A Look at the Frontier of Private Equity Digital Marketing

by Debra Andrews | September 12, 2019

For today’s private equity firms, it’s no longer just about relationships and referrals. Modern marketing has brought powerful new tools to the table, and more and more firms are taking advantage of them. Those that aren’t risk getting left behind as competitors increasingly identify and capture the attention of prospects using sophisticated analytics and precisely targeted outreach. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Kristy DelMuto, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at LLR Partners, a Philadelphia-based private equity firm dedicated to helping companies accelerate growth. Kristy was an early proponent of private equity marketing, and I wanted to learn what’s helped her give LLR a sharper competitive edge and get some advice for other firms wading into private equity digital marketing.

Tell me about your role at LLR Partners. Where did marketing stand when you arrived?

My role as VP of Strategic Marketing is to champion the LLR brand and lead all marketing efforts – digital content, social media, email outreach, public relations, and so on. The position is a new one. Before I came on board almost 8 years ago, marketing was mainly focused on PR around new investments and thought leadership targeted toward sectors where LLR was investing. I kept that focus in my first year and also synced some new marketing efforts with our deal sourcing strategies as they evolved with each new fund cycle. At that time, much of the focus was on increasing brand presence in key geographic markets.

Our Marketri team often hears from prospective clients that business comes primarily through relationships and referrals, and we sometimes face skepticism about introducing modern marketing methods. When it came time to up your marketing game, did you find that skepticism at LLR?

Well, it’s true that deals were largely sourced through relationships and referrals, and that’s still critically important today. That said, LLR was open to implementing modern marketing methods, too. It’s of course not either/or. We view modern marketing – digital in particular – as one aspect of a broader sourcing strategy that will always place a high value on relationships and referrals. But you can only meet in person or on the phone so many times. Private equity digital marketing keeps us in front of contacts and prospects more regularly, and I’d say LLR was definitely on the cutting edge where those new methodologies are concerned.

So what’s working for you? What tools, technologies, or strategies are most effective?

Number one on the list would have to be our content marketing strategy. Early on, we decided to focus on sharing actionable advice about growing a business from people on the front lines – executives in our portfolio companies and our own subject matter experts. That’s what our branded GrowthBits are all about, and they represent LLR as thoughtful, action-oriented, and partnership driven. LLR made a commitment to knowledge sharing early on in our 20-year history, and GrowthBits are a natural extension of that. We’re sharing great information while celebrating the work of our portfolio companies and teams by giving them thought leadership opportunities. At the same time, we’re keeping LLR in front of companies we’re targeting for investment. Sales cycles can be very long in private equity – 2 or 3 years isn’t unusual – so we want to keep LLR differentiated and top of mind along the way. Email automation makes that much easier and also allows us to keep our referral network in the loop through updates about new deals, areas we’re investing in, and other news of interest.

As far as our tech stack goes, I always emphasize that it all starts with a great database. Modern marketing efforts will only be as good as your data, and we take database maintenance very seriously at LLR! We use Salesforce, and we’ve customized it to make it work for us as a deal tracking and referral network database. It’s synced with Marketo for email automation, and we also use Google Analytics to track website activity. Tableau is in the mix now, too, to give us greater insight into how various activities are working by segment and content type. It lets us dig deeper and visualize things more clearly.

In terms of results, what are you seeing from your private equity digital marketing efforts?

We’ve gotten great feedback from CEOs and others who are reading our content. One of my favorite anecdotes is when our teams recently arrived at a meeting, and the first thing they heard walking in was “man, I love those GrowthBits!” So things are definitely resonating, and we’re continuing to improve our use of data to see how content is aligning with a prospect’s journey.

Also, when we get unsolicited opportunities, we ask how prospects found us. The answer is almost always “we googled X and landed on your site” or “we landed on GrowthBits.” In aggregate, between the way the website is built and managed, the content we have on there, and the way we’re pushing it out, we’ve been able to shift our website traffic from almost entirely branded traffic to more than 50% non-branded traffic, meaning that new, organic visitors who don’t have any prior knowledge about LLR are finding us. They were searching for something, landed on us, and we captured their attention.

That’s great progress! What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve made these inroads?

When I started here in 2012, I had to turn outside the private equity world for learning and inspiration. There just weren’t many people in a job like mine. That’s changed a lot in the last couple of years, and now you see more private equity firms creating marketing leadership positions. It used to be that marketing was lumped in with investor relations, but more and more firms are recognizing that in order to differentiate yourself in today’s crowded market, both are really full-time jobs.

Not so much a challenge as an opportunity, I also prioritize helping our team members understand the vital roles they play in disseminating content. You really need the power of your full employee base to maximize content’s potential, so I spend a good deal of time developing internal partnerships. That could take the form of “lunch and learns” or just sitting down one-on-one to help a colleague optimize a LinkedIn post to gain more traction. When team members see how they can leverage our content and technology capabilities to nurture relationships, the internal enthusiasm catches on.

For private equity firms contemplating a shift into modern marketing, what words of advice do you have?

Firms should first clarify goals and decide the right path for them. I see a lot of blogs out there that take a more corporate approach or focus on PR. That wasn’t what we wanted to do. We were very clear about setting a strategy grounded in sharing growth-oriented advice, putting us well ahead of that curve, and we moved forward from there. Ask where you want to be in five years, and then decide on what marketing methods will help get you there.

You also want to identify an internal champion who has a real passion for marketing and a keen understanding of marketing’s potential. Having this person in place will ultimately help you hire the right internal marketing pro or external agencies/consultants, since your champion will be the one providing advocacy and direction.

Another thing I’d add is not to put the private equity digital marketing cart before the horse. Stories first, methods second. Think about the stories you want to tell right off the bat. Then figure out the best way to tell them. For example, a text-driven blog won’t necessarily serve you well if your story is more visual. In that case, put your resources behind video. The point is to avoid a cookie cutter approach. What works for one firm might not work for you.

Finally, I’d advise starting slowly and setting reasonable expectations. It took us a few years to really get rolling, from customizing and implementing Salesforce to overhauling our database, adopting Marketo, syncing everything up, relaunching our website, and developing a content strategy. You can only jump into so many things at once. What you see now at LLR didn’t happen overnight, but we made sure to mark short-term wins along the way to keep everyone excited. And it’s an ongoing process. We’re still learning and making improvements all the time!

As are we at Marketri! Thanks, Kristy. We wish you continued success on the modern marketing front lines!

Is your private equity firm ready to make the move into modern marketing? Contact the Marketri team, and let’s talk about possibilities!

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