Earlier this month in New York, Edelman hosted a discussion for private capital firms about the role of storytelling and digital communications in establishing a company’s identity. The impetus for the discussion was our thesis that while private capital is a misunderstood industry that has not done a good job explaining its purpose in society, advancements in the way alternative investment firms communicate online have created an opportunity for these significant but unknown companies to emerge in a relatively low-risk way.
It’s time for private capital firms to communicate their purpose to society. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently attacked the industry by calling private capital firms “vampires.” The word brought back memories of the infamous Rolling Stone article about the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent reputation pain that the financial industry endured in the years to follow. The notion of financial firms sucking the life out of Main Street America is still fresh in many people’s minds a decade later, and the industry has yet to rebound to reputation glory. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that financial services is still the least trusted of all industries.
When we meet with our private capital clients, we often hear that Blackstone is admired for telling their story in a sophisticated way. We also know from our work across the financial industry that LinkedIn is a preferred venue for companies seeking to communicate online with relevant external audiences, but with a certain degree of control and compliance. With that in mind, we asked Christine Anderson, Senior Managing Director of Global Public Affairs and Marketing at Blackstone, and Devin Banerjee, Senior Financial Services Editor at LinkedIn, to speak with Tyler Gray, global editorial director at Edelman, about the importance of storytelling and the ways in which corporate newsrooms and digital mediums can enable firms to communicate their best attributes directly to the audiences who matter most to them. Guests from some of the largest private capital firms in the industry, representing over $600 billion in AUM, came to listen to this timely and animated discussion.
For those of you who missed it, here are some of the key takeaways:
Create comfort with your investors through case studies
Let’s face it: Rising populist sentiment will not generate good PR for PE. To begin to counter this, private capital firms need to explain their purpose and contribution to society. Gray explained that a key component of storytelling is simply explaining what you do and why you do it, and all panelists agreed that showing how your firm can solve a problem is a good way to demonstrate your positive societal impact. For private capital firms, that might mean illustrating the long-term value and positive societal contribution of their investments by publishing case studies on company websites.
Humanize your image with video
Management succession, talent attraction and diversity and inclusion are on the minds of many in the industry. Banerjee said that engagement nearly triples when a post includes a video. Videos of executives at every level can demonstrate a bench of investing talent to LPs and can show prospective employees what it is like to work and grow your career inside the firm. Video is also a controllable format, which is helpful if you are working with executives who have never appeared in the media.
Videos allow senior executives to express their views and prepare them for eventual earned media or conference appearances by sharpening their verbal communications skills and demonstrating to influential journalists that they would be good contributors. He also said that companies can take advantage of new digital tools, such as LinkedIn Live Video and LinkedIn Newsletters, to showcase employee’ expertise in industry trends and topics in the news. Gray added that if you use LinkedIn properly, it is not the consolation prize for not landing an op-ed; rather, it is a step toward placing the op-ed in a reputable publication.
Apply a newsroom approach to source stories and preserve your executives’ time
At Edelman, we often work with large corporations with massive communications departments and in-house corporate newsrooms. Part of the reason these clients have in-house newsrooms is that it is efficient. A CEO can enter a newsroom and emerge an hour later having taped a corporate video or podcast, relayed several strategic story ideas to communications staff, and, in some cases, appeared on live television.
Private capital firms rarely require this type of setup due to their relatively small size. However, some elements of the newsroom approach should be adopted to make the communications experience efficient for senior management. Anderson advised applying discipline to conversations with senior executives and leveraging those focused, one-on-one discussions to generate content ideas and communicate them broadly. A simple conversation with deal professionals, portfolio operations partners and other subject matter experts can result in outputs spanning digital posts, thought leadership pieces, newsletters themes, podcast episodes, op-eds, videos and creative infographics.
In summary, the time is ripe for private capital firms to emerge and explain their purpose. Advancements in digital communications and platforms like LinkedIn can help them do that in a low-risk and efficient way.
Renee Calabro is head of Capital Markets Communications, New York.