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How to Be a Media Rock Star

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One day a man walked into Philip Harriman’s financial services practice out of the blue. The man wasn’t an existing client, had no appointment, wasn’t a service worker and was not acquainted with anyone on staff, so his arrival was a bit of a mystery — until he explained himself.

The man said he was driving down the highway and saw a sign posted on Harriman’s building in Falmouth, Maine. What caught his eye was the name Phil Harriman. He said that right then and there, he pulled off the highway, drove over to Harriman’s office and opened the front door. “Is this the same Phil Harriman that I see on television?” the man asked at the desk. When he learned that it was, he asked for an appointment.

Stories like this demonstrate the impact that appearances in local media can have on the growth of an insurance and financial services practice. The name recognition kicks in, the sense of trust builds, the professional develops an aura of celebrity and consumers come right to the door.

This doesn’t happen overnight, say agents and advisors who have been there, done that. But it does happen, and they have growing books of business to prove it. Following are some of their stories plus some lessons they learned about the magic of traditional media — radio, television and print — in the life of a financial practice.

The Case for Television, Radio and Print

Some advisors can’t ever imagine themselves using any of the traditional media, but Harriman, the co-founder of Lebel & Harriman and former president of Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), has been using all three for several years.

For five years, he has been hosting Inside Maine, a monthly three-hour radio show. For the past three years, he has been appearing live on a local NBC-TV affiliate and on taped segments that run throughout the month. For more than two years, he has been co-authoring Agree to Disagree, a blogged column for the Bangor Daily News.

For producers who have done none or very little of this, Harriman’s big media investment might seem like a mind-boggling enterprise with uncertain return.  Not so, according to Harriman.

The shows and articles bring name recognition and brand building, he said. “They help establish a relationship with the customer” before the person ever calls for an appointment at his firm, which focuses on retirement, legacy planning, business needs, wealth management and financial planning.

And people do call, unsolicited, at least twice a week, Harriman said. “Seven out of 10 of the callers have financial needs in our area of expertise.”

End result: Harriman’s client base has grown by 5 percent to 8 percent over the past five years.

To keep up with the increased work flow, Harriman hired someone with a Master of Business Administration degree to do the financial planning calculations and related work so he could focus on client goals and overseeing plan creation. He also schedules his media time carefully. “I write the articles at night,” he said. “For the TV shows, I go to the station, which is just 20 minutes from my office. And for the Saturday radio show, the night before, I pull together ideas I keep gathering, organize the points and prepare six topics for the six segments the show will have.”

Is this something that other producers can do? Harriman said he thinks they can, if they have some special interest or background that the media find compelling.

In his case, the hook is politics. Harriman previously served eight years in the Maine state Senate, and that brought him the credibility that drew media attention. “Politics is a topic that the media want to cover,” he said, so his new life as political commentator “is an unexpected outgrowth of public service.”

He uses his political knowledge and connections to keep his material fresh. For instance, when he is on the air, he sometimes interviews the governor, a senator or other insiders. Other times he takes calls about current political issues. 

How does talking about politics help him grow his independent insurance and investment brokerage firm? During the shows, Harriman said, “I present examples or analyses taken from my practice. If the subject is taxes, for example, I might say, ‘In my financial planning practice, I have three or more clients a year who change their residence because of the income taxes.” In addition, he runs radio commercials about his practice, although not during the time slot when he is hosting his show. And when he writes articles, the author’s note identifies his financial practice.

Those mentions in various media serve to remind the public of Harriman’s occupation now – financial planning. It’s subtle, but he said it works.

“You don’t have to be in politics to do this. If you can bring something that the media want, you can build a brand that works. It can be a hobby or special interest. Ask yourself, ‘What do you do when you’re not working?’ Then try building a media program around that.” — Philip Harriman

The Case for Radio

Some media stars in insurance and financial services make one type of media their main focus. Michael Markey, co-founder, owner and agent with Legacy Financial Network and an investment advisor representative for LFN Advisors, is a case in point. He hosts Financially Tuned, a weekly Christian-based radio show that has become central to his branding program.

The show focuses completely on educating people about insurance and financial matters, with “no plugging of the firm,” he said.

That dovetails with the education approach he uses in his financial planning, retirement planning and insurance practice. For example, potential clients are required to go through four educational meetings before doing any business with the firm, said the Kentwood, Mich., agent and MDRT member. It can take three to six months for a person to complete these “lessons,” as the staff calls them, but Markey said the large majority sticks with it.

End result: Markey’s firm has nearly doubled its production in just one year’s time.

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In 2013, the first full year of the combined radio show/lesson program, “we did a total of $11 million of new business in advisory and insurance revenues,” he said. “That’s up from about $6 million in 2012.” In addition, the firm boasts over 1,000 clients today, up from about 800 a year earlier.

That huge jump came from a lot of traffic. “Seventy percent of the people who have come to a first meeting have gone into our ‘lesson plans,’ ” he said, “and 70 percent of those people became clients. Among the clients, we capture 95 percent of the household assets.”

How does Markey know that the radio shows are helping to support this growth? In conversations, he said, people tell him they are listening to the show. Furthermore, the show appears on a “quality station” that is popular in the community, he said. “People around here leave it on all day long, even in the stores. Then, once they hear the show, they start tuning in on their own.”

Another part of his business contributes too. This has to do with Medicare supplement insurance. “We get a large amount of referrals on Medicare,” he said. Here again, the firm puts education front and center. “When those inquiries come in, one of our 15 staff members goes out to the home to provide education and identify needs, but not to do a sales presentation. We want to make sure the people have time to think about this for a while first.” Then, for the second meeting, the clients come into the office.

It is the focus on education, whether on the air or in the office, that undergirds the entire initiative.  The show format revolves around answering questions that come up in the various client meetings. For instance, Mackey might do a segment on “What is a multi-generational individual retirement account?” 

There are no “teaser answers,” he emphasized. “We dive deep and give details and examples.” But he doesn’t give on-air advice. “I’ll say things like ‘In my opinion’ or ‘What I have seen is.... .’” He saves the advice for in-office sessions, once he has the particulars of a client’s situation and needs.

This is a hands-on operation.  Markey writes the script for the radio show and records his section, and his co-host does the same. “Then we send it to our production company in Minnesota to put it all together.”  (He pays a professional firm to put the show together.)

The firm does pay for its spot, but Markey said it’s a reasonable rate, comparable to that for a nonprofit. “We probably get that because we don’t plug our firm,” he laughed. (Connections may have helped too: One of his clients is a relative of the station owner.)

When people meet Markey in person, it can be a wow event for them. He’s a media celebrity whom they already recognize as an authority, thanks to the radio show. 

“During a first meeting with a new prospect, I gave the man my business card, which includes the name of the radio show.  Then came the look of recognition. ‘Oh, yeah!’ said the man, ‘I’ve heard you a few times!’”

The Case for Print

Some advisors are intrigued with the idea of using traditional media to help brand themselves, but the idea of speaking on radio and television may give them the willies, due to nervousness, a voice that cracks, the cost or any number of other reasons. But they still have another big media option – print.

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Brad Elman, owner and principal of Elman Insurance Services and Nine Dots Benefits and an MDRT member from Los Altos, Calif., has done it all as far as using media. But he tends to prefer print, especially for advisors who are just starting to use media to build brand in the local community.

He speaks from experience. A longtime guest expert on consumer finance for a local NBC outlet, Elman has also been seen or heard on CBS and NPR. And since his first article was published in a trade magazine in 1993, he has appeared either as author or quoted expert in more than 100 trade, local and national publications. Customers can view the list of articles on his website.

End result: After 13 years of his active media relations program, Elman’s personal production moved from MDRT level to Court of the Table (three times MDRT) and Top of the Table (six times MDRT).

In addition, he said, “We have gone from needing to cultivate referrals to having prospective clients call us because their financial planner, CPA or attorney told them to. Because of that, I don’t have to ‘sell’ anymore; I just educate, which is a lot more fun.”

Professionals say they feel better about referring clients to him “because I am published, or because of television,” he added. Not incidentally, they learned about his print appearances from emails and tweets he sends out as part of his media campaign. Even if the recipients of those messages don’t read the articles or see the television interviews, they know that it happened.

Elman believes the credibility derived from being published or quoted is directly responsible for the changes at his practice, which specializes in life, disability, long-term care and employee benefits.  “When people see that you’ve been quoted, they like you and trust you, especially when they see you in other places too.”

About being interviewed on television, he said it does help with name recognition. “The ‘As seen on TV’ effect is the ultimate in branding,” he quipped. But it doesn’t necessarily trigger a deluge of calls from interested prospects.

Elman believes it’s just as valuable to a financial professional to be quoted in the local weekly newspaper paper or a local daily. “Those publications go to highly targeted audiences in the socioeconomic area where you have your business,” he explained, “and they’re easier to get into than television.” As a

result, “you are much more likely to get new business from being quoted in local media than from consumer publications or television interviews.”

“One time, Kiplinger’s magazine, a national publication aimed at consumers, carried an article that described me as an ‘insurance agent you could love.’ That was great, but I only got one phone call from that story. But I did leverage it – by letting customers know, through emails and other means, that I was quoted there.” — Brad Elman

Even better, he said, is to write articles for trade publications, especially when starting out on a media relations program.  “You have more control over the content that way and also over how often you contribute,” and articles appearing under the advisor’s byline demonstrate the advisor’s expertise. “If you do the branding properly and let people know, you’ll get the same lift as writing an article for The Wall Street Journal.”

People surmise that if the media trusts the advisor enough to quote the advisor or publish an article the advisor has written, that’s like “a de facto endorsement,” Elman said, adding that his own clients and referral sources “love” knowing when he’s been published. “It’s the New England Journal of Medicine effect.”

Another idea is to publish articles in the professional journals and trade magazines of referral sources like attorneys, financial planners and even surgeons.  When those professionals see the advisor quoted or published in their own trade journals, they are more inclined to refer clients to the advisor, Elman said.

Elman’s print campaign also includes obtaining reprints of articles in which he has been published, with permission to use the reprints for marketing purposes. “The article validates your expertise,” he said.

Elman and Markey both do volunteer work in the local community, and both tie this in to their print and media messaging. For instance, Markey recently sponsored a halftime show at a local school, with some students winning prizes for making a half-court shot, the school receiving a monetary donation and his firm getting media exposure for the sponsorship.

Elman is the founder, sponsor, coach and board member of the Palo Alto Giants, a Little League team for kids with physical or mental disabilities. His son Spence is a team member. When the group has events, Elman lets the local media know, and the event often gets coverage.

“Caring for the community is part of my brand, and this supports that,” Elman said.

The Case for Radio and Television

Peter D’Arruda advocates using both radio and television to build an advisor’s local image and celebrity. Known as Coach Pete, he is host of The Financial Safari, a nationally syndicated radio show that started with one local station in 2007 and now airs on more than 100 stations across the country, as well as on television (via Financial Safari TV, on Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.) and online. Local advisors who participate in his firm’s network of more than 50 advisors appear on the shows aired in their particular area. 

Radio and television can get expensive, and the advisor won’t see results overnight, allowed D’Arruda, who is also chief executive officer of Capital Financial Advisory Group of Cary, N.C.  It usually takes one year to break even, he said, but it’s a business-building process that works if the advisor stays with it.

The firm tracks results of every source of advertising it uses by deploying different call-in numbers for each initiative, to measure impact on traffic. “What we’ve learned is that we get a lot more calls from radio than television, but we get bigger net worth callers from television.”

End result: Many advisors in D’Arruda’s network have to hire more staff to see all the prospects from the show. One even had to buy a bigger office.

“The commonality of all of the advisors I work with who are successful on the radio seems to be that they are now able to be pickier in deciding the customers they want to work with,” D’Arruda said. “In effect, this is turning the tables on the prospecting world in general. Like Hannibal used to say to Mr. T on The A-Team, ‘It’s great when a plan comes together.’”

He puts it like this: “The more you’re seen and the more you are on radio or television, down the road, people say your name.” Then, when viewers or listeners meet the advisor, they feel awed. “They’ll say things like ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to the guy I hear on the radio.’”

This works all over the country, he said, providing that the advisor doesn’t give away so much information on the air that people don’t feel the need to come for financial planning.

If the advisor wants to offer a free book or a report on income planning, he suggests having the callers prequalify – for instance by savings level – before they come in. “Make it pay for itself, or it won’t last,” he said.

D’Arruda does print too. For instance, he writes articles for trade publications, and for the same reason as Elman: “It shows you are viewed favorably by your peers.” Being quoted in, or writing for, local publications helps too, he said. He also posts material on his website and sometimes creates reports to distribute from transcribed portions of a show.

But it is his expertise in television and radio that draws the most attention.

“Don’t get Google-slapped. That’s what happens when people go to Google to look up a term mentioned on a show. If they find what they need, they won’t call you. To keep that from happening, use terms that are not easily searchable. For instance, instead of referring to income planning, I use terms like financial cruise control or retirement auto pilot – and I trademarked this too.”  — Pete D’Arruda

It’s Media and More

Branding and customer awareness come from more than television, radio and print media. Case in point was the big sign on Philip Harriman’s office that prompted a driver to pull off the highway and visit the office. However, it was Harriman’s presence on television that was the first mover. It created awareness of Harriman long before the motorist ever saw the sign.

Harriman and the other advisors brush off assertions that they have become local celebrities due to their media exposure. But they welcome their depiction as well-liked experts in insurance and financial services in their local community and even nationally. They are proud of the growth of their businesses, and they are glad they started using traditional media to get the word out about who they are, what they do and how they do it.

The message for other agents and advisors comes through loud and clear: Well-designed media campaigns using television, radio and/or print can help advisors promote their expertise in the local community – and grow their business too.

 

Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at [email protected] [email protected].


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