
In Lahita’s opinion, trying to find commonality at the beginning of the conversation with a new media contact is the best way to start your relationship. Do your homework by reading some of their work before your call. On the call, make a good first impression by expressing your excitement about speaking with them and be fully engaged.
Another essential tip for interacting with journalists from Lahita: assume that everything is on the record. “Don’t be the source that says, ‘this is off the record…’ and then launches into a tirade about a competitor or something in the industry that bothers them,” he warned.
Lahita offered an example where a client once did an interview and attempted a quid-pro-quo exchange with the reporter to publish the results of a survey, which was in poor form. The bottom line: don’t say anything to a reporter that you wouldn’t want to see in print,.
The Power of Video
An Oberlo survey recently found that 91% of consumers want brands put out more video content, and 66% of consumers prefer video to any other type of social media. Binder stated that in her experience, video content is much more effective at garnering engagement. Many people may find video intimidating to create, but it doesn’t have to be.
“If you’re doing a 30-minute podcast, don’t worry about also making a 30-minute video — all you need are a few one-minute clips,” Binder explained. In fact, short-form videos are currently the most popular form of content on social media, spanning YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels, and TikToks.
Short-form videos often aren’t searched for directly, but are instead fed to users through an algorithm. Therefore, you don’t need to have a wide follower base to have your content fed to thousands of viewers. YouTube shorts even appear on the top of Google searches.
Video is a quick way to show people who you really are, removing the barrier between the work you’re doing and the audience, Mack described. Most people these days are used to a multi-screen experience, with a TV, computer, and phone, so you need video content to help cut through the noise.
Any advisor can get started by making simple videos around topics they’re good at talking about, Binder recommended. Speak in clear, personable language for an average consumer. Don’t worry if you don’t have video editing skills, you can outsource those tasks to someone else. When you share a video, don’t forget to include a note about why the content is valuable to get more people to click on it.
Cutting Through the Noise
As Rosic reminded the audience: “you don’t need to be the loudest one in the room to be heard.” It’s always tempting to be bold and trendy, but what gets the best results is relatability and clarity.
If prospects can easily understand who you are, what you do, and how you can help them, your marketing has done its job. Don’t strive for perfection, but instead strive for connection.