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Celebrity Advisors Tell All!

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Insurance advisors don’t just help clients protect their futures by structuring life and annuity protection products. Many of them, it turns out, lead other lives — not exactly secret — by doubling as local media celebrities.

It’s a great way for advisors to reach beyond their clients and talk to a larger audience, one that is all eyes and ears when it comes to issues around savings and retirement.

Patrick Munro, an independent insurance-only representative with a practice in Wilmington, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., doesn’t just sell insurance and annuities.

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He also happens to be a local media personality hosting TV and radio shows that help viewers and listeners with retirement planning.

He hosts a TV show called Retire Right TV at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays on WPDE channel 15, an ABC network affiliate.

He also hosts his own radio show at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays on WRNN Hot Talk 99.5.

When he’s on the air, people listen because his audience wants to hear what he and his guests have to say.

Munro, founder of NorthStar Financial Advisors, said his radio audience consists of homeowners ages 55 to 70 with significant retirement concerns and questions.

“We try to address those and I try to do ‘news of the day’ pieces,” Munro said.

Much of the commentary that affects today’s seniors is often ignored by the mainstream media.

“The entire issue of a generation with kids coming back home and living with their parents, and those parents having to take care of elderly parents in their 80s gets glossed over and directly affects their retirement success,” Munro said.

That’s why he has made it his mission to discuss such topics on his radio and TV shows.

For a life and annuity specialist, Munro certainly is tuned in to the news. He reads eight or nine newspapers a day, he said, and even uses an internal clipping service.

Soft-spoken and urbane, Munro is the quintessential television and radio talk show host, guiding his guests through questions from investments to coaching people to overcome challenges in life.

Recent guests have included an elder planning attorney, a reverse mortgage specialist, and even a hypnotist. He said he likes hosting shows, “because people tell me everything.”

Munro’s not shy about pushing back against broker/dealers who call in and bash guests on the show.

Munro, a Canadian by birth, said he and his team do a lot of demographic research to segment issues that affect people the most — such as retirement savings. Being from Canada gives him the chance to comment on the United States and retirement issues as an outsider, and that brings a different perspective to elder issues for his U.S. audience.

He entered the financial services business more than 20 years ago, but in 1997 gravitated toward serving the senior market. He’s been on radio for the past eight years and on TV for the past three.

Make no mistake, though, preparing for each broadcast is hard work.

TV and radio hosts must be quick on their feet. When it comes to life insurance, annuities and retirement, you’ve got to know your subject inside out, which Munro does.

Some guests get nervous so it’s important to keep the guests focused on the topic or else the subject and the interview can get away from you, he said. The more research you do, the better your questions and the more you can engage the guest.

“I use a lot of old-time radio show expressions and techniques like ‘… and now for the rest of the show …’” he said. “That means everything to an older audience, but not to the younger folks who get everything from Spotify.”

Munro said it’s important for local radio listeners and TV viewers to hear his voice and see him on TV — in other words, to connect.

The more people become familiar with him, the more they gravitate to him, he said. The exposure gained from the broadcasts helps bring people out to his financial planning and educational seminars.

As for show audience metrics themselves, Munro doesn’t lose too much sleep over the numbers, calling them “amorphous.”

”We don’t track anything. Arbitron and other media tracking services don’t really qualify,” Munro said. “They can’t really tell you anything. The only thing that really matters is that you are conspicuous by your absence.”

When it comes to media, “We live in a celebrity culture, and I’m considered the go-to guy for financial planning. It’s gotten to the point where I joke with my staff that we sometimes wonder if I’m in the media business or the financial planning business.”

He said that local radio and TV are extremely effective marketing channels for his business. Munro is, after all, a big consumer of talk radio as well as a producer of it.

“I listen to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin — that happens to be the mindset of older folks in my seminars, but not all,” he said. “I often get pistol-whipped by listeners in Massachusetts. We have this thing called free speech. If you have a concern, let’s talk about it.”

When Munro walks up onstage during his seminars, he makes sure he has a demo of his show running so his audience can see him on the show as they also see him live onstage. It’s a shrewd move.

“I walk on to the stage and I tell people, ‘That’s my twin brother.’ It sends a subconscious message that their broker doesn’t have a radio or TV show.”

Munro is also a major writer of annuity products. He probably could get by just fine without the media exposure, but life wouldn’t be as much fun.

He disputes the contention that TV and radio don’t readily lend themselves to insurance and annuity products.

“If you are a financial advisor and you are not seen on TV, you probably wouldn’t want to advertise that,” he said. But every life insurance expert who isn’t on TV means an opportunity for him.

Munro said the secret to successful radio and TV is to feed the shows with fresh content every week.

“There’s always new content on my shows every week and I invite people to follow me on Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “I comment on the news of the day and say ‘ … we’ll be right back with a special guest …’”

Mostly, though, Munro likes being a broadcast host and that might be the prime ingredient to being a media rock star: you simply like it.

“I’ve been doing this since 1999, have been banging away at it since. I like it and I just consume a lot of media,” he said.

The Next Suze Orman

Kimberly-Foss.jpgAdvisor and certified financial planner Kimberly Foss, founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif., isn’t shy about her professional ambitions in the media business.

“I’d like to have my own Suze Orman show,” she said. And by the looks of it, she may just get there.

Foss appears tailor-made for television. The camera loves her and she — by all appearances — loves the camera back.

Her entry into broadcasting happened about four years ago, quite by chance.

An article she wrote on the “sandwich generation” was picked up by The Associated Press, which led to guest appearances on Good Morning America and The Today Show.

Local network affiliates and cable stations followed suit, and called on Foss again and again and again — still as a guest.

After hours of appearing on television, Foss decided to create a studio in her own office by blacking out the windows.

She had a young child, so she had a tight budget and she didn’t want to be commuting to a studio when she could be doing nearly the same thing from home.

With the help of the video production company VideoLink, she set up a camera and recording equipment along with proper lighting and a teleprompter.

The project wasn’t “cheap” — between $20,000 and $100,000, she said — but certainly less expensive than it would have been 20 years ago before the software and the Internet upended the media business.

Foss, a former Merrill Lynch broker who never studied media, journalism or broadcasting, suddenly found herself with a number of broadcast media options.

She can produce a segment in-house, or the network affiliate can wire her up in her office and produce the segment from there remotely via video link, or the affiliate can do a live segment from her office. When she’s not in the studio, she can lease it out to others.

Foss said that her media appearances have taught her to have a presence about herself and “speak intelligently and quickly,” especially under the bright lights and sensitive sound equipment found in recording studios.

“That’s part of the game,” said Foss, a fee-only advisor who targets demographic client categories she calls “family stewards,” “thriving retirees” and “women in transition,” as she was once, following her divorce.

But for guests who do TV well, producers will come back to you for more, so it’s a great way to gain even more exposure.

Foss said that in order to ask good questions that will capture the TV audience, “You need to be able to ask questions that your niece wants answered.”

Foss has been featured on national media outlets including Fox News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, The Kudlow Report and U.S. News & World Report. She said her media exposure has been a breath of fresh air.

She likes managing money for clients — “creating choices for my clients in a safe environment,” as she calls it. But after 30 years of living and breathing the financial planning business, Foss said it’s refreshing to add a new layer of activity to her professional life.

“The fun part about this is how you keep the passion about what you do alive and not fall into the same old, same old,” she said. “The venue of TV and radio came later in life for me but I love it. It’s like second nature to me.”

Foss, one of six children, was raised in a modest household. Her father was a carpenter, although he should have been an actor, she said. Her mother dealt with the family’s finances, which were always rather modest.

Foss believes each advisor should have a professional makeover every 10 years, and her foray into the media industry represents just that. Technological progress is almost forcing advisors to reassess themselves every decade. “If advisors don’t get on the bandwagon, they risk being left behind,” she said.

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But it was her 2013 book, Wealthy By Design, which made it on The New York Times best-seller list, that exposed her to radio.

She had done radio spots before 2013, but the book, described as a five-step plan to help people gain financial security, exposed her to the grueling back-to-back programming required of radio.

Foss likes radio. “Radio is a lot easier than TV. You don’t have to get dressed up; you can do it in your jammies.”

Radio, TV, blogs, print, social media — whatever you do, you need to do it with passion, which is one ingredient media rock stars have in common.

“Anybody who has a passion for what they do, people want to be with them,” said Foss, who is planning to revamp her company’s website and start a blog targeted specifically to her client demographic.

Foss said that preparing for broadcast interviews isn’t really “work” since she loves being in front of the microphone or the camera.

“It’s not work, but I need to get that spark,” she said, referring to the lust for life that many people in their 20s have but that often fades in people in their 40s.

“It’s like a marriage,” she said. “You need that spark again and that’s what media is for me.”

Social Media Rock Stars

Surveys say as many as 75 percent of financial advisors use at least one social media network.

That’s a big group. Within that bunch are the social media rock stars, a category that would surely include Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta.

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Active on several social media platforms and owner of a widely read blog, Jenkin leans on the deeper layers of social media and premium features. They open the floodgates to data mining and segmentation that a few years ago would have been out of reach for many advisors running sole proprietorships or small shops.

Access to premium levels of the data give users the ability to find very narrow niches of the people on a given social network, for example, all corporate executive vice presidents between the ages of 30 and 50 working for a pharmaceutical company and living within a 50-mile radius of Morristown, N.J.

Segmenting 1.4 billion active Facebook users by job description, age, employer or social circle yields thousands of prospects. Multiply even a fraction of that 1.4 billion by the number of social media platforms and it’s easy to see how a single advisor’s reach grows exponentially.

Jenkin is already there, which is partly why he’s busy extolling the virtues of social media at industry conferences and why his peers hold him out as an example of an early social media adopter.

Hootsuite, which Jenkin uses to manage his social media, delivers richer data sets from as many as 26 platforms. It also uncovers contextual information that gives advisors access to better leads and shortens the sales cycle.

Plying the physical world with the traditional techniques of business cards, name tags and hotel conference “meet and greets” are passé, he said. “The game is not who you know, but who knows you.”

Jenkin, whose broker/dealer manages $400 million, said his company received about 1,250 inbound leads last year, or about 25 leads a week from LinkedIn, Facebook, his blog and his column in The Wall Street Journal.

Danny J. O’Connell is a partner with BRG, a family-owned agency in Dallas, Texas, that sells group benefits, life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance and retirement services. He uses Facebook and LinkedIn to stay in front of prospects who were former clients.

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Social media has value because it allows him to apply a “soft touch” to his community of personal and professional contacts.

It’s a way for O’Connell to remind people that he is “one of them,” that he attended the local fair or the children’s sporting event.

“I’ll let people know what I’m doing,” he said. “I use it for business-related activities whereas Facebook is more personal.”

In short, O’Connell said social media allows him to stay connected with others and with others to remain connected with him.

So, whether it’s old-school print, radio or TV, or the burgeoning opportunity of social media, there’s a public out there just waiting to hear what you have to say.

Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. He can be reached at [email protected] [email protected].


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