e have all seen the new signs of the times. Marketing budgets have been slashed, magazines are getting thinner because of fewer advertisements, and the news is glutted by tales of Enron
and other similar scandals. How're money managers to get the word out about their products and services? Dan Sondhelm
-- partner at the Alexandria, Virginia-based public relations firm SunStar
-- shared some of his thoughts on these subjects with the MutualFundWire.com.
"A mutual fund with strong numbers is something that everyone should want to promote," Sondhelm began. "Even if you are an institutional money manager, if you have a good fund, you should be out their promoting it. Sometimes, institutional managers will have a mutual fund, but it is just for overflow. But these companies are missing out because the strong performance can help attract assets to the firm across business lines."
"A well-known mutual fund with a good return will help promote the institutional side. That kind of fund will actually help the institutional wholesalers," he continued. "If the wholesalers go into a presentation, and one of the firm's funds has been featured in The Wall Street Journal
, then that will help with the presentation."
Sondhelm can not emphasize the importance of cross-promotion enough. According to the executive, if a portfolio manager appears on CNBC and then goes into a meeting with broker/dealers concerning a wrap account product, then that appearance will give the manager an added advantage in the meeting.
"The mutual fund is an example of a firm's money management capabilities. The overall brand of the company will benefit. Articles in the press about a mutual fund will get into the hands of the right people," Sondhelm further contended.
But now for the $64,000 question: how do you get the word out in this new environment? Clearly, Sondhelm believes that public relations is one important piece of the puzzle. But public relations must be used effectively.
"Money managers have really come to recognize the value of public relations," he stated. Nonetheless, for Sondhelm, there are three important ingredients for a successful public relations cocktail:
- "You need a good consistent story that must be told over and over again. Don't wing it."
- "You want access to decision-makers at publications. You should know a cross-section of reporters."
- "You need the ability to persuade. Follow-up. It's about being persistent without being a pain."
Sondhelm firmly believes in the necessity of following-up. "It is not enough to send out a press release. You need to follow-up. This is critical. Don't just leave something out there and expect people to react to it. You must be aggressive," he stated.
But the exec takes a holistic view of public relations as being just one component of communications in general. "Managers need to ask themselves: If you are in the finals, and you have better numbers, do you fail to close the sale? Why is that? Is the other guy better known? It is all about branding. There is push and pull. And branding is the piece of the puzzle that the institutional sales guys tend to overlook."
Sondhelm offers some advice to firms looking to get their message out. "Take a look at your distribution. Once you have built brand, you are going to affect how your funds are perceived. Make sure you get all the supermarkets you want to be on, but because you are on a supermarket don't expect the assets just to come rolling in," he opined.
"But take a look at all of your communications. Fulfillment services could better. We have done studies where the people answering the telephones for fund companies do not know about the funds they are selling. They are just there to take orders. If you ask a question, you hear typing and the person on the other end just reading off of a computer screen. These are not sales people," Sondhelm argued.
"If someone calls for an investor kit, make sure you get it out to them quickly. Make sure it is tailored to them. If someone wants information about a small cap fund, don't send them information on 200 funds. And again, follow up. Companies are leaving money on the table. If someone calls, they are interested," he continued.
For Sondhelm, there is a basic lesson in all
aspects of communication. It is important to constantly be following-up while getting the word out, whether that follow-up is with a reporter or retail investor. "If you have a mutual fund and you are trying to communicate that story, when people call you everything has to be smooth. If something goes wrong in that process, you have a bottleneck. And you have a problem," he concluded.
TV Opps For Managers May Grow; February 7, 2002.
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