Barry Ritholtz: How Advisors Can Create Killer Content

Financial Advisors


Are you a financial advisor who is thinking about starting a podcast, YouTube channel, or newsletter but are unsure where to begin? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

As head of Ritholtz Wealth Management and host of Bloomberg’s long-running Masters in Business podcast, Barry Ritholtz is as qualified as anyone to discuss what it takes to successfully create content across different platforms. 

Established in 2013, New York-based Ritholtz Wealth Management, which manages nearly $3 billion in assets, is known for its media and marketing savvy and ability to inform and entertain a mass audience on blogs, podcasts, social media, and elsewhere. 

Last year, the RIA and Advisor Circle cocreated the inaugural Future Proof Festival in Huntington Beach, Calif., which veered sharply from the relatively conservative world of wealth management conferences. The “wealth festival” skewed younger while music, entertainment, and an informal vibe defined the four-day event, which was held on the boardwalk next to the beach. Act II is on tap this September, when the firm expects more than 3,000 to attend, including 2,000 advisors. 

Ritholtz, who has been writing his The Big Picture blog since the 1990s, runs the firm with CEO Josh Brown, who pens The Reformed Broker blog and co-hosts The Compound & Friends podcast with managing director Michael Batnick.

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On this The Way Forward podcast, recorded in March, Ritholtz discusses the importance of:

  • Having something to say. “You write when you have something to say. And if you have nothing to say, don’t feel compelled to say something. There’s no obligation to have something poignant to say about nonfarm payrolls every month.”
  • Playing to your strengths. “Talk about what you’re really good at. For some people maybe blogging or podcasting or YouTubing isn’t the best use of their skillset.”
  • Recognizing that content creation requires hard work. “You can’t really fake it on the naked page. If you’re speaking and exposing yourself, if you’re writing and sharing your thoughts and ideas, you can’t wing it. There has to be some substance and passion there.”
  • Determining where you’ll generate the best ROI. “I find speaking is the easiest for most people to do in a podcast format, but personally I find the written word is the most useful, especially if you are trying to establish some sort of relationship with an audience who is also a potential client, a potential hire, a potential partner.”
  • Sharing your thoughts to help close the discovery and trust gap. “Nobody reads a blog post or listens to a podcast and says, ‘Here’s $25 million.’ That just doesn’t happen. It’s a fantasy. However, they could say, I don’t need to spend two years doing due diligence on these people. I already know who they are. I know what their philosophy is. They seem to be trustworthy. I’m comfortable having this process take three months or a month, instead of taking years.”

You can read the full transcript below, which has been edited for length and clarity:

Greg: Hello and welcome to Barron’s The Way Forward. I’m Greg Bartalos and my special guest today is Barry Ritholtz. Most listeners likely know who Barry is but for those who don’t, he’s the founder and CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, a New York-based RIA. He also hosts the influential, and excellent, Masters in Business podcast on Bloomberg. 

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A lawyer by training, Barry began blogging in the 1990s on Yahoo GeoCities. Today, his Big Picture blog reaches more than half a million readers per month. He also publishes the popular Ritholtz Reads newsletter. On today’s podcast he will distill all his wealth management experience and media savvy to share the key ingredients that advisors need to succeed as content creators. Welcome to the program, Barry.

Barry: Thanks so much for having me.

Greg: Before an advisor embarks on being a content creator, there are some other big questions they should answer. Is that right?

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Barry: For sure. Starting with why do you want to be a content creator? There’s this sort of misunderstanding that “I’ll start a blog and people will read it, and then they’ll send me money and we’ll have millions of dollars.” It doesn’t quite work out that way. It’s not what people think. It is not a shortcut to capturing assets. What it does is allow prospective clients to find you, to figure out who you are, and to decide if this person looks like a good fit for what I’m looking for in an advisor, which is very different from posting a blog or a YouTube video or a podcast and expecting cash to roll in. It really doesn’t work that way.

Greg: You’re exposing a bit of yourself, how you think, what you value, what you don’t, and hopefully the readers will say, “I recognize myself there, and yeah, I agree with this and I agree with that.”

Barry: Or even better, “Oh my God, I’ve been going about this all wrong, and this person has shown me it’s important to not spend all my time chasing alpha. Hey, if I want to have a portion of my portfolio as a potential speculative chunk, that’s fine, but I should allow the markets to work for me as effectively and efficiently and cheaply as possible.” Every now and then we have clients who come to us and say, I’m just done chasing the dragon. You guys seem to be on top of this. The joke is it only takes a decade to become an overnight sensation.

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Greg: A lot of investors chase that dragon for a long, long time, and eventually they throw in the towel. Anything else you can say about whether you should even be a content creator? And if so, what would be a sign you should, and if so, how to go about that? 

Barry: A couple of thoughts. First, I don’t find it to be a slog because 30 years ago, I decided I wanted to become a better writer, and so I made a commitment to get up a little early each morning and write for an hour on the assumption that years later, I would be a better author. And after 30 years of cranking out content every morning, it turns out reading good content and writing on a rigorous schedule turns you into a better writer. No doubt about that. The question for someone who’s thinking about this is first, are you willing to commit to that amount of work? It’s a lot of work, and especially in the beginning, it’s a lot of work. I’ve noticed that, not that I like to do hot takes on anything, but I know if I have an idea germinating in my head, and I don’t want to do a 2000-word screed, I just want to put down 500 words to say, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking about and here’s why it’s interesting, and perhaps you should look at this chart and consider the same idea.” That 20 years ago would take a couple of hours.

And now I could tumble that out very, very quickly. But it’s a lot of work in the beginning. So the first question is, are you willing to put in all that hard work? The second question, and perhaps the more important one is, what do you have to say? You can’t really fake it on the naked page. If you’re speaking and exposing yourself, if you’re writing and sharing your thoughts and ideas, you can’t wing it. There has to be some substance and passion there. A lot of people I’ve spoken with have said, “Gee, I’d love to set up a blog for the firm, but I’m not sure what I would talk about.” And sometimes I tease it out. “What’s your focus? Who are your clients? What do you work on?” And it turns out I was speaking to somebody one day, all their clients were sports figures.

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“Hey, I got to imagine that sports figures have very specific and unique, or at the very least different needs than the average mom and pop investor. Why don’t you focus on that?” That makes a lot of sense. There also was a woman who has a designation (CDFA) that specializes in helping people post divorce. “Hey, why don’t you write about that? What is so different about people coming out of a divorce where maybe there are kids involved? Maybe there are two separate residences, maybe there’s alimony or palimony, what is challenging? It’s not just cash. What is challenging about doing this? How do you divide up 401(k)s? There have got to be things specific that you can share your expertise about and you’ll attract more of the same clients.” And so some people have something to say. They just haven’t realized they have an expertise. Talk about what you’re really good at. For some people maybe blogging or podcasting or YouTubing isn’t the best use of their skillset.

Greg: What’s really great about writing is it forces you to clarify your thoughts because when you’re just chit-chatting, you can have directional beliefs. But when you actually write and pick your words carefully, you really scrutinize everything because you know others are going to be scrutinizing it, too. 

Barry: Speaker Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress said, “I write to figure out what I think, and besides, at that hour, all the bars are closed,” was his joke. But it’s true. Writing helps you figure out your actual thought process.

Greg: And sometimes you’ll have a belief, and then as you start writing, you’re like, “You know what? I don’t really believe this anymore. Right? I got to slink away right now.”

Barry: I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write something and by the end of it, it’s like, “No, this is much grayer than I thought.” It’s rare that I sit down and am thinking it’s black and it turns out to be white. Very often what ends up happening is, “Hey, everybody wants to point the finger at that’s what caused this.” And what you often find is the world is complex and there are many shades of gray, and there are a lot of different causations for big complex events, and you don’t realize that until you sit and start to think about it.

Greg: Exactly. Now let’s say someone is capable, they have something to say, they’re articulate, et cetera, and they’re like, “All right, I’m all in. I want to be a content creator.” They have a multitude of options, as you mentioned, YouTube, you can do a blog, you could do a podcast, et cetera, or all of the above. Would you recommend that each person take an assessment of their own unique attributes and use that to decide where to go? Or would you even just directionally be like, “Oh no, YouTube is definitely where there’s the most opportunity. You can hear the person, see them, et cetera.” How do you make sense of the landscape on that level? 

Barry: I don’t want to get woo woo about this, but sometimes the medium or the content calls you. There are people who are just great on YouTube and have the ability to sit and stare at a camera and engage in a conversation with the audience. Not everybody wants to do that. You get better at it over time. You get more and more comfortable with it over time, but it’s certainly a learned skillset. Some people hate it and that they’re just not comfortable. I find speaking is the easiest for most people to do in a podcast format, but personally I find the written word is the most useful, especially if you are trying to establish some sort of relationship with an audience who is also a potential client, a potential hire, a potential partner. It’s more findable through search, and it’s just much easier to read a paragraph or two than it is to tee up a podcast and listen to it.

Greg: It’s more accessible and perpetual. And you could do a keyword search or a phrase and highlight that graph whereas going through a YouTube video, it’s like “It’s somewhere in there that he said this or that.” 

Barry: And it’s hard. So by the way, if you do a podcast, I strongly recommend getting a transcription done because that then becomes searchable.

Greg: And what about for someone new to this? They could tiptoe into the water going incrementally. Another approach would be to do a blitzkrieg where it’s boom, lift a curtain and you have a whole bunch of content out there at once. What are your thoughts on that?

Barry: I know people who have started with a toe in the water being a newsletter they would send out every week, every month, whatever it happened to be, and they found that that was a very comfortable rhythm. A week in advance you want it to be mostly done so you can spend the last week kind of polishing it up. And they found a monthly sort of thing wasn’t that challenging. You didn’t have to host a site if you didn’t want to. The challenge is how do you get that to an audience and how do you encourage people to share that and sign up for it? I don’t use Substack, but I have a lot of friends who do who’ve been really happy with it. Personally, I noticed the other day that I have multiple email addresses, and one of them I just use for all the research and the stuff that I want to read and get and not clutter up my inbox.

And I started to notice that like half my emails are Substacks. And so I went back and looked at, “What did I open? What did I read? What am I like, ‘It’s there because I think one day I’m going to read it and I never do?’” And so I culled the herd. I think we’re at peak Substack already, but that said, there are lots and lots of different technologies if you want to send out a monthly or every other week sort of newsletter. There is software and tech available that makes it really easy and simple to do. It’s fairly inexpensive. Just be aware that there’s a logistical lift to getting this in place and then doing the work. 

I think that you can try a couple of formats and you’ll figure out where your natural skill set is. I’ve jokingly said I write because I have no choice. I just have to get it out of my head or I’m walking around talking to myself, and that’s not a good thing. If you find something that organically speaks to you when you feel very comfortable with whatever it is, the odds are that thing you are going to be much better at and you’re going to enjoy more than something that’s work.

Greg: Right. The fact that you gravitate toward it says something in and of itself. Break down how being a creator, on a tangible level, can benefit your firm. There’s the obvious of attention and awareness, but drilling down more specifically, how can that manifest itself?

Barry: I launched the blog on GeoCities in the 90s. I launched it on TypePad in July 2003, so we’re coming up on 20 years, and I moved it to WordPress with my own domain, Ritholtz.com in October 2008. I think there is a process when you are seeking to either hire somebody or turn a prospect into a client or otherwise engage with a person who may know you somewhat, a little bit, a lot, and they have other choices. They can go to other employers. They could go to other advisors. Maybe they can work with a different partner instead of you if they’re a vendor or a service provider or what have you. We have a lot of data as to how people use the various content we create from blogs to videos, to audio. Keep in mind, this is very much the inverse of the old Wall Street model, which was, “Become a client and do transactions with us, and we’ll send you all our research.”

Our approach has been, we are going to give you a variety of in-depth research, commentary, opinion, thoughts about what is a better way to think about investing or managing your money or the economy or your own behavior. And hey, if 1% or 2% of you want to reach out and become clients, that would be great. If you want to do it yourself, here are some things you should know and you could do it yourself. And that’s become a pretty respectable business. The assumption that I think so many people get wrong is, “I’ll set up a blog and I’ll do some posts and the money will just roll in.” I got bad news for you. That ain’t how it works. What ends up happening is you are writing about a certain subject or a topic consistently. You’re not at the New York Daily News. You don’t have a deadline where you have to publish every single day. You write when you have something to say. And if you have nothing to say, don’t feel compelled to say something. There’s no obligation to have something poignant to say about nonfarm payrolls every month.

It’s a lot more—I just quoted John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who passed away years ago. “Never mistake activity for achievement.” And along the same lines, don’t think that just cranking out, just making noise is the same thing as communicating any sort of wisdom or useful knowledge. When you’re putting this out there and after a while you’ve created a little bit of a reputation for, “Oh, this person is an expert on this segment or whatever.” What I’ve found that has done for Ritholtz Wealth Management is when we meet with a prospective client or just talk with a prospective client, normally there is a certain duration of time that that prospective client goes through in order to say, “I know who these guys are, I understand their philosophy, and I feel comfortable in trusting my capital with them. They’re worthy of my trust.”

It takes a certain period of time before someone says, “OK, I am comfortable. I’ve reached a degree of comfort with you.” I think by revealing who you are, sharing your thoughts, discussing your process, telling about, “Hey, over my x number of years in the market, I see a lot of people doing this, and here’s why that doesn’t seem to work for most investors. You should try that. That seems to be more productive.” I think the single most important thing is—nobody reads a blog post or listens to a podcast and says, “Here’s $25 million.” That just doesn’t happen. It’s a fantasy. However, they could say, I don’t need to spend two years doing due diligence on these people. I already know who they are. I know what their philosophy is. They seem to be trustworthy. I’m comfortable having this process take three months or a month, instead of taking years. 

Literally, we have had prospective clients reach out to us and say, “I’ve been reading you guys for 10 years. My wife and I are retired. We want to travel and I’m done doing this myself here. You guys do it.” And it’s like, what do you mean you’ve been reading us for 10 years? It’s like, “You and I exchanged emails in 2009. I spoke to Josh (Brown) at a conference in 2015, and Michael (Batnick) and I spoke on the phone.” Oh, OK. You have no idea of the people who are consuming your content and how what you do fits into their world, but some percentage of them are going to look into you and say, “OK, maybe these guys can be my advisor.” Every now and again, something kind of interesting happens where somebody will introduce a third party to us. Either a client refers somebody to become a client or just a random stranger says, “Hey, I’ve been reading you guys and my client is very unhappy with their advisor. I want to introduce them to you.”

And if they Google you and up comes an intelligent conversation about the Fed or “Here’s why you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that 2023 is 2008. Here are the reasons why it’s not identical. Hey, maybe this goes south. Maybe we enter recession. Maybe a few more banks fail, but this is a very different thing.” If you can articulately explain that in a way that says, “Oh, I see how these people think, and I like their approach, their data, evidence-driven approach to the world,” it just makes the process of getting comfortable with who you are faster. 

You’ll notice none of this is about, “This’ll help you close the sale.” It’s all about helping the client or prospective client get to a point of comfort where they feel, “I can make a decision here, and I don’t feel like I’m out on a limb or taking a chance.” You’re giving them a degree of, “All right, I feel pretty comfortable with this.” And it’s not like, “Because my last guy, he was recommended, but I wasn’t sure, and I kind of took a chance and it didn’t work out. I’m much more comfortable here.”

Greg: And I think most advisors who don’t have that presence, it’s a little bit to people like a black box. There’s a name, there’s a headshot, there’s a bio, and it’s like, “Well, on paper you look good, but I’m really not comfortable.” And I think by dint of what you do, putting your thoughts out there, it’s disarming. So the reader and viewer, they feel very comfortable again because of that sense that they kind of know you. They feel they do because you’re showing your thought processes and all of that. 

Barry: Exactly. 

Greg: And you’re really shrinking that gap in terms of discovery and being ready to possibly do this.

Barry: But notice how different that is than, “I know, let’s launch a podcast and the money will roll in.”

Greg: Right. That intent is impure, if you will. And there’s also a dynamic—the rule of reciprocity. If you look at what Josh and Michael are doing, they’re providing a lot. All your firm’s content, frankly, mixes entertainment with substance in a really nice balance. I was going to say 60/40, but 50/50, whatever. You get a nice balance.

Barry: We were told 60/40 is dead, so we got to go 50/50 on that. 

Greg: There you go. People watch, listen, and say, “I’m getting good value. I’m learning.” And then human nature being what it is, people invariably feel predisposed to perhaps give back. And that might manifest itself simply by watching, listening, reading, and/or perhaps even investing with you guys or working with you.

Barry: I’m going to expand on that a touch, because if you were to go out to prospective clients and say, “Look how trustworthy I am, please give me your money.” That’s an immediate red flag. “Wait, you’re raising the trust question. I’ll tell you when I find you trustworthy.” I think it’s hard to hide who you are and what you’re about when you’re sharing so much of yourself. I guess Bernie Madoff was a psychopath, and if he had a podcast, maybe he could have fooled a lot of people, but you could fool people for a half-hour. You could fool people for a couple of hours. You can’t put out hundreds and hundreds of hours. I’m up to 500 on the podcast. I think Michael and Ben (Carlson) are up to 275, something like that. And The Compound & Friends passed a hundred already. You can’t BS people for a thousand hours. It just becomes impossible.

Greg: Anything else we haven’t touched on that you want to mention about your firm? I know there’s been a lot of activity.

Barry: We’ve been growing at a pretty robust level organically, and we’re starting to explore the concept of, “Hey, is there a way that we can engage in perhaps some acquisitions to expand our firm?” We are early stage talking with BlackRock (ticker: BLK) about taking over the management of their B2C digital advisor. I hate the name robo-advisors because they’re not robots and they don’t provide advice. It’s always a terrible name, but one of the things we always looked at with some of the other digital advisors was, this is a digital tool. Doesn’t it make more sense to just marry this with a human advisor and allow the account opening, the onboarding, and the initial allocation process to be much cheaper, faster, more efficient? 

We end up not having any minimum at our firm. And the so-called robo-advisors that we’re using, and what we’re in the process of working out with BlackRock to acquire is, “Hey, we want to marry this to a group of advisors so that you’re not calling a call center and getting a random person. You’re going to call Matt or you’re going to call Alex, or you’re going to call Sue and you’re going to get a specific person you’re familiar with.”

Just because you don’t have $2 million doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to speak to a person. You’re probably not going to if you’re opening an account for $50,000 or $100,000. You probably don’t have big capital-gains taxes to worry about, or generational wealth transfer or trusts and estates. So you shouldn’t be paying for the full service advisory. Marrying an advisor to a digital platform seems to give you the best of both worlds, and that’s what we’re working out with taking over BlackRock’s future advisor for their B2C, for their individual investors on that.

Greg: Terrific. Well, thank you for sharing all that. That was really useful. 

Barry: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. 

Greg: All right. My guest was Barry Ritholtz. For more advisor specific podcasts, please check out Barrons.com/podcasts. For The Way Forward, I’m Greg Bartalos. 

Write to Greg Bartalos at greg.bartalos@barrons.com



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