PRIVATE EQUITY IN FOCUS: Back to School
Providing PR for the Annual HBS VCPE Conference

March 2, 2017

- Phil Nunes

What if you could gather more than 80 thought leaders in alternative investing, including some of the foremost names in venture capital and private equity, feature them as keynote speakers and panelists in a full day of informed commentary and candid, lively discussions on myriad industry topics and trends, and do it all with the imprimatur of Harvard Business School? Sounds like a recipe for success. And it was.

"The prudent use of PR helped draw some of those many hundreds to the Boston campus, showcased the event to a large audience beyond Boston, and furthered the club’s mission to be an influencer in venture capital and private equity."

The student-run Venture Capital & Private Equity Club at HBS held its 23rd annual VCPE conference in January on the school’s campus in Boston. Keynote speakers included that “quiet giant of investing” Seth Klarman of The Baupost Group, as well as senior executives from Bain Capital, The Carlyle Group and KPCB. The 14 panel sessions, populated with industry veterans and rising stars, and in many cases attended by overflow crowds, addressed topics as diverse as the state of VC, distressed investing, operational value creation, diversity in private equity, cross-border investing and impact investing. The audience numbered more than 700.

In addition to an organized team of highly motivated students, sought-after speakers, supportive HBS faculty and alumni, several sponsoring organizations, and of course, the Harvard name, there was an additional contributor to the day’s success – public relations. While from the start the conference organizers recognized the value of PR, they also knew their limitations, in time and expertise, to lead a public relations effort. As in past years, they called on BackBay to help.

Our mandate was to leverage our PR expertise, and longstanding relationships with the VC and PE communities and the journalists who cover them, to further raise awareness of the event and promote participation. Key to this effort, was developing impactful messaging, identifying key audiences to whom to direct those messages, and packaging and delivering them in a timely manner, using traditional and social media.

We helped recruit speakers, wrote and distributed a press release announcing the conference, and promoted the event via LinkedIn. We enlisted reporters to attend, introduced them to several of the speakers, and arranged interviews. Those discussions resulted in several conference-related articles including pieces in Private Equity International and WSJ Pro Private Equity. My two colleagues and I attended all the keynotes and most of the panel sessions, relaying the happenings via Twitter throughout the day. Although not tasked to do so, we were also able to provide some of the BackBay clients serving as panelists with impromptu presentation training, offering them on-the-spot feedback and counsel on their performances.

BackBay did all this at no cost to Harvard. Since this was a student-led initiative, in lieu of payment, we arranged a barter agreement with the VCPE club. In exchange for our services, the club designated BackBay as a gold sponsor of the conference, promoting BackBay on the event website and in marketing materials, displaying our logo, and providing a link to the BackBay website. We were granted a complimentary full-page advertisement in the conference program book, which was distributed to all attendees, and admission to the conference and pre-event reception and dinner.

This was BackBay’s third year assisting the HBS club. We have also served as the PR/marketing partner for student-run conferences at London Business School, Wharton and Yale School of Management. Next up is Northeastern University’s Collegiate Alternative Investment Summit here in Boston in April.

For a financial services-focused firm such as BackBay, these engagements have been great opportunities to showcase our branding, marketing and public relations expertise, and to work with many current and future leaders in alternative investing. It’s rewarding to partner with such committed and engaged students, among the best and the brightest, and to school them in the finer points of PR.

And I’m confident the collaborations have been equally valuable for them. The conferences are among the most visible of the many demanding projects the students undertake in business school. In agreeing to chair the events, the students accept the challenge of ensuring that under their leadership, the conferences continue the tradition of thought leadership and innovation for which they have become known. The prudent use of PR helped draw some of those many hundreds to the Boston campus, showcased the event to a large audience beyond Boston, and furthered the club’s mission to be an influencer in venture capital and private equity.

We hope to continue working with business school students at Harvard and other institutions, lending our PR expertise to cast a bright light on the conferences and helping the events, and the students, to shine.