Marketing executives say that the internet has become the hub of a private equity firm's marketing efforts (that is, if they have a web site). But for a medium that is often the first and most frequent point of contact between the firm and its various global constituencies, the image that many private equity firms present on the world wide web is overwhelmingly in one language and one language only ?English.
English may be the lingua franca of this industry, but as private equity firms boast of their global capabilities and as investment professionals scour far flung corners of the globe for the next 4x, 5x or 6x deal, what message are they sending to their audiences externally, and to themselves internally, by remaining English-only?
A survey of the web sites of twenty of the world's largest private equity firms (see the PEI 50 ranking on p. 4) finds only one US firm that translates its web site to languages other than English ?General Atlantic, to German and Chinese. Four of the top five firms globally ?The Carlyle Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, The Blackstone Group and TPG ?only have English versions of their web sites. Goldman Sachs Principal Investment Area gives only rudimentary information about its activities in Japanese and Chinese.
European private equity firms fare better in catering to different groups, which can range from competitors, service providers, LPs, potential target companies, entrepreneurs, corporates, intermediaries, potential employees, regulators, media and the man on the street. Permira, the sixth largest private equity firm globally, presents its entire web site in no fewer than six languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.
Philip Bassett, partner at Permira, says that the firm's representation of its web site in various languages is an important part of its culture. The firm originated in 1985 with the founding of Schroder Ventures in the UK, followed by the opening of local offices across continental Europe. The individual businesses merged in the mid-1990s, and spun out of Schroder Ventures Europe in 2001. Permira now operates as a pan-European entity, not headquartered anywhere, and counts among its staff some 20 different nationalities speaking 15 different languages.
Says Bassett: ?I think it's important that if you have a team in a country, that the team is able to behave like principals in their own markets and speak for the money. It reflects the heritage of the business, that it was a merger rather than a takeover, and it is important in terms of going forward to individual constituencies.?
Another European private equity firm, Candover, is in the process of putting up French, German, Spanish and Italian versions of key sections of its web site. Of these sections, which are due to go live in June 2007, Helen Walsh, marketing director at Candover says, ?We're totally committed to demonstrating that we are a truly European firm. I think it's very important that you can demonstrate to management teams that you truly understand their culture and their business needs.? Candover plans to translate core sections of its web site, such as the home page, about the firm and investment approach, but not press releases and the deal archive.
It is rare that a US private equity firm translates any portion of its web site. KKR, which is raising a $4 billion Asia fund, the largest for the region, only has an English web site. For Carlyle, which is heading out to the Middle East, ditto.
General Atlantic had its whole web site translated three years ago, because, as Patricia Hedley, senior vice president at the firm, explains, ?It became quite clear that with our presence in China and Germany, having a local language version would be valuable.?
Another exception is IDG Ventures, which due to its structure as five independently managed funds focused on selected emerging markets, has web sites in Chinese and Vietnamese to serve those markets.
To translate the web site, these three firms have taken a two-step approach: external, then internal. Walsh recounts that she sent out a brief to three different translation companies, then asked staff at local Candover offices to evaluate the translated product against the original. The criterion for evaluation was either for the version truest to the original or demonstrating the best understanding of the material. Bassett says that translation projects at Permira are typically headed by the local offices.
Language translations for other materials and medium are done on an ad-hoc basis. Reporting and marketing materials are generally not translated, although local presentations may be. ?Writing a PPM is hard enough,? says Bassett. ?We've kept the [fund] marketing materials in English, although the individual countries do have their own corporate presentations for intermediaries, corporates and families. Those materials will be in the local language.?
At the very least, having a local language on the web site sends a message that the firm cares about making its activities known to the broadest set of people. One UK private equity marketing professional said that in building the firm's presence across Europe, it is only ?polite? to make an effort to translate into other languages. ?Polite? makes for a nicer translation than ?locusts,? by the way.