An in-house TV studio has gone from being a luxury to an absolute necessity at many investment firms.

At least three fund management firms, all coincidentally bank-sponsored groups, have over the last few months charted a well-choreographed, media-exposure course by building in-house TV studios. All are equipped with state-of-the-art camera, lighting and sound equipment. And all hope to win valuable TV time on popular financial news channels including CNBC, CNNfn, and Bloomberg.

New to the TV studio scene are the Evergreen Funds, managed by Evergreen Investments the asset management unit of Wachovia Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.; the Armada Funds, the investment management unit of National City Corp. of Cleveland; and One Funds, the proprietary fund group managed by Banc One Investment Management of Chicago.

Such in-house capabilities make it effortless for fund managers, analysts or top executives to quickly pop in front of a camera to wax poetic about a news event, such as an earnings report; their area of expertise; a stock or a sector. If they don't have a formal in-house television studio, the camera is often affixed to an office wall, inside a firm's bustling trading room, or trained on a landmark window view.

Must-See TV

"In the not-too-distant future, TV studios will be requisites for asset management firms, and the number who dont participate will be small," said Chad Peterson, senior vice president of media relations for Evergreen Funds which, in October, completed its internal TV studio.

Getting on the air is "the single, most cost-effective way to increase market recognition of the firm, investment professionals and products," Peterson said.

The new Evergreen studio was established within the confines of a small mahogany paneled office on the 19th floor of the firm's Boston office building, with a camera on one side and a chair in the middle of the room. The Evergreen Funds' logo is mounted on the wall behind the chair. A technical team located in Charlotte, N.C., handles the video and audio feeds.

Unlike other firms that have chosen to prop a camera up in their bustling trading room, Evergreen decided to go with a quieter, gentler setting to exemplify how serious the firm is about managing money. "It may be more visually interesting to be in front to a trading desk, but what image do you want to portray to the public?" Peterson asked.

The in-house studio is not only more economical than print advertisements in some high-profile national publications, but is also time efficient, Peterson added. Portfolio managers can usually walk to the studio, do a four to five minute broadcast segment, then meander back to their office, all in under 20 minutes, he said.

After talking about it for more than a year, in August, Bank One also built a TV studio of sorts in its trading room, said Julie Crothers, PR director for the OneGroup Funds. The firm is currently enlarging its studio and will reposition the camera. New electronic boards behind interviewees will be able to beam the Bank One logo at the click of a button.

Bank One took its time carefully considering what equipment and technology would be needed and how to operate the studio, and decided to outsource, she said.

But the real push to launch its in-house TV studio came when OneGroup Funds' president Mark Beeson was asked by several wholesalers why the firm didn't already have a TV capability.

Bank One is hoping to leverage its new studio to help it reach both current retail and institutional clients, the bank's own sales force, third-party broker/dealer distributors as well as outside consultants, Crothers said. In September, Crothers sent e-mails to all of the stations announcing the new capability and received lots of requests for last-minute interviews, but few panned out due to schedule conflicts. Now the firm has hired SunStar, the Alexandria, Va.-based PR and media relations firm to help it get bookings.

The desire for broadcast bookings drove the Armada Funds to set up a TV camera and equipment in its Cleveland trading room back in March. The makeshift Armada studio, dubbed "Studio 22" because it resides on the 22nd floor, has allowed the fund group's investment staff to do more than 50 TV interviews so far this year, said Christine Dehil, marketing manager for Armada Funds. Having an in-house studio is a huge convenience for managers and allows the firm to promote its staff both internally to employees who distribute the funds, as well as to the outside, influential brokerage firms through which Armada began selling its funds earlier this year, Dehil said.

5:20 a.m. Call

"Now that they [TV producers] know we have a studio here, they're asking us to do more interviews," she added. The effort's been wholeheartedly embraced by the investment staff, who must go through formal media training and often come in as early as 5:20 a.m.. to do a segment, Dehil noted.

While up-front costs to create an in-house TV studio can be sizable, the payback can be even more significant, said Robyn Tice managing director, public relations at State Street Research in Boston. In October of 2000, State Street installed a video camera in its trading floor and put the word out that its experts were available.

All told, the camera, lighting and sound equipment cost the firm an initial $36,000. The company also pays an annual service fee of $8,400 to VideoLink of Boston, which remotely handles all of the broadcast feeds and maintains the equipment.

Two years later, the firm has established relationships with all of the major networks, and the firm's investment staff now do 10 to 12 interviews a month. "It does a lot for building the company's brand and getting our name out," Tice said. For the firm, which doesn't do any print advertising, employees' TV appearances have replaced the need for advertising.

But there is a price to be paid, namely, more work. Tice tracks who does what interview and when so as not to tax the same individuals. And she's careful not to let egos run amok. "We don't want to build stars here by using the media. We also don't want to take someone and milk them for all they are worth," Tice said.

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