Friday Letter When is a large firm not a large firm?

We know we can't please everyone with our annual awards shortlists. But we're leaving all the most important decisions to you.

This week, as you'll hopefully have noticed, we opened the voting for the Private Equity International 2012 Awards.

This is the 12th year we've run these awards. And each year when we compile our shortlists, one of the biggest challenges we face is classification. In these ever-changing times, what counts as a large fund? What constitutes a large deal? Should we define a good exit purely in terms of the return multiple, or by other, less tangible, criteria? How do we recognise the progress of those local champions who have developed way beyond their original geographies? Should diversification into different strategies and products represent a positive or a negative when assessing the private equity firms of the year?

The large firms category is a good example of this. On almost any measure – fund size, deal size, strategy and so on – the goalposts have shifted in the last few years. Some of the firms that used to dominate this category have been reducing their fund sizes and doing smaller deals. Other firms that used to be regarded as mid-market players have done the opposite.

The result is that it's increasingly difficult to define where the mid-market ends and the large-cap market begins. Take EQT, one of the nominees in our 'Large firm of Year in Europe' category. Five years ago it would indubitably have been considered a mid-market player – but in the current market, by virtue of its firepower, its scale and the scope of its activities, it surely bears comparison with even the biggest firms in the industry. Nonetheless, we wouldn't be surprised if its inclusion on the list raises a few eyebrows (it certainly did internally).

Equally, some of the biggest groups have expanded their activities to such an extent that traditional private equity is becoming an ever-smaller part of what they do. For these awards, we've chosen to focus purely on their private equity activity. But perhaps it's time we introduced a new category for those firms who have been most successful in developing their other asset management activities.

The deal shortlists were also hotly disputed. Does it even make sense to talk about 'deals of the year' any more – given that most people in the industry will tell you that the hard work begins the day you buy the company and only stops when you exit? Back in the good old days, big ticket deals with huge financing packages tended to dominate these categories; but hindsight has shown us that these are often the most difficult for a GP to get right.

And when you're looking at exits, what's more impressive: a splashy multiple, or the recovery of value from a bottom-quartile deal that seemed to be heading for a big write-off? The former make the most headlines, but LPs will tell you that the latter can be equally important when the fundraising hat comes around again.

There are no right answers to any of these questions, of course. Ultimately, all we can do with these shortlists is offer up our collective opinion, and inevitably that will not be shared by everyone in the market. But where possible, we've tried to reflect a broad range of options within our shortlists – so that you, the readers, can decide which you value most. Because that is the key thing about these awards: the winners are chosen by you. Each category has a shortlist of four – but you also have the option of adding in your own choice if you think we've left someone out.

So as you wind down towards the holidays, please take a moment to click HERE to vote. The awards are split by region – North America, EMEA and Asia – and you can vote in as many categories as you like. Tell us who you think the stars of 2012 were. And if you have any ideas on how we can make the awards even bigger and better next year, be sure to write in and let us know.

With best wishes for a great festive season and a prosperous 2013.