Teams that sell investment management to institutional clients often call themselves "Institutional Marketing" - the rational being that their clients are too sophisticated to be "sold" to, and marketing sounds softer and less "transactional".
The paradox is that these teams had little faith in the power of actual marketing (in the true sense) - given they focused only on building relationships in a concentrated and sophisticated section of audience. Their job was nurturing relationships with prospects and consultants, with the actual marketing department producing a few white papers written by the investment team.
Pitch books (and by extension the messaging within them) were produced by the investment team working with the "institutional marketing" team and focused almost exclusively on investment process. That focus is important for this audience, and remains so, but over time any clear articulation of a manager's investment philosophy and approach has been slowly smothered in an ever-increasing number of slides with ever more words on the page. As teams and client needs evolved, it was death by group think, and death by PowerPoint. Clarity didn't stand a chance.
80 slide pitch books became the norm, and the standard opening line of a pitch was "please turn to page 17" (the 2010 equivalent of "You're on mute"). I encountered one slide deck recently with eight corporate profile slides - and not one of them told me what to think, it was just a deluge of information. If the purpose of a pitch book is to assist the presenter in telling his or her story, these are not working. Too many words on too many slides means the pitch book is competing with the presenter. Making an impact in a beauty parade (to be the most memorable pitch at the end of the day) then becomes very difficult.
The messaging in a pitch needs to be clear and simple - an investment philosophy focused on identifiable and persistent pricing inefficiencies, and a process to find and exploit them, for example. Meanwhile the consultants are obsessed with what makes a portfolio manager (or a team) tick. However much both client and sales deny it, a bit of personality goes a long way. This is a people business.
Whether it is greater competition, fewer mandates or the need to differentiate both amongst active peers and against passives, I think we've seen a big shift in the mindset of institutional marketing in the last few years. Marketing is in. By that I mean as an industry we're waking up to the power of storytelling (in all client channels, not just retail). When we're talking pitch books, this is hard to quantify, but I can at least report a significant increase in the number of clients asking White Marble (as marketing consultants) to help them build more impactful pitch books or messaging for selling their strategies to new institutional clients. And more groups are working on their messaging across entire asset classes ("capabilities"), not just individual strategies. (Just don't call an asset class a "space" - it's baffling to the trustees you are trying to impress.)
What we can quantify is how many slides they want. Most aim for around 15 (a reduction of 80%), and while that isn't always achieved, anything less than 25 is going to make for much easier meetings with a clear beginning, middle and end.
Size matters, and in this case less is more. It focuses our minds on what we want to say - or more particularly what we want the audience to think.
(And think of the hours saved in no longer updating all those deadwood slides!)