The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. on Wednesday formally unveiled its recently-announced public awareness campaign to promote the CFP marks, a program to be paid for with existing reserves and higher certification fees.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization laid out the program's specs in a webinar that described why it felt the need for the campaign, its target audience, and the media outlets it plans to use to disseminate the message that CFP-certified financial planners should be the advisors of choice for the investing public.

"We've been doing a good job granting the certification throughout the years and upholding it, but we think we can do a better job of making it the recognized standard of excellence," said Board Chair Robert J. Glovsky, president of Mintz Levin Financial Advisors.

Specifically, the CFP Board in April will launch a campaign that targets mass affluent households with investable assets of between $100,000 and $1 million through online, print and television ads. They'll target leading consumer financial titles such as Kiplinger's Personal Finance and the Wall Street Journal, along with national cable channels such as the Travel Channel, HGTV, CNN and Fox News that appeal to its target audience.

CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller said this demographic hits the sweet spot of the CFP certificant client base. "Seventy-three percent of certificants say most of their new clients from the past three years fall in this range," he noted. Keller added the median investable asset range for new clients during this period was roughly $500,000.

The campaign will be conducted through Arnold Worldwide, an advertising agency whose clients range from Fidelity and Progressive to Amtrak and Ocean Spray.

Glovsky said the four-year campaign will have a two-year review period. Total program costs will be $36 million over the four years and will come from a combination of CFP Board reserves and a planned certification fee hike of $12 a month, or about $145 a year. The fee hike starts next July, and certification fees will be paid annually instead of every two years as currently exists. Annual fees will jump to $325.

Contributions from reserves will be $7 million in 2011 and $2.3 million in 2012.

Glovsky said proceeds from the fee hike will be dedicated to the public awareness program.

Prompted by an audience question later in the webinar about whether a fee increase was needed, Glovsky noted the CFP Board's reserves now stand at $27 million, a jump from $23.5 million at year-end 2009. Combining existing reserves and the upcoming fee increase enables the organization to use about one-third of its reserves for the marketing program.

"That leaves us with about one year's worth of [operating] expenses, and we think that's prudent," Glovsky said.

Keller says the CFP Board and its agency are using qualitative and quantitative research to gauge consumer attitudes on how they feel about working with financial advisors. This includes conducting focus groups with investors and advisors--both CFP-certified and non-certified.

Among the key findings, Keller said, were that consumers remain suspicious of the financial services industry, some investors are unwilling to consult financial planners, and that word-of-mouth advertising is an important aspect in choosing an advisor.

"You have to make it as easy as possible for consumers to spread the word," he said.

Keller said research found the most compelling messages that influence the mass affluent crowd to seek a comprehensive financial planner were comprehensive evaluations and a focus on planning. The CFP Board believes that's right up its alley.

Glovsky said the public awareness campaign was born of feedback from CFP certificants who wanted the CFP Board to better promote the brand to raise it above the alphabet soup-like clutter of roughly 120 financial services designations.  

As such, the CFP Board says the campaign is supported by 83% of CFP certificants, although certainly not everyone is thrilled with the fee hike, as evidenced by several questions raised by audience members during the webinar pertaining to costs and how the CFP Board will measure the program's proverbial bang for the buck.

Keller said the board's marketing agency will monitor the program on a consistent basis on a "number of metrics." One key metric, Keller said, will entail measuring the mass affluent target audience on its level of awareness and familiarity with the CFP marks before the campaign officially begins next spring, and using that as benchmark to gauge the program going forward.

Another audience member asked if there will be a way to quantify whether CFP certificants will see more qualified prospects as a result of this program. "If it raises awareness and intent to use [CFP certificants], it should help their practice," Glovsky said. "But our primary mission is to benefit the public, and by raising awareness and driving them toward CFP certificants, we think that will benefit the public."