As seen on TV: Hedge funds can hit the airwaves
Starting Monday, hedge, private equity and other private funds are allowed to market themselves freely for the first time. But will they actually do it?
So far, the most vocal supporters of the new rules have been service providers like public relations firms, online fund marketing portals and media companies. The group has been salivating in the press and in private at the potential for new business since President Barack Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in April 2012.
The Securities and Exchange Commission worked out most of the details as of Monday and private funds can now do virtually whatever they want to brand themselves and raise money. Fund managers can, for example, sponsor golf tournaments; buy glossy advertisements in trade magazines, cold-call potential investors and—gasp!—speak freely with the media.
But few funds are acting on the new freedom.
Some don't want to change their secretive culture, which can help cultivate an air of exclusivity and prestige. Others simply don't need the money as their firms are closed to new investment or their clients tend to be large institutions like pensions and endowments with whom they're already in touch.
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"Hedge funds and others know all about the JOBS Act and its potential impact on their business, but not many of them have any immediate plans to market themselves," said Kenny Juarez, head of Burson-Marsteller's hedge fund practice.
Fittingly, the public relations firm doesn't disclose its hedge fund clients, but spokesmen have declined to comment to the press in the past on behalf of D.E. Shaw and Moore Capital Management, among others.
"There's potential to change, but it will be slower and over time," Juarez added. "Larger funds are turning away money already—they have their pick of investors. But smaller funds will be more likely to use the new rules to gain broader exposure and money."
One such small fund is $340 million commodity hedge fund Doherty Advisors.
"We think the JOBS Act definitely creates a positive advancement for investors," said Robert Doherty, the 10-year-old firm's chief investment officer. "It will present new opportunities to reach new markets and clients in order to grow our investor base."
At the same time, CNBC.com approached dozens of public relations professionals who represent larger private fund clients to see if any of their clients planned on taking advantage of the new rules. None responded.
Perhaps most importantly, regulatory concerns remain for funds that are also registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which still has more restrictive rules on solicitation.
"There are lots of folks who think Monday is going to be a sea change with hedge and (private equity) funds ads all over the (Wall Street) Journal or CNBC," said Marc Elovitz, a private funds attorney at Schulte Roth & Zabel. "But there's significant regulatory uncertainty remaining and most firms will wait for clarity before making any changes to how they operate."
(Read more: SEC prepares for hedge fund ad blitz)
For service providers, the mantra has been build it and hope they come.
Dallas money manager Ed Butowsky is launching 720 Investor, an online portal for funds to market themselves to investors.
"With the JOBS Act being passed, the world of how you match up private offerings to individuals has drastically changed," Butowsky said. "People can now put on a marketing showcase."
Butowsky hopes 720 will be the showcase of choice: hedge and other types of funds will use the website to house pitchbooks, legal documents and commentary from managers. Butowsky said he has 30 firms—most of them hedge funds—signed up already.
The managers, including Doherty Advisors, pay $3,000 a month to be on the site. For another $2,000 a month, they are marketed to 100 qualified investors a day.
Another website, HedgeConnection.com, will soon open to the public based on the new rules.
The now-10,000 fund database was founded in 2005 by former Cerberus Capital Management marketer Lisa Vioni but access has been limited to accredited investors (more than $1 million in investable assets or an annual salary of more than $200,000). Now, all the fund profiles will be open access, including previously sensitive performance and asset information, according to Vioni.
"Being able to give everyone access to this information makes them a better investor," she said.
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Others are taking a more curated approach.
Artivest, a soon-to-launch site founded by alums of hedge fund firms Clarium Capital and Paulson & Co.and multi-family office BBR Partners, will feature only selected private equity, venture capital and other private funds. Artivest wouldn't say who will be on the site, but early backers include venture capital firms RRE, Deep Fork Capital, Red Swan and 500 Startups.
"What will actually happen once the rules go live remains to be seen," said CEO James Waldinger, a former emerging markets portfolio manager at Peter Thiel's Clarium. "The most innovative firms recognize that we're entering a new era and are interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to lead the industry in the direction of openness, but want to do things the right way.
"They want to remain on the right side of the new regulations, communicate effectively to a new audience of investor who is less familiar with what they do, and remain authentic to who they are on this much larger stage."
There are plenty of other service providers.
Kurtosys, a provider of digital marketing and client reporting tools for asset managers, expects significant new business from private funds as managers market themselves more.
"We are going to approach many more hedge funds," said Matt Stone, Kurtosys' director of marketing. "It's a new budget category for a lot of these folks."
Victor Park of conference and fundraising firm Alternative Assets hopes to cash in on the JOBS ACT by leasing domain names. Park owns websites like FundofFunds.com, FundofHedgeFunds.com and ConvertArbFund.com and has already leased rights to several dozen.
"The JOBS Act is the biggest catalyst to the hedge fund industry ever," Park said.
—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne. Follow him on Twitter @ldelevingne.