New media relations

GPs looking to control their image in the media highlight the changing relationship between private equity shops and their public relations firms.

Private equity GPs were for most of the industry’s history not under intense (or any) scrutiny from the media. Growth has brought that scrutiny, and yet many GPs still believe that their press policy does not need to be updated.

During a recent lunch meeting with some media relations professionals, PEM heard fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about GPs who do not seem to fully comprehend that they do not have the ability to fully control their message in the press.

This can put a strain on the relationship between a private equity firm and its PR team whether internal or external. The truth is, how media outlets present information is not only outside a PR professional’s responsibilities, it’s also out of his or her control.

Wall Street titans have, however, been known to cavalierly order PR executives to “kill” stories being worked on that could potentially be damaging. One PR pro we spoke with said his response to these requests is usually: “How, by lying?” If only killing a story were in the magic toolkit of a PR professional.

Some GPs hope that a PR firm unable to “control” the press should be replaced with one that can.

When a GP learns PR lesson the hard way, it can sometimes result in a PR firm losing a GP as a client, as we learned over lunch recently. Some GPs hope that a PR firm unable to “control” the press should be replaced with one that can.

At a time when the entire financial industry is being called upon to increase transparency, it is ironic to think that the value of a PR firm might be assessed by how effectively it conceals information, rather than shares it.

When it comes to investment professionals themselves, some of the confusion surrounding the extent to they can expect to remain under the media’s radar may come from their ability to do so earlier on in their careers. Investors who were able to maintain a low profile when they were just starting out in the industry are often surprised to discover that once they achieve a certain level of success, their status changes from private investor to public figure.

While private equity executives are not quite targets of the paparazzi, the accumulation of wealth can go hand in hand with a loss of privacy.

When this happens, there is little that a PR firm can do to reverse the effects of notoriety. After all, there’s no such thing as un-publicist.

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