By Diane Harrison
Spring is typically filled with tailored events for investors and managers to engage, learn about industry happenings and market views, and find investment opportunities with each other. One of the newer trends at such events includes the speed-date, in which pre-arranged, one-on-one sit down meetings allow investors with an interest in particular strategies to interact for 10-20 minutes with the fund manager or representative and get an initial feel for the fund’s uniqueness.
On its face, this sounds like a great idea—the elevator pitch with both parties captive to the conversation. In reality though, this face time can be mangled by mishandling: precious time lost to vagueness, data details, and portfolio phrasing pabulum—bland, insipid intellectual lingo.
ALTERNATIVES LINGO GROUPSPEAK
After attending numerous networking functions and witnessing many of these manager/investor exchanges, I thought it useful to offer up ten of the popular blunders managers make with prospective investors. While these statements may be truthful in general, they offer no color, specificity, or distinction from which managers can separate their approach from other rival managers in the business.
Worse, many of these phrases can be found in hundreds, if not thousands of the pitch book presentations these managers rely upon to articulate their unique offering. To paraphrase George Patton’s “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking,” if everyone is saying the same thing, then no one is saying anything.
INVESTMENT ACUMEN REDUCED TO PABLUM
Following are 10 of the more egregious errors in alternatives marketing pitches. The first five are general to any strategy. The last five are offered for those managers who have approaches that focus on equity-related strategies, as these are most popular and offer many generalized blunders. Caution: if you are a manager, some of these may hit a little too close to home, but should serve as a warning to revisit your own pitch tactics, written and verbal.
- We capitalize on market inflection points in which we can successfully execute our strategy.
The most generalized statement with virtually all of its meaning stripped away by vagueness. What investment manager can’t say they do this?
- We have a unique/slash proprietary network from which we get deal flow.
Investors want to know about the source of a manager’s universe of investment trade ideas. Does this ‘secret-sauce’ protected statement give them any insight into the answer they are seeking? Can the manager obtain enough opportunities as they scale their AUM? Is their investment approach based on a singular, limited set of current market dislocations? This general answer provides no clue to either of these issues, nor any other useful information.
- We employ an integrated top-down and bottom-up approach to exploit market opportunities.
A hackneyed phrase found in virtually every pitch. All managers seem to be either top-down, bottom-up, or both. Strike this phrase in favor of one or two sentences that actually describe how markets present opportunities for a particular strategy.
- We apply private analysis to public securities.
This is supposed to imply the manager knows secrets that others miss in the public market channels. In reality, every manager is looking at the market data and assessing it to arrive at some actionable conclusion to yield attractive results. Give an example that showcases your evaluation abilities to demonstrate the result of this analysis.
- We employ effective risk management to emphasis downside protection.
Is there any manager who isn’t managing risk to avoid a blow up? Does the word ‘effective’ really offer an investor comfort that a manager has this risk covered? Put some parameters around this process to strengthen the conviction for investors that their money will be well-managed for the long-term.
- The equity market’s wide dispersion in returns suggests a key opportunity for stock picking.
Eureka! The equity markets include companies that range from poor returns to great returns? This seems self-evident, not a selection criteria for a hedge fund manager who trades in equities.
- We believe that opportunities exist to invest in fundamentally-sound companies at a discount.
This statement varies only a wee bit from the above generalized statement, and offers just as little insight. The manager might as well say, “We buy low and sell high.”
- We exploit market inefficiencies to capitalize on these dislocations.
What types of inefficiencies do managers look for? How can these be uncovered? Define “capitalize” in terms of a strategy—is it opportunistic? Activist? Event-driven? Arbitrage? Market neutral? What is the market disconnection and how can the manager take advantage of it? An investment example would say much more than the headline statement most managers stop at, feeling they’ve made their case.
- We analyze a company’s business and determine key pressure points which could materially change the company’s prospects, and monitor such issues.
This concept is fine as a lead-in to what constitutes a pressure point, but the focus never develops. Various strategies will determine differing pressure points, and more importantly, react to them in specific ways. Where managers often go wrong with this point is that they leave the details unsaid, or undefined in their pitch presentations, believing that investors will accept the statement at face value and somehow intuit their particular expertise.
- Our exit strategy for positions centers on key thesis points for what makes a position investable ceasing to exist.
Regrettably, this answer is often given in various iterations to the question, “How do you determine an exit strategy?” While the statement is likely true (albeit awkwardly worded), saying that a position which was investable has now become un-investable is at best the tail wagging the dog. A clear, concise trade entry, hold, and exit example would be much more illustrative in expanding on a manager’s approach to the markets.
If you are a manager, perhaps you are grimacing slightly, recognizing one or more of these offenders in your own marketing spiel. Hopefully they will inspire you to inject some color, specificity, and distinct articulation of your strategy in the next conversation or pitch presentation you make. It takes more work to be precise and compelling, but to reiterate the sage words of General Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking,”
Diane Harrison is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets. She has over 25 years’ of expertise in hedge fund and private equity marketing, investor relations, articles, white papers, blog posts, and other thought leadership deliverables. In 2016, Panegyric Marketing has been shortlisted for Family Wealth Report’s Outstanding Contribution to Wealth Management Thought Leadership and received AI Hedge Fund's Outstanding Contribution to Wealth Management Thought Leadership. A published author and speaker, Ms. Harrison’s work has appeared in many industry publications, both in print and on-line. To read more of her published work in alternatives, please visit www.scribd.com/dahhome. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.panegyricmarketing.com.