Seventeen years ago, the fellow running the $44 billion Fidelity Magellan fund, Jeffrey Vinik, found himself touting his favorite technology investments in what most pickers of stocks would consider an outlet they would never set foot in.
A shoe store. In Vinik's case, a Salvatore Ferragamo boutique at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
The point, says Dan Sondhelm, a partner and senior vice president of marketing communications firm SunStar Strategic in Alexandria, Va.: Portfolio managers have to play a role in marketing the funds they run. They can't just leave it to an in-house sales team or a wholesaler.
Now, they are "speaking to all different types of clients, all different kinds of prospects,'' he said, whether it's advisors, consultants, institutions, high net-worth individuals or wholesalers. They're even becoming fixtures, at conferences where mutual funds hawk their wares. "There are so many more portfolio managers working the booths than there used to be,'' Sondhelm said.
In some cases, there will be life-size cutouts of the portfolio manager, promoting times that he or she will appear at a booth. In any case, they're treated almost as the star of the show. The money manager, in effect, becomes a marketing tool. The objective: To gain more assets for the manager to run.
"Clients want to talk to the person pulling the trigger,'' said Sondhelm.
Yes, this takes time away from managing portfolios. But a portfolio manager "has to wear a lot of hats these days,'' he contends. And with competition for the investable dollar increasing, there's no escaping making practiced pitches to consultants or pension funds or other audiences.
To make the money manager an effective marketing manager, a fund company has to get serious about the practice. Here's what it requires, in Sondhelm's view:
Commitment from the top. The chief executive of the firm or similar senior executive with institutional heft has to spearhead the program. Make it clear that communicating with customers and prospects is part of a portfolio manager's responsibilities. And make it stick.
Connecting the effort to results. The link between marketing efforts and increases in assets under management can and should be tracked. The whole process is about results. Making it clear that the portfolio manager performs. If you have performance, but no one knows about it, you won't get more assets to manage.
Work with what you've got. Every portfolio manager can do this. Some are better than others. But as long as they're natural and honest, none will embarrass a fund or a firm. The trick is to work first with the willing participants and then closely with those who need coaching.
Make it competitive. You can do this with data, showing who's doing the best at attracting interest and money. You can also do this by stroking egos, putting out more messages about managers who are willing to be high-profile, attend conferences and do digital marketing. You can do it with bonuses, contests or incentives. "You can't force anyone to do these things,'' Sondhelm says. But you can encourage it.
Train them. If you're going to have them talk to a roomfull of people, then train them in talking to a room full of people. Bring in wholesalers and sales teams. Make them the audience for dry runs of the pitch. When you do it, get and keep the video camera running "With a camera, you see everything," he says. The manager can see how he or she looks, how he or she responds, whether wording works, whether questions are answered well. Body language also shows up.
Make it simple. Every message should be clear, not complicated. Think in terms of five bullet points to get every message across. Create five-bullet-point summaries for what the company is about, what the fund's methodology and objectives are, why it focuses on the assets it does, what the strategy is, and what the positioning is, in a universe full of funds of all stripes. When done, make sure all these sets of bullets fit on one sheet of paper.
Know your message. If you're moving from small cap stocks to large caps, know the reasons cold. If you believe financials are going to become darlings again, explain it clearly. Get this down ahead of time, so it's second nature. And everyone on the team knows it, not just the portfolio manager.
Control the delivery. You can't control the questions that will be asked, so don't try. But when you answer the question, keep talking. Take it where you want to go. Make sure one or more of your bullet points are weaved into the answer. As each question comes, focus the conversation on what is important to you.
Tell stories. Make what your portfolio manager does come alive. For instance, maybe the manager recently visited a semiconductor factory and saw on a wall a production schedule that indicated the new generation of field programmable gate arrays would be 90 days behind the publicly announced schedule for delivery. Have the portfolio manager use that personal experience to explain how and why that stock was sold, shorted or avoided.
Be straightforward. "You may not have all the answers. But there's nothing wrong with not answering,'' in some cases, says Sondhelm. Know that some audiences already know the answers to questions they're asking. So there's no point in faking it.
You probably will never set foot in a shoe store. But, your portfolio manager very likely will end up, at some point, doing a three-minute video that will appear on your fund firm's web site. And probably YouTube as well.
So, whether in person or online, you have to have your portfolio manager know how to tell your story properly, in person or in digits, in order to make assets under management grow.
The manager has to "leave the audience understanding what you want to say, even if they don't ask the right questions,'' in Sondhelm's book.