It’s a Wonderful Business: When a bell rings, a manager gets an allocation

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A thinly disguised allegory with slightly twisted references to all your beloved holiday classics…

The marketing agency guy closed his office door, wished everyone in the lobby a Merry Christmas and stepped out into the cold New York air.  It had been a good year – clients were satisfied, revenue was up, the business was growing.  But a key goal was unfulfilled:  another year was drawing to a close without anyone airing a TV commercial for an alternatives manager.  Despite all the progress his firm had made – getting managers to develop a brand; promoting differentiated language and images; using digital tracking tools; reducing pages and word count in marketing decks – that shining symbol of true marketing power had so far been elusive.

Despondent from that enormous disappointment and heedless of the impact on rush-hour traffic, he decided that the world would be better off without him.  Deftly sidestepping a homeless man – who looked strangely familiar – he caught sight of a speeding pedi-cab that he would step in front of.  With the clarity that comes during extraordinary circumstances (and with ample time, as the weary driver had to pedal half a city block with two rather large passengers on board) he had a vision of what the alternatives world would be like if he had not worked so diligently to bring modern marketing techniques to this otherwise insular world.

He saw managers carrying marketing decks with 50 densely-packed pages straining against the little plastic spirals that bound them.  Looking closer, the words on those pages were all the same – most were ‘idiosyncratic’ and ‘risk mitigation’ and ‘highly uncorrelated’.  Gantt charts showed that all managers attended the same schools and had worked for the same companies at some point in time.  The few images visible were all stock photos of big trees, big rocks or sailing ships.  And for some reason all the pages seemed to be based on the same PowerPoint template.

He saw investors paging through these decks, desperately looking for something that was different from the others.  “Just tell me how you’re different,” they cried “and show me how your approach meets my investment objectives.”  He saw that they eagerly consumed video content while riding to work, standing in line and waiting for conference calls to begin.  But not a single one of those videos related to alternatives managers.

Despite these misalignments, there were interactions between managers and prospective investors.  But in this bleak world they weren’t productive.  Managers couldn’t determine who had viewed the information they sent out; they couldn’t track visits to their websites (and most still had only the simplest of websites that offered little incentive for anyone to visit).  Investors couldn’t get a simple, summarized version of a strategy: initial, introductory requests to “send me some information” usually resulting in receiving a marketing deck.  When more information was requested, the same deck was delivered.  If the conversation progressed to an initial meeting, the manager would read aloud from the same marketing deck.  When recapping these discussions with an investment committee, it often became difficult to tell who was who.

 

But then he heard a bell – and remembered his business school days:  the teacher had said “When a bell rings, a manager gets an allocation.” That fleeting memory was shattered when the same homeless man he had avoided a moment earlier grabbed his arm and pulled him back to the curb – preventing what could have been almost certain minor cuts and bruises.  Turning to thank the stranger for this miracle on 42nd Street, he saw a twinkle in his eye – and then the man seemed to vanish into thin air.

As he waited for the light to change, he glanced at the phone held by the person standing next to him – and when he saw that she was reading a Twitter feed from a well-known hedge fund manager his heart swelled to twice its normal size.  As he hurried to catch the northbound express train he thought about the true meaning of the holidays with a renewed hope – there might just be a commercial after all.

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