City & Corporate: Private equity body looks for help

EU legislation European Venture Capital Association is close to appointing FD Blueprint for media brief.

The trade body representing Europe's private equity sector is set to bring in external help to focus its media relations activity in the run-up to crucial EU legislation.

The European Venture Capital Association (EVCA) is thought to be close to signing up FD Blueprint - a Brussels based subsidiary of FD - on a pan-European media and PR brief.

The EU's proposed alternative investment fund managers directive has come in for heavy criticism from private equity, hedge funds and asset management firms for being too restrictive and potentially damaging to Europe's financial services industry.

EU politicians set to return to Parliament in September and debate around the directive will step up again, with many politicians looking to clamp down on the sectors still further.

There has been a lengthy lobbying process around the directive, primarily handled by in-house teams at the EVCA and respective national organisations, but now the European industry body feels it requires a more focused media relations strategy.

The EVCA was unable to confirm FD Blueprint's appointment, saying: 'An agreement is yet to be finalised, therefore we are unable to comment at this stage.'

The brief is thought to be Europe-wide rather than focusing on the UK, where much of the private equity industry is based. The UK's private equity sector is represented by the British Venture Capital Association, but it is thought FD Blueprint will work on behalf of the entire European industry focusing on EU-level issues.

The private equity industry has made a concerted effort to increase transparency since heavy criticism in 2007. However, there has been criticism private equity has lacked message writing clarity. In PRWeek in August, Anthony Hilton, City commentator on the London Evening Standard, said the recent efforts of private equity had been a 'PR nightmare'.

One in-house private equity comms source said hedge funds could threaten to quit EU jurisdictions, but private equity has had to take a more complex approach: 'It would be a good idea to build a campaign around the fact private equity is fundamentally about business improvement, but that is not the easiest message to convey.'

The source backed the media focus: 'It is helpful if there is reasonably positive news flow about the industry at the point where this is being discussed in Brussels.'

HOW I SEE IT - JOHN KIELY, MD, SMITHFIELD CONSULTANTS

The private equity industry has a number of audiences it has to address - the principal one being the politicians responsible for drafting the legislation in the European parliament. In recent times private equity has received a reasonable amount of positive press coverage, but elsewhere in Europe this is not the case. Campaigns must be pan-European and target more than the UK financial press.

The key thing the industry needs to demonstrate is private equity is part of everyone's investment portfolio. It needs to show this is not just exclusively for the super rich.

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