Anthony Hilton: Hedge funds need to grasp PR nettle

Probably the most irritating PR people to deal with as a journalist are those who think press coverage is like turning on a tap – when they want to talk to reporters, they expect them to come running; when they want to be left alone, the press will keep a discreet distance.

Hedge funds are like this. When the industry was small, it was indeed left alone by all but a few specialist journals. But in recent times, as hedge funds began to influence the outcome of takeovers, the mainstream press began to get curious. As their activities got more coverage, so the hedge funds began to retain PR consultants.

This in itself proved something of a challenge for a lot of PR firms. Hedge-fund strategies can be complex, and quite a few PR practitioners have difficulty separating their alpha from their beta, let alone understanding the more arcane investment games these people play.

But consultants Tom Hampson, who is moving from M to Merlin (see story, left), and Neil Bennett at Maitland seem to have cracked it.

So far, though, it is a bit one-way – consultants understand hedge funds, but hedge funds don’t understand PR. Most of the former’s practitioners find it difficult to understand why anyone would be interested in them. Their obsession with the microscopic detail of markets means that many live in a very odd world.

It will be interesting to see if hedge funds can become media-savvy fast enough to avoid the consequences of public ignorance. If they want people to understand them, they have to be open. If people continue to fail to appreciate what they do, hedge funds are likely to attract regulation.

So they should see PR and engagement with the media as a hedge  – a strategy to minimise a significant long-term  risk to their business. Put like that, they really ought to be able to get it.

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