(Dow Jones) Many a financial advisor will host a conventional dinner event in the name of client prospecting. But Joe Ventura throws an elaborate Spanish-themed bash for 100-plus investors and comes dressed as Zorro.
Or he takes them on a train for a re-creation of "Murder on the Orient Express." Or he packs them in a faux-casino for a night of Vegas-style fun (alas, with fake money).
Call it prospecting meets over-the-top partying. It's a formula that's worked for Ventura, manager and owner of William Tell Financial Services in Albany, N.Y., for more than a decade.
"I wanted to shock people and have them say, 'Boy, you should have been at the party this broker sent me to,'" says Ventura.
The actor-turned-advisor says his love of theater played a big role in his decision and ability to host such events. He typically does one or two annually, inviting a mix of prospects and established clients. The cost: As much as $6,000-plus per event, though Ventura sometimes defrays the expenses by getting other financial companies-say, an annuity provider-to help sponsor the event.
Ventura didn't start out thinking the parties would become a regular fixture. But once he saw the reaction to his first one in 1997-built around a Renaissance theme tied to his company's name (as in the folk hero who inspired a popular overture to a Rossini opera)-Ventura started thinking of other ideas.
He's tried just about everything, from a '50s-themed Elvis-style bash to a "China Beach" one. To keep the events in a semi-educational vein, he invites financial companies to provide materials and speak with prospective and established clients.
Ventura clearly likes to have fun. Lots of fun. "I live in Albany. There's nothing here like this," he says in almost deadpan fashion of the town that's best known as New York's state capital and home to an annual tulip festival.
But his idea is that fun is infectious, so prospects will be inspired to join the party-literally. Typically, they're invited to attend an event through an existing client. Ventura doesn't do a "sales job" during the bash. Rather, he says, his existing clients usually seal the deal after the fact by simply talking up the firm. In the meanwhile, he's gotten the prospect's attention. "It's a catalyst for a conversation," he says.
Ventura's next party? He's planning one close to Halloween with a spook-filled Ichabod Crane theme. No word yet on who might make an appearance as the Headless Horseman, but Ventura probably has the costume-shop connections to pull the role off himself.