“Dog and Pony Show”: Financial Expression of the Day

Dog and pony

They’ll never admit it, but managing directors love nothing more than a good dog and pony show. (Photo: silverdoctors.com)

Dog and Pony Shownoun phrase, according to Merriam-Webster: an often elaborate public relations or sales presentation; also, an overblown affair or event. Usage note: Although many senior bankers would never admit it, they all love a good dog and pony show. A catch-all expression, it aptly describes many of the silly presentations that bankers crank out and actually believe rank higher than brain surgery in importance and difficulty.  A good example is a road show, which is a series of presentations given to professional investors by the management team of a company that is issuing securities (for example, an initial public offering). It gets its name because management and the lead underwriter (simply put, “the lead” in banker parlance) literally go on the road like a bunch of Bible-selling hucksters, hitting all major US cities (and Europe if it’s a real boondoggle) in attempt to drum up interest in their deal by rhapsodically talking up the company’s prospects while walking the truth/lie knife edge, a game that everyone involved- pitcher and pitchee- tacitly understands. They do big group breakfasts and lunches in fancy hotel dining rooms; they do “one-on-ones” every hour at investors’ offices that run the interior design gamut from Caligula-esque to monk-like affairs in strip malls (the range of offices stocked with everything from super model manqué secretaries to 300-pound bearded ladies who refuse to get coffee); they do small group dinners at high-end bistros; and they squeeze into low-end conference rooms during any down time for “calls” with investors who just can’t bear the prospect of seeing these people face-to-face. At a breakneck pace, they travel by plane, taxi, “black car” or rental, subway, railroad…whatever method will deliver them to an investor who’s got enough excess cash and a half hour open on his schedule.

Etymologically speaking, by the 1920s, “dog and pony show” was a derisive name for a small circus, and that’s exactly what an investor road show is: a small circus full of hilarious potential pratfalls, eg: missed flights, dysfunctional car service, unpredictable hotels, presentation technology snafus, unrealistic meeting schedules, restaurant fiascos, inappropriate management behavior, ad nauseam. To make matters worse, this whirlwind tour might go for two weeks and hit more than 12 cities, so pretty early in the planning stage, some anal mid-level banker begins to take the whole thing as seriously as a Navy Seal covert operation, in the process making everyone below him on the food chain absolutely miserable while he channels his inner drill sergeant with nonsense like this:

There are going to be 30 people at the lunch today. I want you to get everyone’s business card…everyone’s. I don’t want somebody calling up the client later this week and saying, “I was at the lunch” and we don’t have the guy’s name. That makes us look bad. If that happens, I’ll make sure that this is the last live deal you ever work on. You’ll be pitching car wash roll-ups to some home-flipper in Trenton for the next ten years. Whenever I look over at you, you better be getting a card or writing a name down, is that clear?

So on a sexy “live deal” complete with road show, a junior banker (ie, analyst or associate) puts down his daily spreadsheets and puts on his travel agent/concierge hat. But either way, he works like a dog, and there you have it:

He is the dog of the dog and pony show.

The compensation for this new form of shit work is the opportunity to participate on a live deal, which is the holy grail of banking. Everyone wants deal experience because deals are how firms get paid and bankers need to know how to process them. The trade-off isn’t enough for everyone: The analysts and associates who are sick of the grind view road shows like colonoscopies: the first was weird and maybe embarrassing, the next was just a pain in the arse.

Senior bankers on the other hand, that is MDs and Senior VPs, well…they adore a road show, perhaps because there is absolutely nothing for them to do except schmooze the client: Some investors have such little patience for bankers and their bombast that they actually ask the bankers to leave the room during one-on-one road show presentations, pushing the MD out to the lobby, where he plays with his phone or flirts with a secretary. Although the banishment infuriates most self-inflated MDs, it’s not enough for them to fall out of love with the road show, and the reason is pretty simple. Deep down, the typical MD loves the freedom of the road almost as much as he loves the fuss and ceremony of the show: He loves to be the master of ceremonies at the “road show kick-off”; he loves to don the bespoke suit and Hermes tie, climb atop the dais, and introduce management at all the breakfasts and lunches; he loves to hold court with investors too green to ignore him; and he loves to sashay through the restaurant with the client en route to a big steak.

When he’s on the road show, he puffs his chest out with pride, high-stepping in his Alden cordovan tassel loafers, hair aerodynamically slicked back, fully aware, as only he can be, of the indispensable role he plays in the capitalist system, ensuring that those who represent the means of production aren’t late for their 2:45 p.m. one-on-one with a 27-year-old, Air-Jordan-shod provider of capital/hedgie, who occupies Room 203A on the second floor of that nondescript building next to the Cheesecake Factory.

In his mind, the MD is the show pony of the dog and pony show. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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