There is no denying it: with more than $2 trillion in assets invested in ETFs, there is a tremendous opportunity to be had as evidence points to even further growth in the industry. Less than 2 months into 2014, we've already seen a total of 32 new exchange-traded products issued as both dominant and emerging fund sponsors continue to bring product to market.
For the well-established players like iShares and Vanguard, launching new ETFs has been systematized, but for the industry upstarts, the process of getting going is anything but easy. As we've witnessed firsthand, the entrepreneurial fund sponsor must run a marathon of SEC filings and seed capital conversations just to get to the fund launch starting line. Then the real fun begins - the much anticipated launch day.
The ETF market, in particular, has become an increasingly competitive landscape with almost twice as many fund closures in 2013 as the prior year. Independent fund sponsors need to work especially hard to overcome their lack of established distribution networks, sales teams, and marketing muscle.
During the last six years, we've been fortunate to work with a variety of mutual fund managers, ETF sponsors, index providers, separate account managers-turned-sub-advisors, and others essential to launching a '40 Act fund. And while we've found that no magic pill exists to guarantee a successful launch, our experience has given us a clear picture of the best practices shared among our top clients in the fund industry.
Below is a checklist for new fund managers to follow for successful launches in this increasingly competitive market:
1. Take Stock of Your Ingredients: Hopefully you validated your investment strategy through market research before setting out, or maybe the demand bubbled up organically from prospective investors that liked your approach but wanted a different vehicle. Either way, you should already have a head start on explaining your strategy and a strong handle on the messages that appeal to prospective investors. These are the raw ingredients you'll need to build out your marketing plan.
2. Check(list) Yourself: A checklist might seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is that nascent fund managers and ETF sponsors often get bogged down in product planning and lose sight of the marketing effort. Give yourself at least 60 to 90 days of runway prior to launch, and another 60-90 days after you've gone live to create mile markers for your distribution plans. Without distribution, even the best investment strategy will fail as a product.
3. Hit your Message: Whether you're talking to prospects, developing marketing collateral, interviewing with a reporter, or developing your website, you need to maintain a cohesive message. This means thinking back to your market research, understanding what resonated with investors, and translating those into clear points.
4. Create a Fund Fact Sheet: Every professional prospect will want a concise one-page fact sheet that details your fund's pedigree information. But a fund fact sheet is more than just a requirement in the marketplace-it's the perfect opportunity to hit your key messages, both written and visualized in data, to make the investment case for your fund.
5. Build Your Digital Presence: With the rise of registered investment advisory firms venturing into the mutual fund and ETF space, the need for a separate website to showcase your fund is often an unforeseen expense, but one that a new issuer can ill afford to forgo. Again, you have control over this forum and should make sure your messages and investment case are incorporated prominently. Beyond that, you'll want to consider developing a content platform to share your investment thinking via blog posts or market commentary on your website while deploying LinkedIn and Twitter as channels for driving potential investors to your website.
6. Take the Stage with Energy and Focus: Harnessing the media is the best way to amplify your story, and learning how to best interact with reporters and broadcasters is the most powerful and cost-effective way to achieve maximum exposure. But writers, reporters, and producers have expectations that need to be met in order for a story to be published or for a guest to be invited back.
7. Don't Just Write a Launch Press Release, Write the First Chapter of Your Fund's Story: Besides serving as the formal announcement of your ETF or mutual fund launch, the release will be a reference point on your website for information seekers and will appear near or at the top of search engine results for the fund. When drafting the release, be sure to provide concise messages on fund strategy, target prospects, and market need. Remember, your sales team, the media and potential clients will all reference this at some point and the release will live on attached to your fund profile on sites like Yahoo Finance and Morningstar.
A strong launch may appear spontaneous from the outside, but it requires a great deal of thought and orchestration ahead of time. Get to work as early as possible on your marketing plan to increase your likelihood of success.
Luke Napoli is an Account Supervisor with Gregory FCA, where he specializes in working with mutual fund and ETF sponsors.