Nearly everyone uses the Internet to find answers; it's time for you to use the Web to supply your own.

David Scott Meerman says the old rules of public relations and marketing are dead. In fact, he's written a hot-selling book about the topic, The New Rules Of Marketing & PR (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2007). Since he wrote the book, it's been published in six other languages, he's given speeches in 20 countries and the book is the No. 1 seller at Amazon among books about online marketing. Scott has very practical ideas about how you can use the Web to build your business.
GLUCK: Why are the old rules of PR and marketing ineffective?
SCOTT: The old rules are that you either have to pay the media to insert your advertising or beg your way in by trying to convince the media to write or broadcast about you. That's still true for print and broadcast media. Those are the only two ways to get noticed. But the Web allows anybody to be a publisher and get noticed. You don't have to go through somebody else's site or media properties. You go direct. With a $300 digital camera and a YouTube account, or with your own blog, or by sending a news release that goes out and gets distributed via Google and Yahoo, you can create your own content to promote your business directly.
GLUCK: Advisors often prefer static Web sites, brochure-ware. Is anything wrong with that?
SCOTT: The plain and simple truth is that consumers don't like to be advertised to. They like to do business with people who start a conversation with them, and the conversation can be started online easily using content. If an individual has $10,000 kicking around or a daughter six years away from college, he wants to know what to do. That's the kind of thing that should be communicated to people through a great, content-rich site. Good information on a Web site introduces your company to existing customers or potential new customers. But it is very different from just creating a brochure that says, "Here's what we do." In any business, you are likely to be more successful by starting a conversation with people and providing information that helps them understand your organization than if you just create slogans and messages in the form of an online brochure.
GLUCK: You believe in creating what you call personas. Explain that.
SCOTT: Ultimately the best way to do marketing is to understand the people that you're trying to attract. The way to do that is through what I call buyer personas. A financial planner might have three buyer personas he or she is trying to attract. One might be a 30-year-old professional, who may or may not be married and who has a pretty high income and wants to begin investing. Another might be a 40-year-old married couple with children, who are worried about funding their kids' college education. And a third buyer persona might be a 50-year-old married couple whose children have left home and who are worried about retirement. The way that you would market to those three individual buyer personas is different. Having a clear understanding of who your buyers are, their needs and how one buyer's persona differs from another's can help you create individualized content and information for each different group. You will use different words and phrases to communicate with each of them. You will use different content and images on your Web site for each of them. This way, when people arrive on your site, they don't just see, "Hi, we're financial planners and we'd do a really good job, so give us a call." They instead see, "Here's what you need to know if you're a 40-something-year-old married couple who's worried about college funding. That's a really different way of marketing than saying, "We're a good financial planner. Give us a call."
GLUCK: You want to see a site's content address solving problems of buyer personas. Right?
SCOTT: Absolutely. I want any company that is doing any kind of online marketing to start first with an understanding of their buyers. What are their problems? Why are those buyers looking for a solution? That's where you start.
GLUCK: How do you do that?
SCOTT: You interview them. You actually go out and talk to people who are representative of your buyer persona groups. So if you are a financial planner, you talk to people who are in that situation, a young couple just getting started and a couple with kids nearing college age. And you ask, "What are your problems?" You want to know how they describe their goals and aspirations for their financial future. You want, literally, to know the phrases that they use to describe what they're thinking and what they're going through. Then you want to use those words and that information on your Web site so that the language on your site is representative of those buyers- as opposed to what you think they want to hear, which is often wrong.
GLUCK: And those phrases are really important, aren't they?
SCOTT: Yes, for search engines. Let me give you an example of why it is important to capture the exact phrases used by buyer personas. A financial planner might use a term like "college savings plan" or "529 savings plan" on his Web site, but buyers might use the phrase, "save for college." Advisors would naturally tend to use gobbledygook phrases that don't mean anything to a buyer. So a buyer thinks, "I want to save for college," and the financial planner in his mind uses jargon like "college savings plans." And there's a disconnect. The potential customer is going to say, "I'm leaving this Web site because these guys don't know anything about saving for college. They're all about this college savings plan stuff, which doesn't make any sense to me." The other reason it is critical to know the phrases your buyers use is because they will use search engines using their phrases and not your industry gobbledygook.
GLUCK: So they get stuck on jargon, but need to get off that.
SCOTT: Yes, and the only way to get off the jargon is to build a site designed specifically for the people that you're trying to reach. The way that you can do that is by understanding those people really, really well. And the only way to do that is to literally get into their heads by having conversations with them, and understanding who they are.
GLUCK: But if you know your clients and you're an experienced practitioner, you may not even need to do that.
SCOTT: That can be true, and I don't dismiss that there are people who do know their potential markets well. But in every single industry and practically every Web site I've ever seen, there's a focus on an egotistical perspective, around what the company does as opposed to what it is that buyers are looking for.
GLUCK: Talk about news releases-how to write them.
SCOTT: Literally tens of millions of people every single day are going to Google News and Yahoo News and other news search engines and vertical market sites. If buyers or potential buyers go to Yahoo! or Google and click on the "News" link, they see all the stories that are coming out from all the online sources. So CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and others all are coming through those services. But the really cool thing is that you can also send a press release directly to those services through one of the press release distribution companies like PRWeb, PR News and Business Wire, and your news release will appear instantly on Google News and Yahoo News and all those other places. You can create your own piece of news that will be seen by anybody going to those sites and your news release can show up when people search using key words and phrases in your news release. So, again, back to the example we were talking about. If I'm looking for information about saving for my daughter's college education, I might enter the phrase, "save for college" into Google News. I'll then see a story that came out from the Boston Globe, and another story that came out from CNN. But if there's a smart financial planner, who just issued a news release with the phrase, "Save For College," in it, I'll also see that. And that can very well be someone who will then become a client for that investment planner.
GLUCK: When you use a service like PR Newswire, what is the charge?
SCOTT: There are some free services out there, but the one that I usually recommend that people go to is PRWeb. It charges $80 for one release.
GLUCK: And you mentioned in the book that, as long as you buy the basic service from one of these services, you'll get picked up by all the search engines.
SCOTT: Yes, you only have to buy the basic press release distribution package for your specific region. You don't have to buy all the bells and whistles that they'll try to sell you. You'll still get picked up by all the search engines.
GLUCK: What's the value of this? Here I am, a financial advisor with a $500,000 or $1 million minimum investment. Will wealthy people actually find a financial planner on the Web-somebody they're going to trust with their money?
SCOTT: Just from a press release? No. But if the planner has an intriguing news release and within the news release there's a URL that goes back to a site, and on the site there's lots of information designed especially for that type of buyer, the buyer might then say, "OK, the press release and the site are valuable, and I've learned something. Maybe I'll take the next step and subscribe to this advisor's newsletter. Maybe I'll even give him a call or send him an e-mail." And that begins a more traditional sort of dialogue. So it's not like the news release leads directly to sending a check for $500,000. But it starts that online conversation, where that financial planner is beginning to develop a relationship as a trusted resource online, which can then translate to a trusted resource with my money.
GLUCK: What you describe is totally different from the traditional use of a press release.
SCOTT: It used to be that the press release was just to deliver information to the press. But press releases now are available to anybody with an Internet connection. And therefore advisors should be thinking about the news release as a vehicle to actually create news and get it into the marketplace. It works.
GLUCK: Advisors aren't writers. So when you talk about things like creating news releases or blogging, is it realistic? Will a small financial advisory firm with three or five or maybe ten employees do it?
SCOTT: The average advisor will never do it. No matter how much you write in this magazine, the average financial advisor is never going to do this stuff. But there's going to be a percentage who embraces this approach. And maybe they're not great writers, but they can pick it up and they can get comfortable with writing. Or maybe, if it's a ten-person firm, they might decide to hire a freelance writer for three days a month to come in and write for them. What saddens me is when you've got companies spending $50,000 or $100,000 or more on traditional marketing and they don't try to understand how they can market on the Web, which doesn't require the same amount of investment.
GLUCK: Your book talks about a blogging lawyer. Tell us that story.
SCOTT: So Grant Griffith is a family lawyer in Kansas. He used to get all of his business through the Yellow Pages, which is not inexpensive. Grant decided one day he would start a blog, called the Kansas Family Law Blog. Now, literally all of his business comes from his blog. The guy is amazing. There's also a dentist in the Boston area who started a podcast called Successful Smiles. Every couple of weeks she uploads an audio about root canal, or whatever a dentist talks about. In every single industry, there are examples like this. Let's say there are 100,000 independent financial advisors and almost all of them are using traditional marketing only. Well, then I know what I want to be doing. I want to be the guy who experiments by blogging, sending news releases and maybe creating a YouTube video. People ask why I don't do readings at bookstores. My answer: There are too many books in bookstores! I want my book to be where there aren't other books!
GLUCK: Just to connect the dots, by writing his blog focusing on Kansas law problems, what happened with Grant?
SCOTT: He's a smart guy and writes blog posts about different areas of Kansas family law and each one of the posts-just because it's such a niche market-has key words that the search engines pick up. If somebody who has a particular problem is looking for a lawyer, Grant's bound to have a post with the words and phrases that people search with. He is now ranked No. 1 by search engines for most of the phrases that people enter when they need to find a family lawyer in Kansas. You can't buy that kind of exposure. It can literally be worth millions of dollars to him. So what should a financial planner do? Well, concentrate on a very distinct geographical area and a very distinct buyer persona, like "wealthy retiree in Boston." Use words and phrases in your content where you can become a micro-niche. This way, if anybody enters the terms describing your niche into search engines, you're bound to come up near the top.
GLUCK: What you're getting at though is that these highly refined niches are perhaps where the greatest opportunity exists for online marketing.
SCOTT: Yes, because that's how the best search engine strategies work.
GLUCK: Like stock option planning for telecommunications executives?
SCOTT: Thank you for that great example. That's perfect. That's an ideal example of what we're talking about, because you know the average financial planner is not going to be focused on that very small niche.
GLUCK: You can even name a company in your blog or online brochure, something like, "employees of Autodesk with stock options." Then, that search term will rank high when an employee of Autodesk searches for help with his stock options.
SCOTT: Absolutely. Because I don't know the advisory business well, I'm not able to come up with the examples like you just did. But those are perfect examples of what we're talking about. So all of a sudden your business can be seen as No. 1 in a very small but lucrative niche. I'd rather be the No. 1 entry in a search engine result in a small but lucrative niche than the No. 500 result of a search in a huge market where I just get lost.
GLUCK: A lot of financial advisors have tried to use pay-per-click search engine marketing by buying search terms, for instance.
SCOTT: Financial planning?
GLUCK: Yes, exactly.
SCOTT: And you're competing against everyone else who's trying to buy that term using Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing. But "financial planning for employees of Autodesk who have stock options" is an incredibly narrow niche that you can own without having to buy your way in. You just need to create good content addressing that market and then you can get to the top of search engines for free, for people interested in that topic.   
GLUCK: How about RSS feeds? How can a small financial advisory firm use RSS feeds in their marketing effort?
SCOTT: RSS, Really Simple Syndication, is great when there is traffic already going to a site and you want people to be able to see new content anytime you update it. If you don't have any traffic to begin with, however, you're not going to be able to get people signing up for your RSS feed. But if you have a reasonable amount of people visiting your site or you're creating a blog, which by definition automatically creates an RSS feed, then your RSS feeds will show up on search engines.
GLUCK: Forums where clients and others comment on your blog is another idea that you like. But many advisors are scared about letting clients talk to each other, post comments in a forum or post comments on their blog. They're scared the comments could be less than flattering sometimes. Maybe a client that was unhappy is going to go and comment and then everybody's going to see it.
SCOTT: If you have an online forum or a blog on your site that allows comments, then yes, you're putting yourself out there a little bit. But if you've been an active participant in the discussion, even if somebody does say something negative, very often other people will jump to your defense. And that may indeed work ultimately to your advantage. Clients and prospects know you are not perfect and want you to be open and honest with them.
GLUCK: Are wealthy people going to use the Web this way, and will it bring advisors new clients?
SCOTT: Yes. It works.
GLUCK: Advisors like measurable results-like portfolio returns. When you tell them that their Web site and blog and other online efforts won't bring them clients and only offers indirect help in getting clients, they may feel that is not enough; that it's too squishy.
SCOTT: It is a little squishy. Content probably won't show you a return for a couple of months or maybe even six months, because you have to build that content before the search engines start to index it. And all of these things are not a replacement for running the rest of your business well. It's not a replacement for word of mouth. It's not a replacement for referrals. It's not a replacement for being a smart salesperson, and it's not a replacement for marketing and PR that you're already doing. It's not going to magically replace everything else, unless you're looking to do what Grant Griffith did. The truth is that everybody is on the Internet now. The last statistics I saw were that three-quarters of the population uses search engines on a regular basis. That means everybody-the rich included-uses the Internet on a regular basis to find answers to their problems. Now, is every rich person out there entering search terms about managing money and planning for financial goals? No. But on any given day there's hundreds or even thousands of rich people doing so. So understanding the people you're trying to reach is the way that you'll be successful, to start the conversation. And understanding what it is people are looking for will be the way to get great content out there. 

Andrew Gluck, a longtime writer and journalist, is CEO of Advisor Products Inc., a Westbury, N.Y., marketing company serving 1,800 advisory firms.