The asset management industry has stepped up marketing efforts aimed at advisors, hoping to boost both sales and credibility.

"Having a good reputation with advisors can go a long way because it tends to spread," says Steve Savage, managing partner at Litman Gregory just outside San Francisco. "The advisor community is very close-knit, where there is a lot of referencing and comparison of notes."

For the last nine years, Phoenix Marketing International has released a semi-annual study to determine advisor ratings of the top 10 fund providers based on overall impressions and the likelihood that they may recommend their products to clients. The research company recently released findings from its latest financial advisor study, with Vanguard topping rankings among RIAs and American Funds in the No. 1 spot among independent broker-dealers. (BlackRock scored highest among advisors at full-service national brokerage firms.)

ADVISOR-TARGETED ADS

Carl Uttaro, senior research analyst and product manager at Phoenix, says while fund companies still target consumers in television ads, campaigns directed at advisors have a more specific message. Advisors are seen as effective messengers because of the trust they have built with clients, Uttaro says.

"Advertising toward advisors can be a lot more in-depth because they are such experts," says Uttaro. "An advisor's endorsement is always going to be powerful."

Uttaro pointed to BlackRock and Franklin Templeton as two fund managers that have performed well in recent years after introducing certain products via advisor-targeted advertisements. Both companies rank in the top 10 fund brands for all advisor channels surveyed in the Phoenix study, which polls advisors on a number of fund provider attributes -- such as brand consistency, product pricing and client trust -- as well as on advisors' likelihood to recommend the funds to clients in the next six months.

Other funds have been marketing directly to advisors as well. Nationwide Funds' "Let's Face it Together" campaign targets advisors with digital and print ads along with social media channels; Direxion has focused more heavily in the last five years on communicating with advisors about the firm's lineup of alternative strategy mutual funds.

"Our marketing to advisors is focused primarily on education," says Andy O'Rourke, managing director and chief marking officer at Direxion, and a veteran of distribution marketing for MassMutual Financial Group's Retirement Services division. "We're building a brand with our marketing efforts but in terms of our individual advisors, they are our brand."

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