Q&A with Graham Hearns

Managing Director, Chief of Staff,
The Riverside Company

In terms of advice, I’d say be true to your firm. Don’t be inauthentic because people see through that quickly.

How would you characterize The Riverside Company’s approach to marketing/communications?

Our core audience is entrepreneurs and business owners, so we gear a lot of what we do to capturing their attention. We are very focused on generating deal flow and inspiring owners of successful companies to view Riverside as a great partner for growth. Our marketing materials, whether they cover new deals or other activities, emphasize our growth-oriented approach and eagerness to partner with successful businesses.

Marketing’s goal is to generate more deals and to earn a higher probability of winning the deals we attract. An additional benefit of this focus is that it often helps us attract great talent in the form of prospective employees. We’re proud of our public face, which we believe accurately reflects who we are every day.

Riverside has a unique “voice” in the marketplace. How would you describe that “voice”, and what is your strategy for developing and maintaining the Riverside “voice”?

A lot of people know us from our playful news releases and Co-CEOs willing to inject some fun in the often staid world of finance. Our voice goes well beyond that. We saw an opportunity early on to stand for something different and do things differently. We saw some less than stellar behavior, and we believed there was room in the market for a firm that followed the golden rule and left great references in its wake. There are a lot of great firms that do things the right way, but that approach has been a great foundation for Riverside since Day 1. Our voice is really based on that.

It’s also worth noting that the firm speaks with one voice even though we are very international. Whether you see a Riversider present testimony before Congress, write a guest article in a Spanish magazine, or do a magazine interview in Australia, our core values shine through.

What are the biggest challenges for marketing professionals within the private equity industry?

It’s increasingly difficult to have a unique voice due to regulatory changes around the world. It is more difficult to tout our differentiators and it ends up making a lot of firms look essentially the same at a glance.

Another challenge is the general negative perception and misconceptions many people unfamiliar with private equity have of the industry. We have to overcome those biases even before we introduce ourselves. We’re proud to be a leader in the efforts to counter this misinformation, but it is still a challenge for any PE firm.

How would you characterize the state of marketing/communications at private equity firms, and what advice would you give other firms that are considering raising their profile?

It’s more sophisticated and advanced now that it was when we started. Riverside was unique 20 years ago in spending significant resources on marketing, let alone having a staff for it. Today, most firms have caught up in that regard, so that’s a major shift.

In terms of advice, I’d say be true to your firm. Don’t be inauthentic because people see through that quickly. Work to tell stories because they’re engaging and they help illustrate all the good work we do in PE. Diversify your marketing efforts. Also, use a varied approach to get your message out – don’t just issue releases or work in one or two channels. Our marketing efforts include those basic things, but we also do events, guest articles, mailings, social media, meetings and lots of other things. Finally and maybe most importantly, remember that marketing is a relationship business. Don’t lose sight of the importance of a cup of coffee and a handshake with a contact, journalist or other stakeholder.

What marketing/communications initiatives are you most proud of at Riverside?

In an industry that’s changed a lot since 1988, we’ve stayed true to our culture the whole time. That voice you asked about earlier? That exists because it’s us. Is part of the DNA of the firm.