One year into a $1 million national advertising campaign for its mutual funds, Marshall & Ilsley Corp. is seeing its dollars pay off.
The campaign has helped lift the Milwaukee-based banking company's Marshall Funds' assets from $2.7 billion to $3.5 billion over the last 12 months. And call volume is four times greater than what it was before advertising, said Catherine A. Voss, the funds' marketing director.
A handful of big banking companies run national advertisements for their mutual funds, but it is rare for banks with smaller fund families to do so. Marshall & Ilsley ranked 37th among the 119 banks and thrifts that managed mutual funds at midyear, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.
By placing the ads, bank executives said, they aimed to emulate larger competitors and grab attention from them.
"The primary objective in the first year was to raise awareness and get that brand name identification," said David Schultz, managing director of Marshall Funds Investor Services.
The ads, which tout the performance of Marshall & Ilsley's Small-Cap Growth Fund, have been running weekly in The Wall Street Journal and regularly in magazines geared toward financial advisers.
Using the fund's performance as the center of the campaign is another noteworthy-and somewhat risky-step, analysts said. The fund, too young to be rated by Morningstar, has outpaced the Russell 2000 index since its inception in September 1996. But a market downturn could always take a toll.
"You live and die by the sword when you advertise by performance," said Burton Greenwald, managing director of Philadelphia-based B.J. Greenwald Associates.
Mr. Greenwald said the challenge for the Marshall Funds was to stand out in a crowded market, in which performance and track records are prerequisites-not guarantees-of success.
"It's a very busy market," he said. "Whether they can get through the clutter of so many mutual fund products remains to be seen."
Mr. Schultz said the ads are meant to appeal to the growing ranks of financial advisers. To supplement the campaign, Marshall & Ilsley has hired a sales staff to court financial planners and listed its funds on networks like Schwab, Fidelity, and Jack White.
Mr. Schultz said he recognized that fund performance was the most important puzzle piece.
"You need good, consistent investment results," he said.
To build its marketing strategy, Marshall & Ilsley looked at what other successful mutual fund families were doing. In 1993 the Marshall Funds eliminated loads, which are common among bank-owned funds, and introduced three new stock funds. The fund family now offers 11 choices, including two with four-star ratings from Morningstar. Mr. Schultz said banks have been quick to stop spending ad dollars if the telephone doesn't ring enough.
"If you don't have the staying power, you can't do it," he said. "That's the bottom line."