Younger and More Diverse, RIA Marketing Execs Are Turning to Peers

“It is not your typical pale, male, and stale.”

(Illustration by RIA Intel)

(Illustration by RIA Intel)

Even the best executives can learn from their peers and chief marketing officers at RIAs are increasingly turning to each other — even if they’re competitors. Trying to cope with business upheaval from the Covid-19 pandemic, and keep up with today’s fast-changing marketing tactics, they’re looking to other CMOs to explore new ideas and shape strategy.

From informal LinkedIn gatherings to members-only clubs organized by professional outfits, a growing number of marketing pros are participating in study groups with like-minded execs in financial services and industries, seeking inspiration and motivation.

“It is a chance for community building, sharing best practices, as well as learning about leading industry topics,” explained Karen Lee, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Mercer Advisors.

Some groups charge participants a fee. For example, the CMO Council’s Premium membership runs $499 per year. Others are free.

Lee belongs to a study group organized by Dimensional Fund Advisors with about 30 other marketing execs that is free to participate in. Members include seasoned veterans and newcomers, although groups are often comprised of those from companies similar in size.

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In Lee’s group, a significant number of the participants are female and minority professionals. “It is not your typical pale, male and stale,” she said. “It is a little more reflective of today’s society. We have diversity of thinking.”

As RIAs pivot to digital platforms for client communications and events, CMOs have become informational gatekeepers, video production experts, and online event planners. There’s never been a better time to crowdsource ideas.

Abacus Wealth Partners’ CMO Mary Beth Storjohann, who participates in a Dimensional group, said she has recently gleaned ideas for podcasts, virtual events, and a digital women’s circle.

Lee’s group recently explored how voice technology and artificial intelligence can reshape their work. “Using Alexa to do advertising, that is far-out for RIA industry but nice to start thinking about emerging tech and how marketers can use them for our benefit,” she said.

Within Lee’s group, a small subset of the participants connects monthly to exchange ideas and practical advice, such as sourcing vendors like web designers, SEO agencies or other digital services. When Lee wanted to build a digital presentation library, she turned to her study group for ideas. In turn, she recommended a market researcher to a colleague.

Covid-19 has reshaped how study groups interact. Dimensional, for instance, used to host two in-person events per year, giving participants a chance to learn from organized sessions while providing for informal schmoozing in the halls and hotel bar. (Participants paid for their own travel.) In their place today are Zoom meetups and virtual conferences.

Without active participation, groups can fall by the wayside. Jud Mackrill, CMO of the Carson Group, is part of a study group but said lately members have been too busy for much exchanging. “It is not consistent enough to make each other better,” he noted.

CMOs are mixed on whether study groups need to match them with similarly-sized organizations – and even come from financial services. The CMO Club, for instance, gathers top marketing execs from technology, food and beverage, insurance, and more.

Abacus’ Storjohann participates in a second group with small business owners. It provides insights on what’s working in sales, marketing, and client communications in other industries.

“I like hearing what’s working from an outside perspective,” she said. It is also good for business. “These contacts could create potential clients or referral services,” she added.

“I would encourage people to join groups for career growth and for creativity, whether inside or outside industry,” she added.

Hightower Advisors’ CMO Abby Salameh participates in Chief, a New York-based study group for female execs across industries, and informal LinkedIn groups with fellow marketers. She said it helps to hear from marketers at both smaller and larger organizations. Hightower is a bit of a “Goldilocks,” she explained: Big enough to have resources to enact sophisticated marketing strategies, yet small enough to be nimble and test out ideas.

“Sometimes hearing what someone smaller is doing and has been successful, we might say we’re complicating things, or with big firms like TD Ameritrade or Schwab, you can glean some ideas you can scale,” she said.

Orion Advisor Solutions’ CMO Kelly Waltrich offered a similar view. “It is helpful to hear from leaders grappling with the same regulatory issues or market fluctuations,” she said. “But some of my most innovative ideas come from firms that are nothing like us.”

For instance, Waltrich heard from another marketing exec outside finance that created rapid-response team to handle Covid-related marketing challenges. Orion is now dedicating several staffers to create a similar “Fast track” team to tackle urgent, short-term projects.

Still, others prefer to work with execs on a similar trajectory. At BOS (Bingham Osborn & Scarborough), Partner/Principal David Newson said he prefers thought exchange with like-minded RIAs.

“If someone is just trying to figure out ‘What is my brand?’ at a very early stage, that’s hard for me to relate to,” he said. “My mind is going to where does the future look like for CMOs at an organization like mine?”

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