Kuo Shares Keys To Marketing And Communications Success

Janeesa Hollingshead, Contributing Editor, Wealth Solutions Report

CEO Of IMAGE 10 Firm Attributes Success To Focus On Industry, Key Talent, Banning Toxic Behavior And Providing Senior-Level Access To Clients

Rapidly approaching its 12th anniversary, Haven Tower Group’s success in growing from a boutique four-person agency when first launched to one of the most influential communications firms in the wealth management industry – with offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and New York – is nothing short of remarkable.

Like several others among the IMAGE 10: Top 10 Wealth Management Marketing & Communications Agencies that WSR names this week, Haven Tower got its start through the vision and work ethic of a skilled communications leader who dared to dream big. Today, Haven Tower’s clients include some of the most successful and fast-growing wealth management enterprises, wealthtech platforms, third-party asset managers, insurance firms and industry associations across the country.

Joseph Kuo, CEO & Founder of Haven Tower, launched his firm as a young but highly experienced wealth management communications veteran, having served as Senior Vice President and Head of Public Relations at LPL Financial.

Kuo was recruited to this role by LPL Financial after rising through the ranks to become an equity Partner at one of New York’s preeminent strategic communications firms, Kekst CNC, where he worked for nearly a decade. He participated in the successful sale of Kekst to Publicis Groupe, the global advertising and communications giant, in the summer of 2008.

Joseph Kuo, Founder & CEO, Haven Tower Group

Having subsequently led PR for LPL Financial’s IPO on the NASDAQ Stock Market in 2010 as well as the communications strategy and execution for the successful Chapter 11 reorganization and emergence of Cetera Financial Group (in an engagement co-led by Kuo and his colleague, Michael Dugan), Kuo is potentially one of the only members of the IMAGE 10 whose individual experience literally spans the entire capital structure life cycle.

He is quick to emphasize that the success of Haven Tower has been a team effort, thanks to the leadership bench he created over the years, comprised of senior professionals with a shared vision and drive. We asked Kuo to share the keys to the success of Haven Tower, lessons he’s learned as a CEO and the marketing and communications needs of clients.

WSR: Over the past 12 years since Haven Tower Group was founded, the firm has grown significantly while maintaining year-over-year client retention rates of well over 80%. How have you accomplished this?

Kuo: Our success in client growth and retention boils down to three things.

First, as the lyrics in “Common People” by Pulp go, “Everybody hates a tourist.”  That holds true for service providers in the wealth management space. Many communications and marketing agencies have chosen to just dabble in this sector, without ever building true expertise in it.

By contrast, Haven Tower has always maintained a singular focus on delivering PR, communications and brand strategy to the wealth management space. Our clients appreciate that we are an agency partner that doesn’t require an industry learning curve and can start adding value rapidly upon engagement.

Second, unlike many agency founders, I haven’t had to go it alone. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a deep leadership bench whose members have known each other for many years now.

Michael Dugan, our President & Managing Partner, Mitch Manning, Partner & Head of National Media and Katherine Paulson, Partner & Head of Digital Marketing Strategies, have each been instrumental in contributing to the success of Haven Tower.

Together, we have built a tremendous level of mutual trust, reinforced with a shared work ethic and sense of humor.

And third, we’ve created a very close and cohesive agency culture that emphasizes teamwork, camaraderie and shared accountability, all under the mission of delivering an exceptional service experience and high impact results for our clients.

WSR: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching your firm?

Michael Dugan, President & Managing Partner, Haven Tower Group

Kuo: While it sounds cliché, the dividing line between success and failure as an agency hinges on prioritizing teamwork. Everyone within the firm needs to be rowing in the same direction with an emphasis on the common good, defined as that which most benefits the client.

This doesn’t mean we agree about everything, all the time. In fact, different points of view, so long as they’re well-informed, are vital to strategic dialogue that drives better results for clients.

But we’ve borrowed an adage from how Amazon’s management team is run: “Disagree, but commit.”

This means, once everybody’s perspective has been heard and a decision has been made, we all pull together 100% to support it. It also means being cordial and respectful to one another, even when there are inevitable disagreements.

Sadly, most of us have, at some point in our work lives, been part of a team where individuals have self-interested agendas, don’t work as hard as the rest, or jockey for individual credit at the expense of others.

These kinds of professionals very rarely, if ever, find their way to Haven Tower.  And when they do, sooner or later they tend to move on elsewhere. Why? Because toxic people kill internal morale, which is essential to the effective delivery of a great client service experience.

This is why we have a rule when it comes to who we hire and who we choose to keep on our team:  No a**holes. This is an admittedly blunt way of putting things, but it’s an approach that undeniably works.

WSR: What’s the biggest concern you hear from would-be clients about having PR, communications and marketing support?

Kuo: It’s almost never about being able to generate results. We get up to speed quickly and pride ourselves on adding significant value in short order to each client engagement. Whenever prospective clients speak to our existing clients as references, that much becomes crystal clear to them.

One of the biggest potential concerns that we hear from prospective clients is, “How do I know that your senior professionals who are supposed to be on our account won’t disappear once the ink on our contract is dry, leaving me to deal with junior staff only?”

At Haven Tower, the team that we propose to any prospective client is the team they get when they move forward with us. Each of our clients always enjoys continuous access to someone at the Partner or Principal level at our firm.

In fact, many of our most loyal and committed clients are those who have experienced this exact issue with other agencies before choosing to partner with us. They see the difference pretty quickly.

Janeesa Hollingshead, Contributing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at editor@wealthsolutionsreport.com.

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