Words most associated with Janus Capital Group during the last three years are generally unflattering and are usually along the lines of "downtrodden," "hurting" or "struggling." It's also hard to forget the massive losses suffered by thousands of investors as the burst of the tech bubble devastated a number of the firm's funds.
However, Denver-based Janus is trying to change that image as it reenters the world of television advertising with a campaign set to air on cable stations during the fourth quarter of this year. The firm has not run ads on the tube in almost a year. The new initiative comes at a time when similar firms are slightly increasing spending on advertising, but overall, spending by this category is well below last year's levels, according to New York-based Competitrack, an advertising tracking company for the financial services industry.
Janus recently said that it is creating an "evolved brand identity" for the firm and its subsidiaries, which is another way of saying it is trying to change the public's perception of its offerings. It hopes the new campaign will promote the brand. The campaign will consist of cable television spots running on financial news networks, supported with a complementary print campaign. Each of the spots will focus on one of the firm's investment disciplines, which include growth, core, international, value and risk-managed equity funds. The print ads will run in both intermediary and personal finance publications, Janus said.
Shelley Peterson, a spokeswoman for Janus, said the firm expects the ads to initially run for at least six months and that their success will be reevaluated later on. She could not provide details about the campaign's budget, frequency of the spots or their specific messages, but did say the ads will be able to "communicate broadly to all investors and reach out to all prospective and current shareholders."
Peterson also indicated that the firm is trying to distance itself from the down-and-out image it has been stuck with in the wake of the tech-tumble. "Our ads are not trying to reach out and target one specific group," she said. "All of our ads are designed to help people understand what Janus does. We want to let people know that we offer best-of-breed, not just in growth, but in specialty income and mathematical investing."
The firm built its reputation on the back of the success of its growth stock offerings. In the late 1990s, Janus ran several ads touting the knowledge of its stock pickers and their intimate understanding of the companies they held in the funds. The firm's message was: We dig deeper and look much further beyond a company's balance sheet to get to know the real story of the stock. Its implications were loud and clear: Janus' stock pickers knew their holdings inside and out. The campaign even used a bit of lighthearted exaggeration to make its point, often showing its stock pickers out in the field checking up on the progress of an individual company's projects, such as a telecom firm's laying of cable.
These messages came back to haunt Janus as it became apparent the firm did not know its holdings as well as it claimed to. The fund giant, which grew assets at an amazing pace during the bull run, was pummeled when the bottom fell out of the market and several of the firm's funds, heavily weighted in tech, paid the price. The firm went into a downward spiral, as assets were more than cut in half between the end of 1999 and November of last year. Adding to the drama at the firm, Janus was in a protracted and at times nasty power struggle with its then-parent Stilwell Financial, which it eventually consumed. The move brought a greater range of product choices all under one roof and marked a significant change for the firm.
Throughout this tumultuous time, Janus had to deal with several prominent fund managers and company execs exiting the firm, most recently Helen Young Hayes, Janus' head of investments and co-manager of the Janus Worldwide Fund and Janus Overseas Fund. In February, the firm announced the departure of Warren Lammert, the longtime manager of the Janus Mercury Fund. Tom Bailey, then chief executive, president and founder of Janus, said he would step down last summer. Since these high-profile departures, the firm has been hiring lesser-known managers and in doing so, has also been altering its image.
Just late last month, Janus filled a new position of national sales director with Eric Gerth, who comes from Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Gerth is charged with expanding distribution through broker/dealers, institutional investors and advisers.
With all the changes in place, it seems a logical time for the firm to start trying to get its message out. "We're very optimistic about the future," Peterson said. "We're seeing signs of improvement." The firm recently released its figures for the second quarter, which declined significantly from a year ago, but narrowly beat analysts' estimates. Janus' second-quarter earnings were $47.5 million, a 36% decline from the second quarter of 2002. Nonetheless, Janus also reported that assets under management rose approximately 13% in the last three months.
In June, advertising by investment firms was $57.4 million, up slightly from the $49 million in May, but 37% down from the $90.7 million from the year earlier period. Melanie Szlucha, vice president of financial services advertising at Competitrack, said that spending increased in June, when compared to May and April, but that it is below levels earlier in the year. Also, year-to-date through June, spending on advertising reached $370.4 million, a 28% decrease from the $518.3 million during the corresponding period in 2002.
"There's not a lot of advertising going on in this category, so it's a good time for them to increase their spots," Szlucha said.
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