On September 23, 2013, hedge fund managers, like me, were finally able to advertise. Hallelujah—I think. Granted, some of you will regard this development as akin to legalizing door-to-door botulism sales. I understand. Hedge fund managers are widely loathed for their enormous fees, their even bigger egos, their obscene wealth and, of late, their terrible performance. Many in the media have suggested that investors shun them.
Hedge fund beating S&P 500 expectation
But then there is little old me, with my $8.4 million hedge fund, a modest income and a record of beating the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) by 4.5 percentage points a year for nearly 12 years. I want to get bigger, but no one knows I exist. I suffer from a disease called anonymity. Could advertising be the cure?
Not really, said a consultant who works for my prime broker. When I read him a list of possible advertising vehicles—Cardiologist Monthly, Dermatologist Weekly, The Happy Plastic Surgeon—he said he doubted print ads would really sell, that they represented more of a long-term branding opportunity for bigger funds. Swell for the big dogs, perhaps, but not for me. I can’t afford brand-building. Maybe something else would do the trick.
Perhaps I could take a booth at a Manhattan street fair, with a huge graph trumpeting my returns. I ran the idea by my wife, a partner at a large law firm.
“Selling your fund between a man pushing sausage and peppers and a woman hawking Zeppole would cheapen your brand,” she said.
“But I don’t have a brand to cheapen,” I said. “I’m brand-free. I’m invisible.”
“But do you want to be known as the street-fair hedge fund guy?”
“Not really, but at least it would be an identity. Some people might actually find it refreshing and a few of them might even look at my returns.”
Then I asked my 11-year-old daughter Julia what she would think if I handed out flyers in front of Harry Winston, Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels. Julia was horrified. “You’re going to bother people while they’re shopping for jewelry?” she said.
Hedge fund campaigns
I started to get upset, partly because I knew that other managers with worse records were preparing campaigns. One in particular, a guy who’s often on TV, said months ago that he couldn’t wait to use advertising. But his funds are lackluster performers. He has nothing to brag about, but that doesn’t seem to bother him at all. The only thing that will cheapen his brand is his performance.
Still, he manages billions and I manage bupkis. Naively, I once thought performance would be sufficient. No longer. I believe in marketing. I’m just not sure how to do it.
My best friend, a lawyer, told me to concentrate on networking rather than advertising. When lawyer advertising was legalized in the late Seventies, his small firm tried it. “It was a disaster,” he said. “We got tons of calls but not a single case.” Callers tended to want millions-dollar awards for pets that had become road kill. The firm’s legal advice? Get a new cat and leave us alone.
Well, I don’t want to be hounded by cat-crazed greedheads, but I still feel I have to try something. I could advertise in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but you might need a microscope to see my ad. Or I might try neighborhood papers or possibly something more creative. So if you see a guy on stilts in midtown Manhattan with a sign touting his “high” returns, feel free to wave. I’ll try to wave back, which, of course, might cause me to fall and smash through the windows of Harry Winston. That might not cheapen my brand but it could definitely devalue my face.
But the ensuing headlines—“Harry Winston Sues Unknown Hedge Fund Manager”—could prove helpful.
Andrew Feinberg runs the CJA Partners LP hedge fund in New York. I can be reached at [email protected]. Currently, the minimum investment is just $50,000.