Consider the mission of a private equity marketing and communications executive ?they need to sell a product as shrouded in secrecy as the formula for Coca-Cola, as in demand as the iPod, and with as many side effects as Viagra.
Despite all the challenges, image building is more important in today's crowded private equity market than ever. A ?mom and pop? identity no longer suffices for a firm's constituencies. These include business owners, deal intermediaries, talented managers, politicians and the members of the press-reading public who vote for them. Not only does private equity in general need an image upgrade, but individual firms are struggling to set their strengths apart from the great wash of private equity firms.
?[Marketing] will have increased importance in the private equity industry,? says Patricia Hedley, senior vice president at Greenwich, Connecticut-based General Atlantic. ?You can certainly see this for the larger private equity or LBO firms and also for venture capital. We consider ourselves global growth equity investors and even within our segment, I think it's going to become more important to build our brand and to have people know who we are.?
Hence, many private equity firms are recruiting executives to control their image and the message they send externally and define themselves internally. These executives say they are buying contact management systems, conducting e-marketing campaigns, hiring branding agencies and using marketing strategies to communicate on all fronts ?print and online, at events and conferences (see ?More bang for your brand? on p. 20).
The private equity industry is still young enough that the marketing role has not yet been institutionalized. Nor does the function exist at all firms. A survey of marketing executives at private equity firms (see accompanying profiles) finds a range of backgrounds and different functions within the firm. The role can include some or all of the following functions: marketing, corporate communications, public relations, investor relations and fundraising, and help with portfolio company marketing. In smaller firms, communications professionals are in charge of all that, plus fundraising and investor relations. Many marketing and communications professionals say they have either built the marketing function at the firm from the ground up, or have formalized a very ill-defined process.
?I think the position is still defining itself,? says Stephanie Manuel, marketing and communications partner at Baltimore, Maryland-based ABS Capital. ?Just as firms are very individualistic and very different, the role is very different from firm to firm.?
Because the role is relatively new, many GPs are struggling to determine who should be hired as a guardian of the firm's brand? What kind of background and how much industry knowledge should the marketing executive have?
Marketing vs. finance
Ideally, a marketing executive at a private equity firm will have experience in both marketing and private equity. But executives like Helen Walsh, marketing director at Candover in London are few and far in between. Walsh has a degree in marketing geography and before Candover, worked on the deal side at Alta Berkeley Associates and in marketing at NatWest Ventures.
Many of Walsh's peers say that they had little or no prior industry knowledge, and learned on the job. ?Individuals with marketing or finance backgrounds can do well as marketers in private equity,? says Marcia O'Carroll, who had little private equity experience before coming to TA Associates, where she is now VP of marketing. ?The key to success is becoming proficient in areas that may not be your strengths and developing a deep understanding of all aspects of the business. If you're committed, you'll succeed.?
Adds Richard Scullin, director of marketing at Williamstown, Massachusetts-based Village Ventures: ?You need to know the basic investing process, the fundamental goals of the investor and the portfolio company. You don't need to be the foremost expert, but you need to know about the GP thought process.?
Conversely, dealmakers can also be marketers. Hedley, for example, was a deal professional for nine years before moving into marketing and communications at General Atlantic. She believes that her experience on the deal side and in consulting helps, but she stresses that the marketing role requires a lot of communication internally to understand the firm's needs.
How the marketing role is viewed within the firm, however, can be a point of contention. Says Manuel: ?There are firms that really get it, and then there are a handful of firms that have someone in marketing but it's really, in my view, sort of a vanity purchase. They've hired someone because they think they need to, but in reality they're not committed to the position. They make it very hard for the person to do the job, they don't include them in meetings, they don't allow them to get to know the partnership? It's very important to know why the investment is made and what we are trying to achieve. You need that base understanding of that story. You'll need it whenever you need to recommunicate that story.?
Navigating potentially turbulent waters internally, yet presenting a cohesive image externally, requires the one major skill everyone agrees a marketing executive should have ?communication. ?You have to have technical expertise and experience, but it has a lot to do with soft factors too. You have to have a sense for people and their needs in order to be able to create trust,? says Nicole Brandes, director at Swiss private equity specialist Capital Dynamics.
Marketing executives say that there is a laundry list of skills they need to have. These include the ability to multitask, prioritize, organize and manage competing pressures. To this end, Charlotte Laveson, communications manager at Industri Kapital in Stockholm says her highest duty is to remain, ?cool, calm and collected.?
Private equity marketing and communications professionals should also be thorough, quick thinking, articulate, adaptable and able to see the bigger picture. They need to be creative, but also have a mind for numbers. Importantly, they have to enjoy meeting people.
In a field where many marketing executives are women and investment professionals and entrepreneurs are men, Kate Castle, director of marketing at IDG Ventures Boston adds that being assertive helps to get the job done. ?Good communication is the key to success. You need to be able to clearly and confidently tell them, 'This is the direction we're going to take',? she says.
Much like the private equity industry, the marketing function within it is changing. As Philip Bassett, partner at Permira in London says, ?There hasn't been courses you can go on to learn how to market funds. There isn't a formal training process, which means you've got an enormous amount of latitude in how you think things should be done and how people should be treated.?
Bassett himself understands well the amount of work and specialized skills involved in marketing and communications, as distinct from investor relations. After leading all communications activities at Permira himself, Bassett hired Chris Davidson in 2005 as director of communications focusing on media relations and public affairs.
?You need intellectual curiosity because this job is very selfdriven.?
Title: Marketing and communications partner
Date joined: 1994, rejoined in 1999
background: BA in American Studies from William Smith College. Equity capital markets sales for Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown's venture capital services group; administration at ABS Capital; Red Cross.
Current role: ?Basically anything that is outward facing. That can be everything from the web site to LP communications to annual meetings.? Current and prospective investor relations.
best part of the job: ?It's always challenging and changing.?
Worst part of the job: ?You have to accept that you can't do everything. It's very hard for me because I'm a very Martha Stewart-get-everything-done type of person.?
blackberry attitude: ?Maybe it's an abusive relationship, but I love it.?
Favorite part of the day: ?When I'm working out in the morning, because it's the time I start getting my head together about how I'm going to prioritize my day.?
?I'm where I want to be in terms of my career.?
Title: Vice president of marketing
Date joined: 2002
background: BS in business administration from the University of New Hampshire, MBA from Babson College. Director of marketing at BancBoston Capital; VP of marketing at ABB Energy Capital; corporate marketing manager at Cambridge Systematics.
Current role: Oversees all marketing and communications efforts. Directs production of all quarterly and annual reports to LPs and offering materials for fundraising.
best part of the job: ?The variety of projects, which encompass all facets of marketing and allow me to fully utilize my areas of expertise.?
Worst part of the job: ?Deadlines.?
blackberry attitude: ?I love it. It's much easier to stay connected and productive when I'm away from the office.?
Favorite part of the day: ?The morning. It offers a fresh start – a chance to regroup, meet with my team and plan the day.?
?It's satisfying when you've made the connection between a prospective investor and GP.?
Title: Director of marketing
Date joined: 2001
background: English teacher at Kent Denver School and North-field Mount Hermon; promotions, marketing and advertising sales/management with The Boston Phoenix; analyst at Boston Safe Deposit & Trust.
Current role: ?Creating the context for interactions between entrepreneurs, investors and fund managers.? Oversees research, business development and fundraising relationships; investor and client services; and PR and marketing.
best part of the job: ?When I'm working in a context where I'm exercising my skills and I've had impact on the outcome of the deal.?
Worst part of the job: ?There's an element of isolation (from marketing peers) due to the structure of venture firms.?
blackberry attitude: ?Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's intrusive. I'm learning to draw the line.?
Favorite part of the day: ?At work: creating communications or resources that work well. Outside of work: going home to my family.?
?It's been a process of building the capabilities we need to have.?
Title: Senior vice president
Date joined: 1987; marketing and communications since 2000
background: BA in computer science from Dartmouth College, MBA from Harvard Business School. Principal at General Atlantic; associate consultant at Bain & Company.
Current role: Focus on General Atlantic marketing, on portfolio company-related issues and support, and on internal systems related to LPs.
best part of the job: ?When I have embarked on something new that I haven't done before, or launching a new initiative.?
Worst part of the job: ?More routine aspects of the role.?
blackberry attitude: ?Certainly love-hate. I think it's both liberating and enslaving at the same time.?
Favorite part of the day: ?It depends on the day. I like it when there's a challenge.?
?What should a private equity firm look like, smell like, taste like??
Title: Marketing director
Date joined: 1997
background: BA in Geography from Manchester University. Marketing director at NatWest Ventures (now Bridgepoint Capital); associate at Alta Berkeley Associates.
Current role: ?I'm the guardian of the Candover brand so it's my job to make sure that all outfacing communications are consistent with one another and consistent with our positioning.? Coordinate marketing, communications and investor relations.
best part of the job: ?The people I work with here. They're a very, very bright bunch.?
Worst part of the job: ?If the guys are wrapped up in transactions, marketing can take a backseat.?
blackberry attitude: ?My family hates it, I love it. The only time you (they) get some relief is when you go skiing in the Pyrenees and you get no signal.?
Favorite part of the day: ?Every day is different.?
IDG Ventures Boston
?There's very little I dislike about my job.?
Title: Director of marketing
Date joined: 2005
background: BA in anthropology from Wheaton College. Director of marketing for Battery Ventures; marketing communications and PR at SanGate Systems; PR at Cisco Systems; PR at Copithorne & Bellows; Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon.
Current role: Majority of time on IDG Ventures Boston marketing, including strategy, positioning, communications and PR. Also provides marketing support to portfolio companies.
best part of the job: ?Working with great entrepreneurs who are starting the next best things.?
Worst part of the job: ?Sometimes it can get very busy and it's hard to make myself turn it off.?
blackberry attitude: ?Love it. I couldn't do my job without it. Hence the reason it's hard to turn off work sometimes!?
Favorite part of the day: ?When I am able to help a portfolio company get some great press coverage.?
?Results are better if communications people are involved at an early stage.?
Title: Communications manager
Date joined: 2005
background: BSc in marketing and communications from the University of Uppsala. Director of investor relations and public relations at Swedish high-tech company Anoto AB; press officer at Microsoft.
Current role: ?I am responsible for managing all of Industri Kapital's communication activities across the six regions which we operate in.? Also supports portfolio companies as appropriate.
best part of the job: ?It is particularly satisfying to support a portfolio company in their communication efforts or to see a good press article.?
Worst part of the job: ?Not having enough time to do everything.?
blackberry attitude: ?I love it even though my family and friends might think I'm overdoing it.?
Favorite part of the day: ?Definitely in the morning when I have breakfast and read the papers and watch the news on the television before starting the day.?
?You cannot reflect on the outside what you don't have on the inside.?
Date joined: 2005
background: Studied languages at the universities of Zurich and Granada and communication at the Swiss Public Relations Institute. Executive board member of the Mentor Foundation of Queen Silvia of Sweden; head of marketing at Bank Leu; built and managed organizations for premier clients at UBS Wealth Management and Swissair.
Current role: Responsible for all internal and external communication, including corporate identity and brand management.
best part of the job: ?Working in a dynamic company with truly great people and being the intermediary between the internal and external worlds for the firm.?
Worst part of the job: ?The fast pace and dealing with administrative items.?
blackberry attitude: ?Good, as long as you run the BlackBerry and not the other way around ?that's why I still don't have one yet!?
Favorite part of the day: ?The morning. Because the most ef-ficient ?and nicest ?communication tool is the coffee machine.?