“The concept of personalisation and CRM has expanded in scope to emphasise a much
broader notion of benefits to a company.”
A client’s online experience consists of a combination of Internet searches, visiting
your company website, reviewing your LinkedIn profile, logging into your client
portal, and social media sites and feeds. With so many opportunities for investors
to perform due diligence and gain an impression about a firm, is your firm prepared
with a consistent message across every form of digital content and social media
for your brand?
Branding and messaging was the topic of a panel discussion at the PEI IR Conference
held June 12, 2014, at the Convene Center in New York. Panelists included Franny
Jones, Director of Marketing and Investor Relations from the Sterling Group in Houston,
Texas; Andreas Moon, Principal and Head of Investor Relations & Fundraising at iSquared
Capital, New York; Erika Spitzer, Head of Investor Relations at Leonard Green &
Partners, L.P. in Los Angeles, California and Greg Woolf, CEO of Vantage Software
based in Boston, Massachusetts. Roland Tomforde, CEO, of Broadgate Consultants,
led the panel discussion.
While private equity firms are very reluctant to be in the social media space, most
firms realize the necessity of keeping their brand in front of investors to maintain
an edge over other firms. Being recognized as a subject matter expert in their area
of expertise is one way to gain that edge.
Is your Firm a Convert or an Influencer?
Today, you need to take control of your firm’s online reputation. Some attendees
said they use social media to monitor what is being said about their firm and go
on the defensive when negative press is published. Few firms are embracing social
media to build their brand and emerge as a thought leader.
Most often, the first place investors look when performing due diligence about a
firm, its partners, portfolios and funds is a website. Firms need to build a foundation
of their online digital presence and be an influencer. Firms want to be the first
resource for investors and future investors, whether they are investing in one of
their funds or somewhere else. It is important to be that resource which reinforces
your brand. Updating the firm website is the first step.
Website Design Styles
A website is paramount for any firm. With a crowded market, it is critical to make
certain your website is user-friendly and compatible with mobile devices while providing
a consistent message and thought leadership that will differentiate your firm from
“Vantage's CEO spoke with IR Managers who attended the conference and they said
it took them up to a year to redesign their website” said Woolf. “It took us six
months to redesign ours.” Woolf and his team worked with website designers, marketing
personnel and content writers to create what he calls “the pre-school approach”
– an easy-to-use style that enables website users to quickly navigate through reams
of content found on the Internet today.
The days of multiple tabs, links and an overload of content are over. Today, websites
are very straightforward and simple with long pages to scroll through for information.
A website needs to get a message across very quickly.
To make the online experience pleasing for the visitor, the site needs wide spanning
images, interesting imagery, a simple page-border, large fonts and contrasting colors
that make your site very visible and dynamic.
Take Control of Your Online Reputation
Investment managers succeed by specializing in an area of focus to leverage their
expertise and thereby ensure their investments perform well. The same applies to
your online reputation and social media. While a website is a must-have, don’t try
to emulate major corporations and use every form of social media at once.
Find the right social media outlet for your firm. Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or
a blog - select one and master it. Does your firm have someone to maintain your
various media outlets or is this an add-on to someone’s already taxing schedule?
The huge amounts of updates involved raise the stakes for choosing the right technology
and the right person. You may not need sophisticated software tools to measure Web
and mobile traffic, track performance on social networks, and create data visualizations
and reports right away, but you will want to have a baseline measurement to start.
Social Media is Scary: To Embrace or Not to Embrace?
Many investors are looking at information online with iPads, smart phones and other
mobile devices. LinkedIn is a medium to connect with current and prospective investors
by providing links to interesting articles, webcasts, research papers and updates.
Some larger firms are using twitter to disseminate information such as announcements,
research papers or personnel promotions and changes.
The field of social media is rapidly evolving. Having a branded website is no longer
enough. The level of information that people ask for has drastically changed over
the years. Years ago, detailed operational and reputational diligence inquiries
were few and far between, now your LPs do a deep dive into GP profiles and operations
to ensure your level of transparency meets the needs of investors.
The panelists noted that the Private Equity space is reluctant to jump into the
social media space due to the SEC’s scrutiny of the industry. IR Managers are stuck
in the middle; between a conservative partnership and investors who want as much
information as possible through any digital arena.
“We are seeing an increase in white papers and blogs where firms are providing thought
leadership to differentiate themselves, as well as information that will help investors
make decisions based on the information provided by partners and leaders in their
firm” said Woolf.
Creating an “Online Banking Type Experience”
Creating an online experience that makes it easy for investors to find what they
need is not an easy task. “The financial services industry as a whole has moved
toward an online self-service model,” said Woolf. The conference attendees were
asked to participate in an informal poll whether they use online banking. Almost
everyone raised their hand.
When online banking was introduced, retail customers embraced the ability to bank
on their own schedule. They like the convenience, they like the control, they like
the ability to make changes on their schedule and of course, to know how much money
they have. Even more so for private equity investors who have much larger investments
Investors want the same type experience. They crave personalization as well as the
ability to see their investments on demand through sophisticated and personalized
portals where they can “slice and dice” their investments and make intelligent decisions.
Online banking studies conducted by Gartner, Inc. in 2007 revealed customers want
communication, transparency and personalization. According to the study, “customers
want to personalize their experiences, analyze their transactions and payment data
so they can better manage their money, pay bills, and transfer funds.”
No matter how you present your figures for each quarter, investors need to have
hard numbers to support your firm’s claims, and investors want the ability to see
the figures through portals with sophisticated dashboards and reports.
Woolf added that his clients provide their investors transparency with the ability
to measure fund performance, providing investors with the flexibility to make decisions
on their schedule, 24/7. Investors want to see pie charts, roll-forward their capital
accounts, reconcile their cash flows, and dashboards that provide an interactive,
on-line banking type of experience.
Your online experience should be personalized and all about the client, the prospect,
the investor, and the end-user. This is especially true of small, growing firms
who want to convey a world-class professional impression to their current and prospective
Know your Audience
Websites, social media, maintaining, updating and consistent messaging takes time
and money. But how can a firm know they are spending their money on the right tools
to meet the needs of their clients?
Google Analytics is an excellent, low-cost way to find out who is looking at your
site and how long they are staying. Having tools in place to track online communications,
website and mobile traffic, social media and other data will allow your firm to
track visitors and base decisions on future campaigns and the type of social media
you use with hard evidence. Just as clients want to know as much about the firm
they are investing with, the firm needs to know who is investing in them.
We can’t stop investors from increasing their use of online resources to evaluate
your firm, however we can populate the World Wide Web and social media sites with
tantalizing information that showcase the strength, depth and passion of your firm
and its principals. It is up to each individual firm to provide timely and appropriate
information with consistent messaging delivered by everyone associated with your
firm to its stakeholders via email, websites and client portals, LinkedIn, twitter
and the occasional article in a print newspaper or magazine. And while you are providing
thought leadership to your constituents, don’t forget to take the time to monitor
and listen to the needs, wants and desires of your investors so your firm will be
the first resource they turn to.