Fund companies are eagerly pursuing opportunities to raise their profiles by having their fund managers interviewed on television.
In recent weeks, two fund groups, Federated Investors of Pittsburgh, Pa. and John Hancock Funds of Boston, have set up simple TV studios within their trading rooms. Their goal is to be able to readily produce an investment expert or economist to comment when financial news programs request it.
For Federated, being based outside of New York has translated into lost media opportunities. While Federated's international investment group, based in New York, often made itself available for commentary, the majority of the fund group's managers and analysts, based in Pittsburgh, have been virtually untapped, said J.T. Tuskan, director of corporate communications at Federated.
On the occasions when Federated did make arrangements to provide a portfolio manager or analyst for an on-air interview, it meant flying the manager to New York to appear in the station's studio. That meant a full day was lost for the Federated manager who made the roundtrip, said Tuskan.
As an alternative, Federated sometimes sought out local Pittsburgh TV studios it could use or booked the Pittsburgh convention center for a TV interview. But scheduling was often complex, Tuskan said.
"Now you can walk down the hall and do it in 30 minutes," he said. Fixed-income managers can simply walk to the other end of Federated's 26th floor offices to get to the new studio. Equity managers, located on the 25th floor of the building, can go up one flight.
Before creating its in-house TV studio, Federated consulted with producers at Bloomberg, CNNfn, CNBC and others to find out what the financial news programs required and if they would be interested in satellite feeds from managers based in Pittsburgh.
"We didn't do this as a shot in the dark," said Tuskan.
The news channels responded enthusiastically, said Tuskan. They were particularly interested because it meant they could get more sources from outside New York, he said.
While Federated considered providing a backdrop of the Pittsburgh skyline for its studio, financial news program producers dissuaded them, said Tuskan. They suggested placing the studio on the trading floor.
Federated's TV studio was set up about seven weeks ago within the firm's trading area. Satellite systems, cameras and sound equipment were installed. Tuskan declined to disclose the cost of the initiative.
To capitalize on the promotional opportunity, Federated posted a conspicuous wall banner that bears the company's name in the area of the trading floor that is set aside for filming.
Federated hired Teleport Communications of Pittsburgh to handle the mechanics such as manning the cameras and supplying the satellite feed. In its first six weeks of operation, Tuskan estimates Federated did between 16 and 20 on-air interviews, more than the total of interviews Federated did in 1997 and 1998 combined.
"It [a TV studio] enhances our reputation as a world class investment manager," said Tuskan. "This gave us the chance to bring Pittsburgh to Wall Street and the world and bring our investment abilities to light."
The impetus for creating an in-house TV studio was similar for John Hancock Funds which in early September first used its own studio, also set up within the firm's trading area.
While Hancock had already had plenty of portfolio managers and analysts appear in TV interviews, these appearances usually required sending managers to studios across town, according to Bill Benintende, vice president of corporate communications for the Hancock funds.
So. Hancock mounted an unobtrusive camera on a column in its trading room and hired VideoLink of Watertown, Mass. to handle the maintenance of the camera, microphone and video feeds.
"It's a big convenience for the fund managers," Benintende said. "It is less of a time commitment and is the difference between walking down the hall versus going across town."
But an on-site studio also provides a marketing advantage for Hancock.
"It helps increase the visibility of our investment expertise," he said. "Business news on TV is becoming increasingly popular and prevalent. The faster you can react, the better."
Of course, simply building a TV studio does not make manager interviewees confident and polished speakers. So, fund companies have begun to hire companies to train their managers to become impressive interview subjects.
"There's an element of show business to it," said Arthur Zenker, founder of Arthur Zenker Associates, a media training company in Boston that specializes in training mutual fund managers to appear in the media.
While investment managers undoubtedly know their area of expertise, firms may find they need to coach managers with their on-air presentation.
"It must be a good mix of substance and delivery," said Bill Blase, president of W.T. Blase and Associates, a New York public relations firm. Blase, earlier this month, spun off his "StreetSpeak" media training business as a separate unit. The unit specializes in training financial services employees to appear in the media.
"If you're looking to build brand awareness, it [a television interview] is absolutely critical and much more credible than a print ad," Blase said.
Morrison/Carlisle Strategic Financial Relations in Alexandria, Va. also offers day-long media training sessions to fund managers. As part of its media training, the firm films mock portfolio manager interviews and then critiques the interviews, said Dan Sondhelm, vice president of Morrison/Carlisle. Then the firm recommends specific strategies such as how to get around a thorny question like, "Why is the fund doing so poorly?" or how a manager can take advantage of a question to convey a message of his choosing.