CMO as a catalyst for RIA growth

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When Buckingham Asset Management recently installed David Levin to the newly created position of chief marketing officer (CMO), they became part of an emerging industry trend with RIAs seeking to institutionalize their marketing efforts in search of a realized payback.

More and more, CMOs are becoming part of that transformation — not just to add AUM but also to underpin the equity base of the firm, enhancing their attractiveness for potential suitors. Ironically, the industry as a whole has always been slow to embrace marketing — with only 30 percent of RIAs reporting that they have a written marketing plan, according to a 2011 Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services benchmarking survey.

That same survey found that while marketing adherence is low, 70 percent of respondents believe that marketing plans are important to corporate growth. And the truth is, a codified, systematic approach to marketing is often the most scrutinized asset in an acquisition, a differentiator, and value creator.

With that in mind, we’re often asked by clients for help in understanding the roles, skills, and benefits of hiring a CMO. What are the costs? What are the rewards? What are the best practices for recruiting, installing, evaluating, and leveraging a quality CMO? In a nutshell:

The intrinsics. The best CMOs stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their managing partners, the chief investment officer, and compliance directors. They take a seat at the top management table and direct thinking, shape persona, sculpt reputations, and prove value.

Great CMOs are transformational in that they are progressive in vision and conservative in details and execution. They don’t just have the ear, they also take the organization by the ear to move it forward, against the headwinds of “it’s just the way we do things.” They subtly subvert the status quo, socializing, mobilizing, codifying, and demonstrating that marketing can be institutionalized and invoked toward a common, profitable end.

The skill set. It’s generalized and focused. Great CMOs have the ability to guide and command that which they do not do themselves—such as design and web development—while burrowing in on the very core of marketing, the messaging, the nuance of creative, the gestalt of the firm as a whole.

They all share a love of crisp, efficient execution. They communicate at appropriate levels regardless of audience. Most important, top CMOs understand the contemporary notions of integrated marketing, where blogging supports sales and media relations fuels a LinkedIn campaign.

They know that in today’s world, marketing can be tracked, monitored, and linked precisely to business development, and that performance counts just as much if not more than the gooey underside of image and reputation.

The pay. Great CMOs don’t tick boxes or flaunt to-dos. It’s not the deliverable that drives their being, it’s the result. They are turned on by an ability to grow, expand, increase, aggregate, and improve. That’s not six figures. But it could be half a million, if the result is a 20 percent AUM increase, if the end game is a value pop at the end of an acquisition, if their performance aligns with the singular aim of building exponential value, instead of simply preserving the status quo.

Where do I find them? Truth is, the great CMOs are already making things happen for someone else. Look around. Which firms are effectively communicating their value proposition in the market and growing their assets? Who has the website and blog that communicate effectively and engage their target audience?

Which firms maintain a high market presence with regular media appearances and speaking engagements? The CMOs behind these successful firms are where you want to direct your marketing initiative.

Ask yourself this: Where do you stand in building your RIA? Are you fat and happy, or consumed by discontent, aching to grow or sell or realize real value in return for the sacrifice? If so, CMOs are proving to be that critical lynchpin in the value chain of transforming practices to corporate assets, ones with true potential to be reaped and rewarded for a lifetime of work.