The JOBS Act has already sparked a number of interesting questions from hedge fund managers who want to begin more aggressive advertising campains under the new laws. We have generally been cautioning managers on starting any campaign until after the SEC has promulgated regulations. However, we do think that managers may want to start thinking about how they may implement a more robust marketing program as part of their overall capital raising plan. The article below, contributed by Meredith Jones and Joseph Pacello of Rothstein Kass, provides some insights into the opportunities available for fund managers post JOBS Act.
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JOBS Act Opens New Window of Opportunity for Hedge Fund Marketing
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, signed into law by President Obama on April 5, offers hedge funds and other private investment vehicles more latitude for their marketing efforts. In this article, Meredith Jones and Joseph Pacello discuss some of the implications of the bill and issues that need to be on the agenda of savvy fund managers.
Since the launch of the first hedge funds in the 1940s, hedge funds have been subject to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prohibitions on advertising and general solicitation. While “namebrand” funds with widespread name recognition and extensive investor relationships have generally not been impacted by these restrictions, the inability to solicit capital from accredited investors who were not previously known significantly curtailed the marketing and capital raising efforts of smaller funds. Over the last three years, in the wake of the global economic contraction of 2008, managers with less than $1 billion particularly chafed under these restrictions, as they chased scarce investors, often with fewer resources.
The JOBS Act potentially removes those prohibitions, pending formal rulemaking by the SEC, who will have final say on how the JOBS Act is implemented. Under the new rules, the SEC would eliminate the prohibition on general solicitation as it relates to hedge funds, provided that the only purchasers are accredited investors. As a result, accredited investors will no longer have to be previously known to the fund. In addition, the Act theoretically removes the prohibition on general advertising, giving funds greater opportunity to and options for communication with potential investors.
While managers with more than $1 billion under management appear to be taking the rule change in stride, for funds with less than $1 billion under management, this new freedom to communicate with investors presents a wealth of potential new capital raising avenues. Fully leveraging this opportunity, however, will require funds to become more sophisticated and strategic in their marketing efforts. Those that fail to do so risk being alsorans in what is sure to be a more competitive period ahead.
Frankly, the previous regulations made “hedge fund marketing” almost a contradiction in terms. Much of the capital raising success of a fund was predicated on the fund’s existing relationships, or their ability to develop new contacts through limited resources, such as hedge fund databases, conferences and networking events. While relationships—not to mention performance—will always be important, the JOBS Act should result in a greater emphasis on marketing strategy and execution in the capital-raising process.
The fact that all funds will be able to solicit all accredited investors means that more investors will be hearing from more funds. The increased volume of conversations means that funds will have to “rise above the noise” to succeed in capital raising. Firms that plan and communicate effectively will therefore have a strategic advantage over those who do not.
The implementation of changes to the existing solicitation and advertising restrictions will not occur before early July, the deadline by which the SEC must complete rulemaking for this section of the JOBS Act. To be clear, we have yet to see how the SEC will interpret this change. For example, fund-sponsored mailings or events could be permitted, but not without extensive records of investor qualification documents being collected in advance. Press releases could be more common, but there could be limitations on what can be discussed. As a result, in this interim period it is probably wise not to be overly aggressive with new marketing avenues or advertisements. However, this doesn’t mean that funds should sit back and wait for the SEC’s final rule to begin preparations.
Because the capital raising environment was already becoming more competitive, particularly at the smaller and emerging ends of the alternative investment spectrum, funds should use the next 90 days to carefully review the quality of their marketing materials. In particular, funds should examine their marketing through the eyes of a potential investor and ask:
• Does the fund know its competition and can it differentiate itself with a clearly defined value proposition? This is particularly important if the fund operates in a highly saturated area, such as long-short equity, macro, futures trading and private equity.
• Are the fund’s marketing materials clear and concise? It is a common mistake to assume length equals conviction. Indeed, most investors offer approximately one hour for an initial meeting and length can spell repetition of some facts, while having to omit others due to time constraints. A clearly defined value proposition often takes fewer words, not more.
• Is there a well defined “story?” Although tempting, particularly for funds where the manager pulls double-duty as a marketer, it is not always advisable to assume the strategy and opportunity speaks for itself. It is vital that the documents and pitch communicate not just what you do, but who you are as a manager and a firm, including how you view risk and run a business.
• Do the marketing materials have a sophisticated look and feel? While the content of the materials does the heavy lifting, their look and feel set the tone. Does your firm appear to be institutional? Are the slides dense or wellpaced? Do you have a consistent brand? Aim for crisp and clean layouts that help the reader through the material.
• How strong is the fund’s marketing capability? Few hedge funds have the luxury of a full-time dedicated marketing (as opposed to fund-raising) professional on staff. Firms should consider bringing in an experienced outside consultant who can make high-value, targeted improvements.
In this evaluation process, it is also important to recognize that things like pitch books are more than mere props—they structure the conversation a fund has with its potential investors. A poor pitch book means that important points are likely to be skipped over (or blunted from repetition); a good pitch book amplifies the effectiveness of the presenters.
When revising communications materials, remember that anti-fraud regulations remain in place; a fund needs to be scrupulous in its representations and consistent in its themes. For some in the marketing world, “gilding the lily” is a common practice, however in the investment arena, it is one to be avoided. Explanatory notes, review by the firm’s legal counsel and truth in advertising will still be required under the new rules. Also note that as more materials are generated and sent to a wider audience, the ability to track communication will become more important as well. If the SEC audits your firm post JOBS Act, you will need to be able to present full documentation of your marketing efforts.
Regardless of the final interpretation of the JOBS Act by the SEC, funds also need to develop a marketing plan to guide their outreach to potential investors. Again, the competition for assets has gotten more, not less, fierce over the last three years. Putting a strategic marketing plan in place will curtail the impulse to cast the widest possible net and pursue every available audience. Because most funds have limited marketing resources, it is essential to allocate those resources strategically. This requires looking at three factors:
1. Capacity: Marketing efforts need to be scaled to how much capital needs to be raised. A stellar marketing campaign that results in turning away a significant number of investors represents wasted resources. A fund that is making steady progress toward being fully subscribed may in fact be able to meet its goals by continuing its current network-based outreach.
2. Manpower: Pursuing investors takes time, and for many firms, that means time away from other tasks, including investment management. Funds need to determine, given their capacity, which audiences are most likely to result in the largest return on their marketing investment and prioritize accordingly.
3. Money: A firm’s marketing spend needs to be allocated so that it is directed toward strategically valuable efforts and does not cannibalize other functions.
Certainly, the potential benefit of the JOBS Act is that funds, particularly those with less than $1 billion under management, will be able to leverage their capital raising efforts. Blogs, websites, email campaigns, advertisements, press releases and other marketing activities may allow funds to extend their reach, effectively providing a type of “air cover” for their one-on-one capital raising efforts. However, any decisions to engage in these activities should be evaluated in light of the restrictions above.
In conjunction with a review of marketing, funds should also examine their investor relations bandwidth. For 3(c)7 funds directed toward qualified purchasers, the JOBS Act raises the maximum number of holders of record from 499 to 1,999. This means that funds that are near their investor maximum could potentially make the decision to allow more investors (capacity of the strategy permitting), or consolidate existing 3(c)7 funds. It is unlikely that these changes will have a tremendous impact on all but the largest fund complexes at the present time. However, if a manager does decide to increase his investor headcount, then effective and proactive investor relations will undoubtedly become a greater concern, which we will address in a future article.
Rothstein Kass will be monitoring the SEC rulemaking in connection with the JOBS Act and its impact on private funds.
By Meredith Jones, Director and Joseph A. Pacello, CPA, JD, Principal
For more information on this article and for services offered by Rothstein Kass, please contact Meredith Jones, Director at 972.581.7066 or via e-mail at [email protected]
Meredith Jones, Director
Meredith Jones is a director at Rothstein Kass responsible for generating research and content on the alternative investment industry by and on behalf of the firm. She also provides business advisory services to the firm’s clients. Meredith has more than 14 years of experience in the alternative investment industry, with extensive expertise in research, writing, consulting, marketing, business development, due diligence, index construction and asset allocation. Her research has been published in a number of books and journals and in the international press.
Prior to joining Rothstein Kass, Meredith was a director in the Barclays Capital Inc. Strategic Consulting Group, where she was responsible for producing thought leadership content on a variety of manager and investor focused topics, as well as leading consulting projects for BarCap clients. She previously served as a managing director at PerTrac Financial Solutions (PFS), a leading provider of investment analytics. At PFS, Meredith was responsible for research, marketing, investment data, and was a fixture on the international hedge fund conference circuit.
Meredith began her career in alternative investments at Van Hedge Fund Advisors International in 1998, where she became the senior vice president and director of research. Meredith led the team responsible for hedge fund due diligence, manager selection, portfolio construction, hedge fund data, index creation and industry research while at VAN.
Over the past 14 years, Meredith has presented her original research and insights to industry participants around the world and has had her findings published in books, journals, industry publications and major media outlets, including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal of Investing, Alternative Investment Quarterly and the Financial Times.
Cole-Frieman Mallon & Hunt LLP is a law firm to the investment management industry and runs the Hedge Fund Law Blog. Bart Mallon can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.