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Private equity and negative media campaigns

21st June 2021 - Eva Wallace

Background 

Over the years, numerous individuals and industries have found themselves caught up in the cross hairs of newspaper campaigns. These media crusades are nothing new, and newspapers will try to push the boundaries as far as they possibly can- even if sometimes it results in them eventually having to issue an apology or pay damages. Ironically, newspapers involved in these antics have themselves been targeted in drives to stop these very campaigns. 

The current target is the private equity industry, primarily off the back of the collapse of various businesses due to the impact of Covid-19. There appears to be an attempt to link the demise of these businesses to the fact they have been taken-over by private equity firms.  

Private equity firms and their executives are described as vultures and predators, accusing them of squeezing money out of businesses and exploiting devoted customers. Furthermore, the private equity business model itself is criticised for being broken and exploitative.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular campaign is not just focused on private equity deals gone bad, but also on the personal lives of notable executives in the industry. This includes specific details about their alleged extravagant lifestyles, which the papers juxtapose with the current economic climate. News articles on these executives are filled with pictures of the individuals and their families aboard yachts and attending lavish parties. 

What does this mean for executives in the private equity sphere?  

While a deal itself is often considered to be the main event, the importance of a private equity firms own reputation cannot be underestimated. Whether it is in a bid to increase revenue or deal-flow, maximise sale price on an asset disposal, attract and retain the best talent or secure licenses to operate companies – savvy firms are turning their focus on their own reputation. 

So what should senior leadership working in this sector be thinking about to mitigate such risks?  

Does your online footprint truly represent your firm and its values? 

When people search for you and your company, do the results accurately reflect what you and your firm stand for? If not, its time to take back some control of your online footprint. 

Have you conducted an online audit to identify content that may damage your reputation? 

Forward-thinking firms are periodically undertaking a thorough review of what content is available online, including social media and the dark web, in relation to both the firm itself as well as their senior leadership (together with their family and any close connections). What are they checking for? Any compromising information that a journalist, business rival or disgruntled employee could uncover if they were looking for kompromat.  

Do you have sufficient monitoring in place to identify risks before they escalate?  

Social media and online blogs can be an invaluable early warning alert for potential reputation threats – but only if you have the right online monitoring in place. These precautions ensure you are alerted to any damaging content early, allowing you to react quickly to stop matters from escalating.  

Do you have a reputation crisis team on hand?  

It is imperative to identify now who your reputation crisis team should consist of, since it is vital in a crisis to be able to move swiftly and decisively. Having a team poised to act that understands you and your business needs, enables you to act swiftly should any problems arise.  

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