Great ad copy from Wilmington Trust

“Learn about a great estate planning technique.”

Would the preceding line attract your attention to an advertisement? Well, maybe if you’re a financial professional. But odds are most regular folks wouldn’t exclaim, “Yes! I must read this.”

I like the Wilmington Trust ad shown with this blog post because it effectively says, “Learn about a great estate planning technique.”

By opening with “You didn’t get where you are today by missing out on exception opportunities,” Wilmington Trust appeals to prospective clients’ images of themselves. In other words, it appeals to their egos.

Once the firm has hooked its readers, they’ll look at the small print. They may even call Kemp Stickney or type in to check out additional resources.

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For RIAs: Is this good marketing? Better practice for fiduciaries?

Registered investment advisors, how much should you disclose when you use articles written by others? Is it okay to slap your name on articles largely written by others? What if those articles may also appear under the names of other advisors?

Below is a question posed by one of my readers.

Several DFA staff members write commentaries which are kept in a “library” for the approved advisors to use. Approved advisors can search for a commentary that they feel is timely (not usual to see commentaries which were written by DFA in 2008-2010 used in the present by an RIA).

A simple search of an DFA used commentary by an RIA will bring up multiple “DFA-approved RIAs.” However, in the individual RIA commentaries a few will use a disclaimer that states the subject matter was “Adapted From Joe Smith of Dimensional Fund Advisors” while many others will treat the commentary as their own work.

RIAs are quick to market their role as a fiduciary to their clients but I feel that acting with integrity is just as critical. I believe that citing sources correctly is fundamental to acting with integrity when communicating with clients and the public.

Do you think that clients would appreciate such disclosure and conversely disapprove of portraying another firms thoughts and research as originally from an RIA?

This isn’t–or shouldn’t be–an issue for registered representatives because FINRA advises them to disclose the role of other writers, as I discussed in “Registered reps, it’s time to ‘fess up.

Unlock your presentation with the power of intention

If you sometimes struggle with creating presentations, you can overcome obstacles with the power of intention exercise I learned from my friend Elizabeth Clearwater of Santa Fe, N.M.

Elizabeth Clearwater

One time, when I felt overwhelmed by starting to design a customized writing workshop for investment analysts, Elizabeth suggested I work through the process that I describe below.

1. Write down your intentions for your audience.

In other words, what do you want your audience to take away from your presentation?

For example, I wanted them to

  • Feel that I appreciate and respect their time constraints, the need to use jargon to communicate with fellow professionals, their market expertise, and lack of writing training.
  • Receive useful before-and-after examples to show what they could do better

2. Write down your intentions for yourself.

Here’s part of what I wanted:

  • To feel that my knowledge is helpful and respected
  • To draw out from the students the reasons why it’s important to write more clearly and concisely

After I wrote this out, it was easy for me to create an outline for my presentation. If you try this, I hope you also find it helpful.

If you’re in Santa Fe, N.M., you can see the power of intention in action because my friend Elizabeth uses this process to prepare for her Ceremonial Song Circles.

Edited October 2, 2011

Whiteboard video: If you want to add some visual interest

A video that only shows you speaking about a financial topic can get boring. This is why I suggest you add some visual elements.

One way to boost your visual appeal to use a whiteboard, as Paddy Hirsch does. I discovered his video through a tweet by Cathy Curtis of Curtis Financial. Hirsch is senior editor for the Marketplace radio show.

Here’s the link: Fiscal and Monetary Policy.

If you try a whiteboard video, remember to

  1. Use a microphone that will record you even when you’re facing away from the camera
  2. Face the camera as often as possible
  3. Add diagrams or drawings to enliven your whiteboard notes–Love that drawing of Ben Bernanke!

If you’ve ever tried a whiteboard video, I’d like to learn about your experience.

May 1, 2014: I updated this post to change information that was no longer accurate.

Information density: Weakness or strength?

Are you hitting the right level of information density in your writing?

Image by Peter Morville

“Often white papers on technical subjects written for an executive audience have…too much technical detail,” says Robert Bly in The White Paper Marketing Handbook: How to Generate More Leads and Sales with White Papers, Special Reports, Booklets, and CDs (p.16.) Bly’s comment made me think about pieces written by portfolio managers and other financial experts. Their enthusiasm for their topic often gets them bogged down in details.

Benefits first, details later

If you’re a financial professional, remember to focus first on the benefit of your expertise to your readers. Then, you can delve into the details.

Not sure if you have too much detail? Ask an objective member of your target audience for feedback.

Too little data can also hurt

Meanwhile, remember that an absence of detail can also handicap your white paper by undercutting your credibility. As Bly says, often “…white papers written for engineers and scientists have too low an information density (they are too superficial).”

Imagine, for example, you’re trying to sell a new trading system to an investment management system. The president of your prospect company will seek information differently from the company’s head of information technology.

You need to know your audience before you start writing, so you can tailor communications to them.

“The pebble in the shoe”: The power of metaphor

Metaphors are powerful tools for communication.I couldn’t get the phrase “the pebble in the shoe” out of my mind after an advisor mentioned it to me at the annual conference of the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts.

Photo by Kaptain Kobold

Apparently speaker Todd Fithian of the Legacy Companies suggested that advisors tackle whatever represents “the pebble in the shoe” for their clients.

I felt anxious just thinking about that pebble. This metaphor also sparked my curiosity about the presentation in which the term popped up.

Pebble vs. pressing problem

Which phrase is more memorable? “The pebble in the shoe” or “The pressing problem your client wants to address”?

For me, it’s clearly the first phrase. I’ll probably remember this phrase and perhaps even Todd Fithian long after I’ve forgotten the rest of the day’s sessions. This is true even though I didn’t attend Fithian’s presentation.

Your metaphors

Some of you are already using metaphors to your advantage, as I learned in your comments on “Reader challenge: New, non-liquid metaphors for money.”

Communications lessons from “Torn in Two” at the Boston Public Library

What can an exhibit about the Civil War teach you about communications? I took away six lessons from “Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War,” which runs until Dec. 31, 2011, at the Boston Public Library’s map center.

Torn in Two, an image featured in the Boston Public Library exhibit of the same name

Lesson 1: Summarize your message for people who don’t want to delve into details.

When I visited this map-heavy exhibit, I didn’t look closely at many of the maps. Instead, I happily read the large-type wall labels that conveyed each section’s theme.

Lesson 2: Combine words with images.

Even though I’m a big reader, I wouldn’t have entered an exhibit that consisted solely of words. In fact, it was the exhibit’s signature image of two men tugging on opposite sides of a map that attracted me.

Lesson 3: Tell stories.

My favorite part of the exhibit was “Hear Our Stories,” featuring 10 fictional characters describing their lives at each stage of the Civil War.

Lesson 4: Appeal to your audience’s demographics.

The variety and specifics of the characters was compelling. To give you some flavor, they included

  • Isaiah Wilkes, seminary student, abolitionist, Roxbury, Mass., age 16
  • Rebecca Parrish, slave, South Carolina, age perhaps 20
  • Elizabeth Farnsworth, educated girl of means, Civil War nurse, Concord, Mass., age 16
  • John Tilden, non-slave-owning crop farmer, Georgia, age 35

However, I was disappointed to learn later from a brochure that these were fictional characters. The lesson for financial bloggers? Make it clear if you’re using composite characters to illustrate a story.

Lesson 5: Help your audience relate your information to themselves.

I picked up a family activity brochure about slavery at the exhibit. It started by suggesting questions for adults to ask children, such as, “Are you allowed to read?” These questions put the children at the center of the conversation, in addition to providing context for an adult-child discussion of how slaves had few choices.

Lesson 6: Write about your passions.

I suspect that the creators of this exhibit felt excited about their topic. This passion, plus adept use of Lessons 1 through 5 sparked an interesting exhibit.

Guest post: “Blogging: why you want a better bounce rate”

Website bounce rates puzzle me. So I read guest blogger Tom Mangan’s article with interest. It seems as if you should put the most important information up top, where people will see it. Hmm, that sounds similar to good writing, so it’s not surprising that I met Tom through a community of freelance writers.

Blogging: why you want a better bounce rate

By Tom Mangan

Ever ask yourself where people go when they end up at your website? For most of my blogging life, the answer seemed like “somewhere else, as fast as their fingers can click.” That’s because up until a couple months ago, I ignored a key statistic called “bounce rate” that was telling me my blog needed a healthy tweak.


Bounce rate is one of the key metrics available free from Google Analytics. It tells you how many people visit one page at your blog and bail, typically by clicking the “back” button.

Web traffic gurus know most people make snap decisions about whether your page has something they’re looking for. You’ve got maybe five to 10 seconds to reel them in.

Like way too many blogs, my hiking blog had a standard layout with a header identifying what my site was about, a headline revealing what an individual page is about, and social links like e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. People who came my site had no earthly idea it was brimming with five years worth of content painstakingly compiled to warm a hiker’s heart. Typically over three-quarters of my site’s users left almost immediately; my bounce rate was 75 to 80 percent, day in and day out.

Then I changed to a new WordPress theme that allowed me to install all these cool navigation menus across the top, identifying all the many categories inside my site:

Immediately my bounce rate plunged below 50 percent — roughly a 50 percent improvement.

The game changer: I gave my readers something other than the “Back” button to click in that crucial first five seconds. Now roughly my half of my visitors click a second time. They longer they’re there, the better my chances of making them a regular reader.

If you’re thinking, “well, I’ve got all those links in the rail down the side of my site,” guess what: hardly anybody ever clicks on those. After the top two or three on the list, most get ignored.

Interestingly (or frustratingly, depending on how you look it), the big boost in bounce numbers did not equate, as near as I could tell, to a huge increase in page views. Page views were up, but I had also added new site features, and it was springtime, prime hiking season, when my site’s traffic always rises anyway, so I can’t say conclusively that it helped my raw page count. Furthermore, it appeared that the click-through rate on my Google ads cratered about the same time I made this change, so giving people more click options could be double-edged sword if you earn a living from ad clicks.

But if you use your blog to demonstrate your expertise and connect with potential clients, you’re not fretting over the scraps that land in your Adsense account every couple months. You want to tell people who land at your blog — in that first crucial blink of an eye — that there’s gobs of content inside that they ought to check out if they don’t see anything they want right now. Mind you, site navigation is just one component of your bounce rate. These links explore it in much greater detail.

Tom Mangan is the creator of Two- Heel Drive, a Hiking Blog, and the founder of Verb Nerd Industries, his freelance editing, writing and blogging service.

Pictures can supercharge your message: A grasshopper story

People absorb messages better when words are complemented by an image. This is a rule that any writer can exploit.

Take my dinner at Casa Oaxaca on a Mexican vacation. It was a multi-course tasting menu, so I could gloss over the chapulines in the taquitos de jicama con  chapulines, quesillo y cuitlacoche. But then the dish captured in the photo to your right arrived.

Do you see the little antennae and the translucent wings?

I could no longer ignore the inclusion of toasted grasshoppers (chapulines) in my food. Good thing they were tasty!

Properly used, photos and other images add oomph to your written communications.

Tips for finding images

1. Look for the noun.

Finding an image is easy when you write about a concrete topic like grasshoppers. Simply search your favorite photo bank for your thing–the noun you’re writing about. Check my earlier blog post for free or low-cost photo sources.

2. Illustrate the adjective, verb or emotion.

What can you do when your subject is more abstract than grasshoppers?

I follow the advice of writer Erik Sherman:

Remember that none of your stories are about abstract topics. They are always tangible to someone. It might help to stop thinking about the topic – the noun – and focus on what people are doing – the verb – or what they’re feeling – the adjective. In a given investment story, someone is either making or losing money. It often happens in some industry, like real estate, high tech, or commodities. There may be regulatory aspects, in which case think about images that could represent regulation, like police holding a hand up to tell traffic to stop, a judge, Congress. The more tangible and simple you get about the topic, the easier it will be to think of a fitting image.

Financial blogger Chuck Rylant cracked this problem in his “Controversy Over Disappearing CalPERS Police Officer Retirement Benefits” blog post, which is no longer live. He illustrated the adjective “disappearing” instead of the difficult-to-depict noun, “retirement benefits.” Plus, the sinking ship in his illustration reinforced the message that the benefits are disappearing.

Can you add any tips for illustrating blog posts and other written communications?

Nov. 20, 2013 UPDATE: If you prefer original photos, read about the strategy used by advisor Sheri Iannetta Cupo. Aug. 15, 2016: I deleted some broken links.