(Dow Jones) When veteran financial advisor Barbara Pietrangelo reaches out to prospective clients, she makes a fashion statement. Literally.
For the past decade, Pietrangelo, an advisor with Prudential based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has hosted an annual fashion show. The summertime event draws 150-plus investors-mainly women, with a few husbands along for the ride-who come primarily to see the latest styles and enjoy an evening out. Any discussion about portfolios and financial planning is almost incidental.
"We found that women aren't interested in financial seminars," said Pietrangelo, who has been with Prudential since 1992.
Pietrangelo generally holds the events at local country clubs and even has hired a small orchestra for the occasion. She manages to work in a few financial tips, speaking for about 20 minutes right after a light dinner and before the show. But she knows the crowd is there to watch the models, who are actually some of Pietrangelo's clients, hit the runway.
To put the evening together, Pietrangelo has partnered with a variety of designers and retailers, from a clothing-label "trunk show" representative to a local consignment shop. The clothes being shown are typically offered for sale afterwards.
Pietrangelo has learned a few things along the way about event planning for prospects, as in finding the right calendar date for the event: She chose early August, a sweet spot between the family-vacation periods of the Fourth of July and Labor Day. "Everyone is home and they've got nothing else to do," she said. Pietrangelo also puts lots of emphasis on a printed invitation that signals something special, not a ho-hum investing seminar. "It looks like a wedding invitation," she said.
More recently, Pietrangelo has tweaked the event to focus less on individual outfits and more on how to build a basic wardrobe. If there's a tie that binds fashion and finance, she says, it's that wardrobe concept: "You have to have a good foundation, just like in financial planning."
And just as an investor may dabble in alternatives, a fashionista knows how to accessorize with the right belt, shoes or other item. Pietrangelo gave away a scarf to every attendee at this past summer's show.
Pietrangelo and her team pour $5,000 into this "signature" event, but there is a payoff: It has brought Pietrangelo at least 50 new clients since its inception.
It's also gotten the attention of Prudential's top management. Based in part on what Pietrangelo does, Prudential has created the blueprint for an event, called Women Rock, that other advisors can host to target women. "A number of agencies have held repeat events and are seeing an increase in appointments and sales as a result," said Prudential spokesperson Janet Gillespie.