Planning an Engaging AGM in a Virtual World
Realistically, COVID-19 has and will continue to impact all aspects of traditional LP relationship management, potentially creating semi-permanent virtual interactions for the foreseeable future, beginning with the Annual General Meeting (“AGM”). GPs heading into the Fall and Spring 2020 AGM seasons will face new challenges when planning and managing these once in-person events.
Several schools of thought have emerged on best practices for virtual AGMs. However, based on Darien Group’s observations within its client base and the industry at large, rewriting the rules of the AGM is not necessary. Rather it is the logistics of the event that have changed, not its core focus. Transmitting the brand, ensuring top-quality content, adding dynamic content like video production, and requisite preparation remain key differentiating factors.
Transmitting the Brand
Traditional, in-person AGMs serve dual purposes: (1) providing an annual update as defined by the fund’s governance documents, and (2) creating an opportunity for LPs to engage with the GP’s entire team, conveying the strengths and cohesion of the organization. Subtle cues transmitted over the course of an AGM, both non-intentional and non-verbal, can be powerful indicators to an astute LP. The rise of the virtual AGM removes many of these indirect tools once readily available for GPs to represent their brand.
Now more than ever, a key consideration for GPs is how to effectively transmit the brand of the firm in a digital platform. Attention should be paid to the strategic inclusion of core messaging, design elements, and speaker selection. As with any brand element, the key question for each virtual AGM decision should be, “Does this align with the main takeaway I want our LPs to have – this year and always?”
The Three C’s of Content: Clear, Concise, and Contributive
Without the benefit of a fully captive audience, GPs must place extra emphasis on selectivity and high-grading of AGM content, all while maintaining the requisite brevity for a digital medium. GPs should focus on designing a strategic agenda with appropriate content and tone representative of their key talking points, such as highlighting portfolio successes or navigating challenges. Now is the time to strategically reimagine your “typical agenda” or “usual approach” which includes content, timing, and infotainment.
Materials shared with LPs immediately following the virtual event will provide LP analysts with the deep data required on the portfolio. Rather than allocating time to review each portfolio exhaustively in detail, the virtual venue should instead place emphasis on memorable takeaways and, throughout the presentation, all content should subtly reinforce important themes, weaving a consistent and concise narrative.
Differentiating Through Digital Engagement
The inclusion of high-quality video production and dynamic presentation content can immediately elevate and increase the impact of a firm’s AGM experience. GPs can implement stylized and modern approaches to capture highlights from the year, like key exits and milestones, or feature scripted interviews from the firm or portfolio company leadership. This approach not only controls the presentation (e.g., the portfolio CEO who speaks for too long), but a well-produced brief video tactically creates a diversity of content and increases audience engagement. As an added benefit for the GP, raw footage obtained for a virtual AGM can readily be repurposed for other uses in a public-facing capacity or to augment a firm’s fundraising and origination capabilities.
Fortune Favors the Prepared
Once the content itself is finalized, an oft-overlooked component of any presentation is its delivery. Technology issues notwithstanding, video conferencing can exacerbate certain negative traits of speakers, such as a monotonous voice or nervous ticks, and minimize the positive uplift of dynamic body language and direct eye contact. According to a study by a Wharton marketing professor, Jonah Berger, speakers who vary the pace, pitch, and volume of their voices can have a bigger impact, humanizing the interaction and highlighting core messaging.
In addition, GPs should take a very deliberate approach to this element of their planning: strategically considering which members of the team present and in what format (such as pre-recorded, live Q&A, panel session, or interview-style fireside chat, etc.). In this context, GPs also should consider the timing and format of materials distribution, solicitation of LP questions, and the alignment of presentation content with presenting speakers.
About Darien Group
Darien Group is a branding and communications agency founded specifically to serve the needs of clients in the investment management industry. The firm combines a creative approach with deep understanding of the private equity and real estate investment industries, developing and producing brands, digital platforms, supporting collateral, and fundraise materials that help its clients more effectively achieve their business goals.
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