John Nuveen & Co., a mutual fund company best known for its tax-free bond offerings, is stepping up a fledgling effort to pitch stock portfolios to bank customers.

Its first plan of attack: a marketing campaign starting in January that targets bank customers who have already invested in Nuveen's municipal bond funds. The Chicago-based company hopes to entice these customers to try its new growth and income portfolio.

"The equity market is definitely very crowded, but we're able to leverage our brand name," said Michael Forstl, a vice president overseeing Nuveen's financial institutions group.

Nuveen, which manages $6.6 billion of assets, expanded into equity funds last year because investors were ignoring muni funds and pouring money into the stock market. The 99-year-old company formed a partnership in May with a small Chicago-based money manager, Institutional Capital Corp., and launched three new portfolios six weeks ago.

Mr. Forstl refused to say which banks are participating in the marketing campaign or how many investors will receive solicitations in the mail. He said that in February the company plans to roll out a campaign to market a new balanced fund, too.

Banks contribute 30% of the company's fund sales, but the lack of stock funds combined with a bond market crash in 1994 "really hurt us in the last two years," Mr. Forstl said.

"Even after the bond market came back, our sales through banks didn't," he said.

Nuveen's decision to diversify its menu has won praise from analysts. But promoting stock funds in the bank market will prove challenging against already established stock fund giants such as Putnam Investments, Aim Management Group, and OppenheimerFunds Inc.

"It's a question of recognition," said mutual fund consultant Geoffrey Bobroff, East Greenwich, R.I. "Can they break the mold of being perceived solely as a municipal bond fund company?"

Mr. Bobroff added that several competitors which had their own niches have tried to expand their menus from scratch only to find they didn't get the recognition they needed. Companies such as Franklin Resources Inc., Twentieth Century Investors, and Nicholas Applegate were forced to embark on major acquisitions or mergers.

Nuveen "has a long road ahead of it unless the portfolios have outstanding numbers this year and it benefits from the PR that comes from that," Mr. Bobroff said.

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