Discretion, silence and anonymity are no longer viable means of operation for family offices. Traditionally, family offices have always been discreetly private, hiding all track-record of investment successes and more often than not, covertly operating under ambiguous and unrecognisable company names.
But as our world becomes more connected, as online information becomes increasingly transparent and widely available, family offices are unconsciously eroding one of their most powerful assets—their reputation—by choosing the ‘right to remain silent’.
Our digital landscape has changed, and family offices must now adapt to the new lay of the land. More so than ever before we judge others on, and in turn are judged by, a sort-of digital credibility score. An ambiguous, intangible rating that sits in the cloud somewhere, influenced by the sort of information that sits online for a particular person or company—such as the quality of their website, the types of articles about them, how much information can be found.
Let’s consider a more relatable example. Unbeknownst to many, those who use the popular taxi service Uber will have a ‘rider rating’. The higher the rating, the quicker you get matched and ultimately picked up by the highest-rated drivers. On the flip side, the lower your rating, the longer you have to wait before you get picked up, often by the poorest rated drivers too. And in some cases, you may even be left stranded at the side of the road waiting endlessly.
In essence, those with higher ratings, with higher track-records of positive experiences, will have quicker access to quality services, contacts and experiences that get them from point A to B.
Sound familiar? That’s because the exact same principle applies to family offices. Investees and external stakeholders will only do business and offer lucrative investment opportunities to those who have that ‘high rating’, those who have positive reputation and a well-constructed, easily accessible online profile.
Instead of operating covertly and under the guise of anonymity, families and family offices need to proactively start sculpting their online presence. Not only will it result in more beneficial deal flow, but it also establishes credibility, safeguards against negative media coverage, and sets them apart from competitors.
So, what can family offices do? For a start, HNW families, family offices and principals should consider outsourcing such work to professional communications and media advisers. Too many HNW families and family offices think that they can sort this out in-house. Hiring a website designer to quickly put something up online and paying for shoddy coverage on a second-rate website will only backfire. This will often result in something that appears fake, inferior, and phoney—certainly not the qualities a family office strives for.
A communications agency that works with private clients will understand the challenges and sensitivities of operating in this milieu. Often, sitting down with the family office principal or the family themselves, to get a sense of the values, messaging and narrative that the family wishes to communicate to the wider audience. This is a critical step as it will determine how the family and family office is positioned online.
Quality over quantity
It is important to find the most suitable platform that is well-positioned to publish information about the family and the family office. A professional media advisor will look to create, write and secure articles on reputable and well-regarded publications so that coverage about the family or the family office sits and ranks amongst the first results for a Google search of their particular name. There are two important elements to consider when securing media coverage:
- Where it is placed. Sponsoring and placing content on sub-par websites is not an efficient communications strategy and it is one which will often backfire. Increasingly, the public can recognise content that is placed artificially. It is much better to secure a top-tier, high-end piece of media coverage from a reputable, recognisable and trusted publication. This will not only ensure that the information is concretely embedded in the first page of Google, but also that it is not at risk of being drowned out by potentially negative or harmful content in the future.
- Setting a strategy around the narrative. When securing media placements, it is important to go in with a clear strategy—a clear and developed sense of what you want to achieve from that engagement. It means going in with a sense of the message that you want to communicate about yourself, your business, and your other activity. The media are rightly independent and it is not possible to treat journalists as if they are writing sponsored content, but often too many people fail to get the result they expect because they didn't go into the engagement with a clear sense of what they wanted to achieve in the first place.
Judge a book by its cover
The truth of the matter is that we do judge a book by its cover. That's because presentation, design and appearance are important, if not critical, to effectively communicating a message. Which is why companies and successful businesses spend millions a year on brand and website design development. In recent research, we found that the public put the most trust in primary sources, such as personal websites.
Despite this, many family offices still have websites that are effectively blank digital canvases—not only is this a wasted opportunity, but it also is a red mark against a family or family office's reputation. It is important that family offices have a well-designed website with an overarching message that sets them apart from other investors, especially in a hyper-competitive investment environment. It helps position the family office as modern, credible and trustworthy and this gives family offices an edge in dealmaking. This puts them in a good position to attract deal flow and ensure that partners will want to work with them.
In fact, our latest research showed that the most important factor for stakeholders when considering whether to do business with a family office was the visibility of the business track record. A family office website is a perfect platform to selectively and carefully communicate previous business success as well as the family values that drive investment activity—SFOs and MFOs such as the Blu Family Office do this excellently.
Without such a valuable asset, family offices with no online presence give the impression that they have something to hide and risk losing out to potentially lucrative investment opportunities.
In the immortal words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives... It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. Successful individuals, wealthy families and family offices must recognise that times are changing, that they must evolve to an increasingly digital landscape or risk becoming outdated relics of the past. The time to proactively act is now, especially since having a representative online profile will set family offices apart from other competitors.
But as more family offices, big-ticket PE firms and Venture Capital players start sculpting their online profiles, this competitive digital arena will soon fill and the advantage will soon wear thin. Watch this space, because eventually this will become the norm.
Recognising the many opportunities that fostering positive reputation provides, is a mark of enterprise, adaptability and innovation—undeniably values that family offices and successful individuals stand behind. So, simply put, would you rather be amongst the first to pioneer these waters or be left behind playing catch-up once the ship has sailed?
Hector Paschalides is an Executive at Transmission Private, specialising in digital communications, digital media, and managing online profiles.