Be a Mentor. Not a Sponsor.
Family office conferences with a local, regional or global audience can be found in nearly every big city around the world, dealing with topics such as sector-specific investments, cryptocurrencies, succession planning or philanthropy. Many of them are good conferences, few of them truly great.
A successful family office conference needs to create a sustainable win-win-win situation, benefiting the sponsor, the attending families and the conference host. The criteria for a qualitatively outstanding event is that all stakeholders involved understand the purpose of this specific undertaking and that communication, expectation and preparation are managed with the necessary diligence. All participants, regardless on which side of the table they sit, want and need to see their expectations fulfilled and the prerequisite is rigorous honesty.
Why the best conference needs sponsors
Families who decide to participate in a conference do so with a clear intention. They want to network, mingle with other - ideally like minded - family offices, engage in discussions to learn, share their view on things, identify investment opportunities and meet service providers who are able to offer solutions to problems or support family businesses in optimising their operations.
Conferences provide the platform where families can engage with each other and third parties, financial service providers or fundraisers. The setting should be private and intimate in its nature so delegates feel comfortable to openly share their story, whether challenges they face for the sake of finding appropriate solutions or success they had with specific ventures.
Without first-class service providers as sponsors, who were scrutinised for their suitability, a conference holds little value for families. What is the point of sharing problems with a sympathetic audience that is in full agreement with the family office openly talking about their struggle if no-one offers a solution to the problem? Service providers are an integral part of every conference and are expected by family offices to be present.
Slow but loyal
Single family offices are probably the most difficult institutional investor a bank, asset manager or service provider could encounter. While few families bring in outsiders who manage every aspect of the family’s wealth and investments, most families manage their investments themselves or at least insist on having the final say.
That means whoever intends to acquire a single family office client will have to have a waterproof proposal to convince one or more family members who decide how to allocate their capital or who to ask for support. And they need to have time. While a single family office is an institutional investor, the wealth managed and invested has been earned and worked for by a single family or even individual - and they look long and hard at those proposing deals to them.
It is not just a question of returns and profit, it is a question of trust. A family is more likely to collaborate on a project with a few percent less in returns if they truly believe the story behind it, if a relationship of trust and confidence has been established and if the family feels that their counterpart truly know their facts.
Conferences are not hosted to close deals quickly and on the spot - although this happens - but they fulfil the purpose of laying the foundation for lasting long term relationships with clients that might need a little more convincing but will turn out to be loyal if treated fairly and professionally.
Some sponsors attend conferences with a sense of entitlement to close a deal or secure an investment, after all they paid to be there. Sponsoring an event in the family office realm means to be granted access to a highly sophisticated and desirable audience and the opportunity to share one’s knowledge and insight to proof the own capabilities - whether it is generating returns or providing solutions.
By attending the real work only just begins. While a sponsor might have spent weeks preparing for the participation, establishing a relationship with the client starts now and an initial feeling of trust and curiosity for the service or product has to be established at the conference.
This is best done by approaching the families and engaging them - they mostly don’t bite so they can approached in a friendly and open manner. A sponsor who has a booth or hosts a roundtable should not wait for the investor to walk up to them with their cheque book ready, willing to hand over the first million. The team present at the conference should be busy roaming the room and interest family office investors to join a round table or lead them to their booth for a more intimate and discreet conversation.
Give and don’t ask
Ultimately, everyone in the room attends for the purpose of making business an earning money and while this is legitimate, the question is how obvious one goes about it.
Sponsors - whether they are a bank, asset manager, fiduciary service provider or a start-up that is raising capital, should give to the sponsor first, then ask for business. The above mentioned establishing of trust is best achieved by telling a compelling story.
A sponsor should explain who they are and where they come from, what is the driving force behind their business and why. Insights and expert knowledge that informs and educates is a way of proving to be the right partner for a family. Discussing issues even the family was not aware it had and showcasing how best to address such issues.
Giving away advice without asking for anything from the client will leave a lasting impression. Companies should use the opportunity to sponsor an event to position themselves as a mentor for the families, an expert they are happy and confident to seek out because they feel they are in good hands with the problems they face. If a firm believes they have given enough by sponsoring an event and now it is their turn to get something in return are advised not to attend. Those who realise that a sponsorship is the gateway to a knowledge hungry audience of willing listeners will not pitch but begin their job of advising family offices before they have become clients.
Be a mentor - not a sponsor.