The question about marketing isn't just how, it's if?

Marketing is something everyone thinks is essential-everyone except advisors, that is.
Not every advisor wants to market, nor do they need to market. The need depends on three things: your time in the profession, the rate of growth you desire (if any) and the way you practice.
One type of advisor who does need to market is the newbie. Mark Gibbs, CPA of Gibbs Financial Planning Services in Buford, Ga., transitioned away from a 13-year career in corporate accounting to fee-only financial planning just over a year ago. "I knew that my survival depended on me marketing myself. So I send out a newsletter to over 460 individuals, I get some referrals from my memberships in NAPFA and the Garrett Planning Network, and I have offered up myself for speaking engagements to church and civic organizations." The network of attorneys, CPAs and bankers Gibbs is building also has played a part in his early success, enabling him to convert 33 of his first year's 42 prospects into clients.
But not all advisors want to work that hard once they've established a local brand and the beginnings of a client base. With three-and-a-half years in the business, G.M. (Buz) Livingston, CFP, of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., has accumulated 47 active clients, so he's reached a stage where he still must market but doesn't have to maintain the fast-paced, scattershot approach Gibbs employs. "My main referral source now is my local newspaper column," says Livingston. "I spend one to two hours each Saturday morning cranking it out." With a few years of success behind him, Livingston is also beginning to ask clients for referrals.
It's my own experience that, at the five-year point, other professionals finally acknowledge an advisor as a more or less permanent fixture and, with the right synergy, begin to refer clients to him. Jim Heard is at the six-and-a-half-year point in his career and has a strong CPA alliance. With Windham Brannon Financial Group Inc., an Atlanta affiliate of The Windham Brannon Companies, a CPA firm, Heard has accumulated 125 clients and $300 million-plus under management. "About 20% to 40% of our clients come from centers of influence, including our CPA affiliate." The remainder comes from client referrals and word of mouth, another client source that should be in full swing by the five-year mark.
It's also my experience that at about year ten, what I call "relationship-based advisors" reach a critical mass, and therefore a crossroads, where they will choose a continued-growth or no-growth marketing strategy going forward.
Interestingly, more than a few advisors opt for little or no growth. This isn't hard to understand when you consider that many independent RIA planners got into this business as a second career, bypassing the wirehouse and insurance company training programs from which they were exempted by their prior experience and know-how. Many of these advisors are in their fifties and sixties now, so the no-growth choice goes hand-in-hand with a desire to slow down that is typical of this age group.
Consider, for example, Peg Downey, owner of 25-year-old Money Plans of Silver Spring, Md., who, long ago, made the decision to keep things simple. "Ours isn't a large firm, and we don't do anything to market the business. Yet folks keep coming in and keeping us busy. It's all about momentum and longevity." A long-time member of NAPFA, a professional association with a prolific client referral program, Downey says she doesn't even need the referrals she gets from the association.
Or take Bill Jerome of Capital Financial Services LLC in Glenville, N.Y., who confirms, "It's only the new folks that will struggle. If you've been in business somewhere over five years, then the client mass generates what you need." Having celebrated his firm's 15th anniversary in January 2006, Jerome works with 186 clients, a number that grows on its own. "Marketing? Zippo. Nada. Bupkis. We don't do any seminars and we haven't published our newsletter in four years because I'm either too busy or too lazy-not sure which."
The only exception to "automatic pilot marketing" is the need some advisors feel to maintain a community presence. Says Dave Diesslin of Diesslin & Associates Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, "We don't have an active marketing budget, but the firm still needs to be visible to shoppers. This requires an active community presence, be it a resource for the media, speaking to local foundation patrons, or just doing good work for clients who think of you when they have an opportunity to send you business." Diesslin has been in business 26 years, and the firm works with 285 primarily high-net-worth clients.
Or, another way to look at continued visibility is as a reinforcement for client referrals. Kathy Stepp of Stepp & Rothwell Inc. in Overland Park, Kan., says her firm's only real source of new clients is its existing clients. However, Stepp notes, "We still try to keep our name out there by sponsoring charity events, mingling with professionals, and I've been doing a weekly TV segment for years. These activities substantiate [our value] for the prospective clients referred by existing clients."
Two more experienced types of advisors who can't just put their marketing on autopilot are those independent RIAs who desire continuous and rapid growth, and registered reps still working toward the marketing momentum that comes with relationship-based planning.
This latter group needs to market continuously if a substantial portion of their revenues still comes from transactions. One way-getting the assistance of a publicity consultant-seems to be catching on in all the independent channels.  Even John Sestina, a well-known advisor for over 40 years, gets help with the media.  Sestina, with a company bearing his name in Dublin, Ohio, says, " While I don't have a deliberate marketing plan, I do use public relations people to keep me in front of the media." Other advisors have learned the ropes most publicity consultants climb in getting the media to take notice, and do this job on their own.
Ron Keleman took traditional (and not always effective) routes to gaining attention until he changed business models and now employs a publicity consultant and other marketing tactics more appropriate to his new operation.
This latter group needs to market continuously if a substantial portion of their revenues still comes from transactions. "I had no choice but to do seminars and unabashed promotion in the early years," says Ron Keleman of The H Group Inc. in Salem, Ore. "But I am so glad those days are over. Not only because of the extra hours and expense, but because the quality of 'tire-kicking' clients seeking a free lunch or a free financial plan was never all that good. People of means don't like to be hunted."
After 25 years in the business, Keleman says, he "pulled the plug" and went fee-only in July 2006. "We didn't need the branding and marketing-nor the meddling-of a large broker-dealer with expensive TV and print ads." What Keleman does, instead, to keep his firm visible is use publicity consultant Impact Communications Inc. ( With this strategy, he has simplified his marketing to four steps: "Create a good public image, take great care of your clients, communicate with them well and often, and make it easy for their referrals to find you."
In fact, Impact's founder, Marie Swift, recently developed a pilot program for Securities America that she calls "PR Mastermind." Explains Swift, "The concept of PR Mastermind is to provide a more cost-effective package of PR-related services to a group of advisors while giving each advisor personalized, market-specific services and access to an experienced team of marketing and public relations professionals."
Pat Hinds, an advisor with Securities America operating as Granite Financial Inc. in St. Cloud, Minn., will avail herself of Impact's new program. "The group discount will enable us to get help getting into local periodicals and generating creative marketing ideas. The larger firms and wirehouses in St. Cloud have a presence that we don't have as an independent and small firm. We want to make our mark and become 'number one' to instill [in clients] that 'comfortable and familiar' status within our local region."
Besides reps at independent brokerages, the advisors who really need to market are those who wish to grow. The desire to build a large firm-as a legacy, as a retirement plan or simply for survival in a competitive industry-is paramount. Many observers think that, over time, larger firms that emphasize marketing will increase their market share and start to garner the lion's share of new advisory business.
Margaret Prentice has been the chief marketing officer for Regent Atlantic Capital LLC, of Chatham, N.J., since 2002, when the firm's principals decided to embrace growth well beyond what word of mouth would bring. "I was charged with building brand recognition," says Prentice, which she did with a six-part system that she says all the principals have embraced (see sidebar). Her plan seems to have worked. Today, Regent serves about 750 clients representing a total of $1.3 billion in assets (vs. $400 million before Prentice came on board).
As these advisors demonstrate, the need to market depends on your business model, your time in the business and the rate of growth you desire. Do all advisors need to market beyond doing well for their clients and keeping their noses clean in their local communities? Not necessarily.

> Margaret Prentice's Six-Step Marketing Plan For Regent Atlantic Capital LLC <

1) Each wealth manager and financial advisor networks with at least two centers of influence each week.
2) Each employee must get involved in a cause or not-for-profit that complements their interests.
3) The firm sends out story ideas to the media weekly.
4) The firm sends a regular newsletter to all clients, prospects and centers of influence.
5) The firm conducts regular educational seminars for clients and their nonclient friends.
6) Each wealth manager identifies and serves an "ideal client" niche rather than taking any client who comes into the firm.

David J. Drucker, M.B.A., CFP, an independent financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks and consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems. Check out his new, practice management portal, Practice Lifecycle, at, and Virtual Office News, the only monthly practice management/technology newsletter for financial advisors, at