It took the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s a while to showcase this “epic fail,” but there’s an important lesson from this story for all financial advisors to learn.
The story/sales pitch goes a little something like this:
“Hey Mr./Ms Advisor, you need to build credibility and trustworthiness. I have an opportunity for you to speak at Harvard or West Point. You’ll be a featured speaker on an important topic to your business! You’ll gain instant celebrity status and prospective clients will swoon over the fact that you were invited to speak at such a prestigious facility.”
Sounds intriguing, right? That’s the short version of “marketing guru” Clint Arthur’s pitch to advisors, insurance agents, and anybody else considered to be an entrepreneur. There’s just one problem. It doesn’t pass the sniff test. At least, it shouldn’t pass YOUR sniff test, and it certainly won’t pass the sniff test of any regulator.
In full disclosure, I’ve never met Clint Arthur nor have I done business with his company Celebrity Launchpad or Guaranteed Celebrity. He could be a stand up guy. However, when this idea was shared with me by a few advisors with whom I work, something about it didn’t sit right with me. As they say, the devil is in the details. In fact, the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s did their best to share some of those details in their stories published earlier this year (Meet the Guy Guy Who Gets Financial Advisers Appearances at Harvard and West Point & Advisors Using Harvard, West Point Speeches as Marketing: Unethical?)
Here’s what I understand about the “opportunity”- you pay a pretty penny for the chance to speak. You deliver a 5-7 minute speech (give or take.) The audience is full of the other business owners who paid to be there. The room at the venue was rented by Clint Arthur and gang. There is zero affiliation with the university/facility, although the marketing and branding certainly positions that to be the case (after all, they want you to be able to say that you were invited to speak at Harvard).
So, what’s the problem? After all, it is technically true that you were invited to speak at Harvard (albeit you weren’t invited by Harvard, and thousands of others were also invited). And you did actually speak on a financial topic at Harvard, right? So telling people that you were invited to speak at Harvard and actually spoke there shouldn’t be a problem, right?
The line is pretty gray here. There are really two parts to this equation – the ethical part and the regulatory compliance part. The Barron’s article focused more on the ethical issue that exists. In my opinion, the real issue becomes one of a compliance issue. Regardless of how you are registered or what licensure you maintain, all regulators have some rules regarding misleading consumers. In my opinion, this is why this marketing/PR activity doesn’t pass the sniff test. The average consumer WILL perceive this to be something different than what it truly is – there’s absolutely no denying that.
In the end, there are far more legitimate ways to build credibility and earn trust with the general public. There’s a big difference between “earned” media and “paid for” media. Some “paid for” media is legitimate, but it requires you to be more careful when scrutinizing and evaluating the opportunity.