FMG Suite acquires Peter Montoya’s MarketingLibrary & MarketingPro, Platinum Advisor Strategies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Seemingly in the middle of the night, FMG Suite made two significant “competitor” acquisitions last quarter. According to their website, the mission of FMG Suite is as follows:

“At FMG Suite, our business centers on helping you build yours. Through lead-generation websites and digital marketing tools, we help you accomplish more with your marketing, from retaining current clients to gaining more referrals.”

Their first acquisition was that of Platinum Advisor Strategies. This company was established in 2009 by brothers Robert and Thomas Fross. According to their website, their mission statement is “to create the financial industry’s finest branding, practice management, and marketing materials, while adhering to uncompromising levels of professionalism and service, both inside and outside our organization.”

FMG Suite’s second acquisition, which took place approximately a month after acquiring Platinum Advisor Strategies, was that of long time financial advisor marketing “guru” Peter Montoya’s company, MarketingPro. This company had two primary services, a library of marketing content for financial advisors (known as MarketingLibrary) and then a print/email automation solution that helped distribute that conent (known as the MarketingPro upgrade.)

Image result for financial advisor marketing

I’ve spend the past 15 years involved with financial advisor marketing, and have seen each of these companies evolve their business models, especially as the digital age has made its way into the financial services industry. Here’s my take on what this acquisition means to the industry and individual advisors (from the good and the bad to the ugly).

Setting the stage:

  • I don’t know anything about the financial details of the transactions. However, it’s safe to say that the two entities that were acquired are worth more to FMG Suite as a result of cross-selling possibilities than they would to entities that weren’t already entrenched in that space. More on the later
  • Interesting observation – I’ve seen Peter Montoya speak a few times over the years. I’ve always found his talks informative with some good ideas presented. There was, however, one thing that I always questioned about his philosophy (and now I find it extremely ironic). One of the central themes to his talk and his branding approach was “the brand called you.” His main point was that your clients do business with you (a true statement). As as a result, he was a huge proponent of you naming your firm after yourself. If your last name was “Maple,” then your company should be named “Maple Financial Services” or something to that effect. When Montoya named his company, it followed this same thought pattern: Peter Montoya was the brand. A few years back, he slowly faded away from using his name in the brand. He did an initial transition where it was “Marketing Library-Peter Montoya,” and then shifted entirely to “MarketingLibrary,” and then “MarketingPro.” I found a whole lot of irony in it while I watched the brand changes slowly take place. It’s long been my belief that a company is worth more to a buyer when the seller’s name isn’t embedded within it. Who knows how long Montoya had been staging an exit. It begs the question – if asked today, would he give different advice to the hundreds of advisors who he encouraged to use their name in the branding of their firm?
  • I don’t know a whole lot about Platinum Advisor Strategies. I’ve not heard much positive or negative about them, so my review of the impact of the acquisition takes this into account.
  • I’ve had extensive experience with MarketingLibrary and MarketingPro. They’ve been an entity that has been tied into our technology offering for years.
  • My knowledge about FMG Suite comes from a handful of interactions I’ve had with their team, my review of dozens of videos they’ve created, and feedback I’ve received from advisors over the years.

Let’s get to it:

The Good:

Each of these three entities bring complementary services to the table. In theory, this should provide for a more comprehensive offering made available to advisors. Each of the three entities has certain strengths; if each of these strengths can be harnessed and integrated effectively, it could be an impressive offering for advisors.

Each of the entities likely has relationships and connections with an extensive network of broker-dealers. As a result, this could provide access to new services to an a larger number of broker-dealer affiliated representatives. With that said, it could present new challenges (covered in a bit).

With FMG Suite’s service offering lineup being enhanced, it likely means that competitors will look to step up their games. Regardless of what provider(s) you select for websites, marketing content, and/or marketing automation services, this is a good thing.

The Bad:

Too much : with the higher volume of services being made available, this could invite confusion as to what services make the most sense for you to invest in for your practice. In addition, it will be interesting to see how the merging of three firm’s services and user interfaces come together. Change is difficult, and there’s no doubt the user interface will change soon.

Compliance issues: Our firm owns and operates three RIAs in addition to an independent broker-dealer. Compliance is a big deal to us, and finding marketing tools that are easy for our compliance department to work with make the lives of our advisors easier. MarketingPro’s compliance interface was a tool that was very compliance/advisor friendly system. FMG Suite’s compliance interface leaves A LOT to be desired. Our sense has always been that FMG Suite was built more for the advisor that didn’t have an active entity operating in a compliance review capacity. If they can take a queue from the user interface of MarketingPro, this could be a boon for advisors working with an entity that reviews content from a compliance standpoint (broker-dealers and/or corporate RIAs).

Isolating integrations: Software tools like FMG Suite, MarketingPro, and Platinum Advisor Strategies rely upon their ability to integrate with other software platforms that are used by its customers. One example of this is AdvisorWebsites, one of the leading providers of websites for financial advisors. Prior to the acquisition, there was an integration in place between MarketingLibrary/Pro and AdvisorWebsites. This made the lives of advisors’ easier. Since FMG Suite offers websites, this integration will undoubtedly be shut off. Who knows what other integrations may be discontinued as a result of this acquisition. Advisors lose here.

Volume isn’t always a good thing: typically speaking, volume is a good thing. It can result in lower costs and improved services. My suspicion is that the increased volume could water down the website offering, forcing a more cookie-cutter approach in order to keep up with the higher numbers. As of today, it’s not hard to tell what is an FMG Suite website. That’s not necessarily a knock on them, as they are professionally done, but the amount of unique content vs. “universal” content is pretty limited. In order to differentiate ourselves in the financial services space, unique content is critical.

The Ugly:

Cost: If I were a betting man, costs will go up. Costs for MarketingPro services and Platinum Advisor Services. The’ll also likely be pushing hard to sway advisors who don’t have an FMG website over to use their services, arguing that they need to “bundle” their services. I’ll be curious to see what services they’ll continue to offer a la carte.

Questionable business practices: As an independent broker-dealer and three corporate RIAs, we were shocked that we were given no heads up that this acquisition was taking place. In fact, we didn’t even find out until an advisor of ours brought it to our attention. We immediately worked to have a call with our contacts at the company. We had a conversation with the President of FMG Suite, and were promised that we would be notified in advance before they started to make changes in their offerings. Within two weeks of that phone call, two things took place:

  • One of the critical integrations our advisors relied upon was eliminated, despite us being told that it would take place until 2019. There was no warning or communication made about this.
  • We heard from multiple advisors that FMG Suite’s sales representatives were targeting our advisors pitching them to change their website platforms. To be honest, we expected that. Why else would FMG make the acquisition? However, we didn’t expect them to use our compliance person’s name as a part of their sales pitch, stating that “NAME HERE approved the transition to FMG” and basically implying that it was going to happen anyways. To say that it was a deceptive sales practice is probably being kind. This is the sort of thing that other firms will have a difficult time accepting when they are seeking partners they can trust.

 

There’s a lot that we’ll want to keep an eye on in the months to come with this acquisition. My personal opinion is that it could be a good thing for the industry, but has been poorly executed thus far, and there’s a long way to go before trust and confidence can be restored.

 

 

The post FMG Suite acquires Peter Montoya’s MarketingLibrary & MarketingPro, Platinum Advisor Strategies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. appeared first on 16 Ways from Sunday.

The World We Live In: How Yelp, YouTube and other platforms can land you in hot water

Marketing 101 will teach you that third-party validation is one of the strongest trust-builders available as you seek to grow your customer/client base. This is true for every industry. Small businesses will often rely on testimonials and endorsements from satisfied customers. In fact, small business turn to social media platforms every day to help them accomplish this.

The unfortunate reality is that the financial advice industry has to be extra careful when it comes to testimonials and endorsements, even if they appear to be on the up and up and out of your control.

Just this past week, the Securities and Exchange Commission censured and fined three investment advisers for violating the testimonial rule by promoting their business on Yelp, as well as for advertising testimonials on their website and YouTube channel.

InvestmentNews broke the story earlier this week. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into how this happened (and I’d like to share in the frustration that I’m sure many of you reading this will also have).

From what I’ve gathered, these advisors hired Dr. Len Schwartz, the owner of a marketing consultancy firm Create Your Fate. The story suggests that they hired him for one of his services called “Squeaky Clean Reputation.” The irony is unbelievably laughable if it weren’t such an unfortunate conclusion. (The end result of them hiring him to improve their reputation resulted in the exact opposite). I digress.

Full disclosure: I don’t know Dr. Len Schwartz. I’ve been solicited by him a few different times on LinkedIn, but I’ve never taken the bait. For all I know he could be an incredibly upstanding professional.

With that said, there is some danger in hiring outside consultants/professionals. The liability they have for the work they do for you is FAR LESS than the liability you have. According to the story, Leonard Schwartz and his firm would reach out to the clients of the advisors and solicit testimonials, specifically on Yelp (who knows if the clients were encouraged to provide testimonials elsewhere).

According to one of the advisor’s administrative proceeding notes, Dr. Schwartz was contracted to solicit and compile and post the testimonials on various websites and YouTube.  It goes without saying that this is in direct violation of the testimonial rules. If you’re so inclined, the PDF link below is guidance from the SEC regarding the testimonial rule and social media.

im-guidance-2014-04-1

Stop

Some Guidance and a short rant (I’m sure many of you have the same frustration)

The basic rule regarding testimonials applies to investment advisor representatives. Unfortunately, it does not apply to financial professionals who are only registered representatives and/or insurance agents. This is one of the many flaws with the regulatory nature of our industry. The playing field is not level. For those of you that operate in a fiduciary capacity as investment advisors, I’m sure there is nothing more frustrating than to see other advisors websites littered with testimonials. As a marketer, it irks the heck out of me since establishing third-party credibility/validation is a foundational marketing activity.

Here’s the quick actionable guidance I’ll give you:

  1. Re-assess who you have helping you with your marketing. Evaluate whether they truly know the industry you are in and whether they truly have your best interests at heart. As somebody who builds marketing systems and programs for advisors, compliance with the rules is my number one priority. And yes, it occasionally results in us not being able to do/say some of the things I’d like to be able to say.
  2. Rid yourself of testimonials. I hate it. You hate it. But it needs to be done.
  3. Build third-party credibility in other ways. EARN yourself media opportunities. This is far easier than you may think. There is a little bit of detail regarding this here: Turning Press Into Profits
  4. If your clients are truly willing to give you a testimonial, then they are worthy of cultivating into a referral source in other ways. I call the program “From Clients to Partners.” At the core of the program is a focus on client experience and creating professional contrast. Shoot me a note if you’d like to find out more.

That’s all for now.

Be smart out there! Clients first. No shortcuts.

All the best,

Mark Mersman

 

 

Independent Marketing Review: RecommendedExperts.biz

The independent marketing program reviews are designed to provide an overview of a financial marketing program that is available in the marketplace. Over the course of a year, I bet I receive 50+ inquiries from financial advisors asking me my thoughts about certain programs available. Your inbox is littered with these offers every single day. My goal is to help you evaluate them objectively, and share any real-life experiences that I may know of related to the particular program. If you have a program you’d like reviewed, shoot me a note at mark@16waysfromsunday.com.

Financial Advisor Marketing Program being reviewed: RecommendedExperts (www.recommendedexperts.biz).

recommendexpert-logo-white.png

A few weeks back, an advisor asked for my opinion on RecommendedExperts. Essentially, here’s what they offer to do:

  • Draft a press release on a specific topic related to you and your business.
  • Submit the press release to various media outlets
  • Provide you with a graphics pack that includes “As Seen On” with logos and images to add to your homepage and profile.
  • The cost is $397.

To be honest, this isn’t an awful deal. It’s reasonably priced. You’re getting some writing services and a press release submission for $400. But there were a few things that caused me to raise an eyebrow. Here are a few excerpts from the salesperson’s email to the advisor, along with my commentary after each:

“we have just signed a deal with some major authority media organisations, the release we’re compiling will be picked up on the major news networks…”

My reaction: just signed a deal? This is how press release distribution companies work. They distribute the release to dozens and dozens of media outlets and major news networks.

“As we discussed, typically a spot in an announcement like this would cost anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 and would take at least three to four months to come to fruition but because we’re in beta, we’re subsidizing the whole process… so in return for the guaranteed placement in the major news sites… and the ability to use As Seen On… logos for ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX on your website etc… we are covering everything, other than our basic costs of $397.”

My reaction: $10k – $15k? 3-4 months? Cough, cough… lie. Getting a press release written and distributed is about the easiest thing in the world to do. (We do it regularly, and can have one drafted and distributed in hours. Cost will vary by the service we use and the audience we want to send it to, but it’s nowhere close to $10,000.). I’ll share some links below.

“Lastly we also guarantee exclusivity to anyone we work with… in other words when we announce you in one of our releases you will be the only specialist in your area that we supply the As Seen On… logos to.” 

My reaction: Woohoo. So what? This means nothing. Anybody can send a release in your area on the same topic at any time.

Excerpts from the note I sent back to the advisor about the opportunity are included below. It may be helpful.

I wouldn’t do this with this company for three main reasons:

Reason # 1: They blatantly lied to you about the normal cost of this. The only thing they are doing is interviewing you and then charging you for the write up and the submission of a press release. This is NOT $10,000 – $15,000 (See # 2 below.). Personally, when somebody lies this blatantly to me, I wouldn’t do business with them out of principal (regardless of how cheap it might be).

Reason # 2: You can do this yourself. Simply draft a press release and send it. I’ve shared a few entities that send press releases and you can pay for them. It will be cheaper than what this place is charging. They are only sending it to Baltimore area media. For the price you are paying them, you could send it with a national distribution. Links to some of the places you can use to send press releases are below:

  1. https://newsroom.businesswire.com/faq-item/how-much-will-it-cost-distribute-my-press-release
  2. http://service.prweb.com/pricing/
  3. https://www.issuerdirect.com/order/seo-press-release-distribution/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAiKrUBRD6ARIsADS2OLmF48jwIAfAcNZMT-qOruOM7D8LPXbkld00T_iLKQSDgVM3PTmx0yAaAj5QEALw_wcB
  4. http://www.ereleases.com/hello/?a=3&gclid=Cj0KCQiAiKrUBRD6ARIsADS2OLm7v1ev3qSwNAgFBpXYhQGJ8qOxkgP7rpi2Eng6QjGsJrwp-p0mVQsaAhnfEALw_wcB

The big player in the distribution game is Cision, which owns PRWeb and PRNewswire (if you google around you’ll see this). If you don’t want to write it yourself, you can hire a writer (which is essentially what this company is pitching… they will write the story and then submit it, using one of the above mentioned providers, no doubt). Here’s an interesting blurb about that PR writer world. https://www.writeraccess.com/blog/how-to-set-your-press-release-rates-as-a-writer/ 

Reason number 3: Compliance is compliance. Sending a press release itself will NOT be a problem. Once it is written, you would need to have it reviewed like any other marketing. HOWEVER, the “As Seen On” thing will likely not fly because it’s not EARNED media. This is a fine line and we know that regulators are concerned about this matter. It would be equivalent to creating a 30 second TV commercial, paying to have it air one time on each of the big networks, and then saying “As Seen On…” Don’t take this as direct compliance advice, but that’s my assumption on how it would be viewed.

On a positive note: There is VALUE in doing press releases. Between improving your search engine optimization (SEO) on your website, to showing up in searches for topics that you want to show up for is all good. I just don’t like how this company pitched it. If you weren’t in a highly regulated industry, I’d probably say to go for the whole “As Seen On” thing. If you decided to hire them, you should only look at it for the benefits I mentioned from an SEO perspective, and NOT the “As Seen On” bit. My hesitance with this company is just in the fact that they blatantly misled you. That usually seals the door shut for me.

Independent Marketing Review: GuideVine

The independent marketing program reviews are designed to provide an overview and general review of a financial marketing program that is available in the marketplace. Over the course of a year, I bet I receive 50+ inquiries from financial advisors asking me my thoughts about certain programs available. Your inbox is littered with these offers every single day. My goal is to help you evaluate it objectively, and share any real-life experiences that I may know of related to the particular program. If you have a program you’d like reviewed, shoot me a note at mark@16waysfromsunday.com.

Financial Advisor Marketing Program being reviewed: GuideVine (www.guidevine.com).

 

guidevine

General Overview: An online-based directory of financial advisors. Think of it as a digital version of yellow pages for financial advisor searches only, or a matchmaker service for consumers and financial advisors.

Biggest competitors: WiserAdviser, BrightScope AdviceMatch, Paladin Research and Registry. The Financial Planning Association (FPA) and CFP Board have similar tools for their members.

How it works: Advisors pay to be featured on the site. At the time of review, here was how the pricing worked:

  1. Up-front setup fee.
    • Silver – $400 – profile creation, civil/criminal/regulatory due diligence, advisor provides videos.
    • Gold – $800 – profile, background check, 1-hour script coaching, 3 videos produced
    • Platinum – $1,200 – profile, background check, 1-hour script coaching, 5 videos produced
  2. Lead generation plans
    • Basic: $0/mo., $25/per-ask communication, $250 per connection communication (scheduling a meeting)
    • Premium – $1,800 annually – flat fee – no limits on lead amounts.

 

What I learned about the company: They have been around since 2013 and formally launched in 2014 in New York. They have opened it up nationally now, but there’s no doubt certain areas will be better than others. The positioning is all about the client finding the right fit. One of the cofounders used to be a VP at Morgan Stanley and focused on navigating marketing technology.

The stated goal is to enhance an advisor’s digital footprint. Evidently the screens they use for whether an advisor can participate are as follows:

$10 mill AUM
No termination events
No multiple disclosures
CCO reviews all advisors applying to the service
Must be an IAR
Must have 5 years of experience in financial services

They specifically stated to not expect a high volume of leads. Their goal is 3-5 quality engagements per year.

My gut reaction:

I love the concept, especially the fact that it is more than just a name directory. The videos are a nice touch. If I were you, I’d likely create videos on my own. That’s not to say that the quality of their video service is bad, but I think you could make them more impactful with a little more of an investment.

PROS: Pretty inexpensive and can be structured (if desired) to only pay for success. Will likely help SEO and digital discoverability and referrals to your site.

CONS: The low price will likely prohibit the service from ever being able to drive any sort of major traffic. The company would need to be bringing in a much higher cash flow in order to spend the advertising dollars needed to get a respectable amount of traffic.

Real-Life Advisor Stories:

I work with three advisor clients that have used this service.

Some feedback about the process:

ADVISOR 1:

“The initial questions and phone interview were great. They provided me a script, which I edited for flow and clarity to how I speak. The videographer was on time and easy to work with.

On the video, I was reading a script off a laptop set up near the camera. We were trying to get it to look like I was looking direct at the camera but couldn’t quite get it all the way there. In retrospect, I should have had the camera at an angle as if I was talking to an interviewer off-screen. I think that would have looked more natural.”

ADVISOR 2:

“The initial onboarding process seemed to be thorough and well thought out. The scripts they provided after the phone interviews, however, left much to be desired and we had to rework them more than we anticipated prior to filming.

The videographer was professional and the finished products were very nice. We incorporated them into our website as well.

Turnaround time on the videos was fast. We filmed on 7/07/17 and received our animated logo the very next day and the finished videos shortly after. We submitted the videos for compliance, everything was approved, and our GuideVine profile went live on  7/14/17.

It has been over 4 months, and we have not received a single phone call or request for a meeting.”

Some feedback about actual leads/activity:

ADVISOR 1:

“I have received one email status update with limited activity. I am not sure how well they market the service or if people just don’t click all the way through.

I will probably not renew the service as I have received 0 appointments so far.”

ADVISOR 3:

Their process has been very easy to use and they provide excellent service. The most important reason I use them is to help improve my name search on SEO. I don’t see it as a lead source as much as a support to the other marketing activities we do including social media, radio ads, radio show and our website. Each month I get 20-40 views of my page. Usually 7-10 viewers watch my video interviews. No direct leads/consults thus far.

 

My Final Grade: C+

My final thoughts: As I mentioned, I actually like the concept and think the general structure and approach they are taking is professional. Some of these types of lead services can feel a little bit like bait and switch. Unless they get a big infusion of cash, I have concerns about their ability to deliver any sort of true lead volume because the cost to advertise this sort of service is really significant.

Would I do it? Possibly. If you already have high-quality videos produced, you could do the Silver package, get the profile, and choose to just do the basic (pay for performance) service and the whole thing would be relatively inexpensive. It’s another credible website that would have your messaging out there and can only improve your search rankings. For this reason alone, it is worth considering. If you can look at it from the perspective of “any leads are just gravy,” I think it is worth considering. Just don’t count on it to be a major activity generator for your practice. The world of financial services digital marketing is filled with questionable characters. My initial gut reaction about this place and the folks I spoke with did not raise cause for concern. They seemed really genuine and were pretty open about expectations. I truly hope these guys can make it work, as there is much about their approach that I like.

All the best,

Mark