What Is Bono Doing?

Can you imagine Facebook investor Jim Breyer (Accel Partners) appearing in an advertisement for MySpace? How about Blackstone boss Steve Schwarzman, whose firm owns Hilton Hotels, promoting Marriott? Or George Steinbrenner calling to ask if you’d like to buy Red Sox season tickets?

Of course not, because it doesn’t make any sense. So what are we to make of Bono — a partner with private equity firm Elevation Partners, which owns around 40% of Palm –shilling for Palm rival BlackBerry in a new television advertisement (see below)?

Apologists would give a twofold argument: (1) Bono has smartly kept his many business interests separate, which means that U2 doesn’t pay attention to Elevation, and vice versa; (2) BlackBerry maker RIM stepped up in a tough economy to sponsor U2’s upcoming tour, and there is no indication that Palm made a similar offer.

All well and good for Bono and U2, but lousy for Elevation’s investors. This group backed Elevation, in part, after being told that Bono brought unparalleled expertise in the firm’s target markets of consumer, entertainment and media. Not a hard sell, but also not a private one. In other words, the public at large also gives Bono that same credibility, and he’s now leveraging it to hurt one of the firm’s portfolio companies. He might as well take out a fullpage ad in USA Today, saying: “If you’re going to switch to a smart phone, don’t bother with the Palm Pre.”

No idea if Elevation tried talking Bono out of the BlackBerry deal (firm isn’t commenting yet), or if it could impact Bono’s partnership position if/when the firm raises a second fund. But Elevation was already having problems with its Palm investment, before one of its partners went out of his way to further undercut it. Not sure any one-day-per-week partner is worth that…