With investors still worried about the state of the economy and fairness of markets, fund companies have redirected much of their public relations efforts at stressing the benefits of long-term investing, showcasing the expert opinions of their investment managers and stripping the varnish off spin.
"There is more interest and requests for our investment managers as thought leaders," said Andrew Schlossberg, chief marketing officer of Invesco and head of Invesco PowerShares. Topics of particular interest include international opportunities, fixed-income products and dividends, he said.
Fund companies also are slowing moving away from focusing on guarantees and capital preservation-such as absolute-return, stable-value and fixed income funds-to more opportunistic positioning of their portfolios, capital appreciation and income, added Joseph Anthony, SVP at Gregory FCA Communications.
Proof of the growing thirst for investment expertise came recently when Invesco opened its Sept. 28 and Sept. 29 client investment symposium in New York to the media. Both CNBC and Fox Business broadcast its investment professionals live. Appearing at the meeting were more than 100 Invesco analysts, 50 fund managers, the firm's three domestic equity chief investment officers, who run $265 billion in assets under management, and the chief investment officer of Invesco's wealth management business.
Likewise, J.P. Morgan Funds earlier this month began showcasing audio and video recordings of its investment professionals' insights in a new section on its website it is promoting as J.P. Morgan On Demand.
Available to both financial advisers and individual investors, the satellite section of the firm's homepage houses a wide range of insights. One notable recent posting is of J.P. Morgan Chief Market Strategist David Kelly on why he believes deflation is a more likely scenario than inflation. Another features J.P. Morgan Global Macro Group Portfolio Manager Mark Nodelman on why investors should consider commodities.
The videos and audiotapes are organized by themes and products and can be readily shared with colleagues and clients.
Dan Sondhelm, a partner and vice president with SunStar Strategic, a financial services public relations boutique agency, confirms that leading asset management firms are stressing a measured approach and loading more content onto their websites.
"They are stressing experience, thinking long term and also telling their story of the disciplined and repeatable investment process," Sondhelm said.
Fund companies are definitely more diligent about keeping their websites up-to-date with timely commentaries and news coverage, Sondhelm said.
"If your site doesn't allow you to add timely information, upgrade it," he said. "Advisers and investors won't come back it there is nothing new. To keep your story top-of-mind, consistently offer useful, meaningful information to position your firm as an expert on certain topics."
Even when the market is sinking, volatility is rising and regulators are questioning your strategies, it pays to remain front and center on the web, in ads and through active public relations, recommends Jennifer Connelly, chief executive officer of JCPR, a PR agency that also specializes solely in financial services.
This has definitely worked for JCPR's client Direxion Funds. When the Securities and Exchange Commission began warning investors against investing in its leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds longer than one day, Direxion posted educational and warning materials about its 39 leveraged and inverse ETFs prominently on its website, and the directness worked.
In the past two years, its leveraged ETFs business expanded from $4 billion to $7 billion. Since its alternative strategy mutual funds launched a year ago, they have pulled in $400 million.
At a time when returns are meager and the stock market is so erratic, "We positioned Direxion as a premier provider of alternative strategies and tactical investment tools for sophisticated investors," Connelly said. "When people call PR people spin doctors, to me, it's always an enormous compliment. Webster's defines spin as 'a fresh approach.' Every single story has two, four or six sides to it. The answer lies with how facts are presented and interpreted, which ones are emphasized and which ones are not. Our advice is to stay true to your message, be available and do not hide," Connelly said.
Asset managers are also extending their public relations, advertising and marketing efforts beyond traditional outlets to treat web search engines as an outlet unto itself, Connelly said.
"Google has, in fact, become the largest publication," which makes search engine optimization (SEO) nearly as important as other marketing and advertising efforts, she said. "We optimize all of our clients' press releases and other marketing pieces to make sure that the words are consistent with the words they want to promote," Connelly said.
Because of SEO, it has become important to post whitepapers and bylined articles online. "Gone are the days of print only," she said.
An example of one of the more creative-and unvarnished-Internet PR approaches that asset management companies are now taking is AXA Equitable's "Retirement Reality" video series.
In that, retired people talk candidly about what they have done right, or wrong, with their investments. One crusty retiree, Rich, admits life isn't as comfortable as he would like and that he never sought the help of a planner. "In the beginning, retirement was nice, yeah," he says, "but then I blew it-I have four boys. Between the houses, and the weddings and the divorces and the whole nine yards-they always come back home to roost." Asked about long-term care, Rich answers, "I come from a family of nine. I am sure there will be someone there to help us out."
Because the videos talk about retirement as an issue and a way of life rather than selling an investment product, AXA's wholesalers and advisers have found the short films to be a great way to start a conversation with clients, said Discretion Winter, AXA director of external affairs.
"Fear of outliving one's savings is the common theme in these frank discussions. These are unscripted individuals talking about the quality of their lives in retirement today as a result of how they prepared-with or without professional help," added Chris Winans, senior vice president of external affairs at AXA Equitable. "Our goal in sharing these stories is to move the dialogue from fear to action, to help people start their own conversations and realize they don't have to go it alone."