What’s In / What’s Out for IR In 2015

By Andrew Blazier, Senior Associate

It’s once again time for our tongue-in-cheek roadmap of what’s in and what’s out in investor relations, and more, for the upcoming year. We hope you enjoy, and have a happy and successful 2015.

In Out
Video earnings calls Audio-only earnings calls
Taking activist shareholders’ calls Hiding under your desk
Instagram and Snapchat Facebook
LinkedIn job postings Everything else
Serial Siri
Open letters Paper
Breakfast meetings Lunch meetings
Financial highlights on earnings calls Reading earnings releases verbatim
More Q&A time on earnings calls Gadfly questions
IPOs Tax inversions
Posting call transcripts Hunting on third-party sites
Crisis communications plans Flying by the seat of your pants
Small caps Salary caps
Social media Social Distortion
Republicans Democrats
Board diversity Grumpy Old Men
Third-string quarterbacks Nick Saban
Grexit Ancient Greek
Shareholder activism Eric Holder
Sequels Sequins
Biometrics The metric system

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Press Conferences in a Crisis: Belichick and Deflate-Gate

By David Calusdian, Executive Vice President & Partner

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New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick held two press conferences to address the “deflate-gate” controversy that has taken over sports headlines since the Patriot’s dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots, and Belichick as its head coach, are accused of underinflating game-day footballs against league rules.

After nearly a week of increasing hype and Patriot’s silence, Bill Belichick took the podium on Thursday morning in an attempt to quell the deflate-gate firestorm. His performance was lacking both in content and delivery and, thus, only fanned the sports talk radio flames that had been raging since the crisis broke. Then, in a surprising move, Belichick returned to face the cameras again on Saturday. He performed better in his second press conference and public reaction was more positive. Let’s take a look at some “lessons learned” from both of Belichick’s press conferences during the Patriot’s deflate-gate crisis. 

Be Prepared (and have something to say): 

Belichick’s ill-fated press conference on Thursday was a rambling, disorganized seemingly off-the-cuff performance. His overall message was that he had no idea what had happened to the footballs, and he offered only vague denials of the Patriot’s culpability. During his prepared remarks, he included the point that he forces the Patriots to practice with footballs that are as “bad as they can be.” This was a completely irrelevant point that had little to do with the current controversy. It served only to further the impression that he was trying to obfuscate rather than provide the facts of the situation as he knew them. Overall, his lack of a real message frustrated the media and created further doubt among football fans who already were skeptical of the coach due to prior transgressions.

In contrast to his first performance, Belichick’s prepared remarks on Saturday were very organized. He explained the Patriot’s investigation into the matter, and what they believed to be the factors that may have caused the footballs’ deflationary condition.  While he offered no proof of the Patriot’s innocence, his message had direction and purpose.

Speak Confidently

Belichick appeared uncharacteristically unsure of himself at Thursday’s press conference.  He spoke in halting phrases and constantly looked down at the podium. In contrast, on Saturday the coach held a confident speaking tone throughout the press conference. One powerful reason to hold a press conference during a crisis is to display confidence and build credibility. If you are going to put yourself in front of the media you must speak with authority. Otherwise, just issue a simple written media statement and eliminate the risk of a crisis-escalating gaffe.

Watch your Body Language

Belichick is known for his dour “I don’t care what you think” speaking style. Even within that context, Belichick could have displayed better credibility and confidence using more effective body language at both press conferences (but especially Thursday). First, he demonstrated poor eye contact, frequently looking down at the podium. Not only does this lower credibility, it reduces the connection with the audience. He also frequently pursed his lips, which is seen by some body language experts as a sign of shame – not good for someone trying to defend his reputation. His body language on Saturday was incrementally better, with improved eye contact and less negative body language gestures.

The Truth Matters

Belichick took a stand on Saturday, declaring that he and his team had “followed every rule to the letter.” Making such declarative statements can be a powerful way to build credibility in a crisis…unless it comes back to bite you. If it is eventually revealed that the Patriots were, in fact, guilty of football tampering, Belichick’s reputation will be damaged beyond repair. Think of all-star baseball player Raphael Palmeiro waving his finger at congress categorically denying that he ever took performance enhancing drugs: “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Less than six months later, Palmeiro was suspended for testing positive for steroids, and his reputation was forever ruined.

Belichick entered his Thursday press conference ill-prepared to address the media — both in terms of content and delivery. As a result, his attempt to quell the deflate-gate controversy backfired. On Saturday, he returned with a focused message and a much more credible delivery. As of the writing of this blog, the crisis is far from over, but Belichick’s follow-up press conference performance was a much better attempt at mitigating the hit to the Patriot’s reputation.  When you are in crisis (whether you are accused of underinflating, overinflating or tampering with football, basketballs, baseballs or foosballs in any way), remember to organize your prepared remarks with a focused message, and deliver that message with a credible speaking style.

 

Sharon Merrill Executive VP and Partner and (in the interest of full disclosure) life-long Patriots fan David Calusdian provides presentation training and message development for company executives facing a range of crises.

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Let them Know

By Andrew Blazier, Senior Associate


Holiday 2014(to the tune of “Let it Snow”)

Oh, the markets worldwide are frightful

But your messaging’s so delightful

Since the company outlook can grow,

Let them know! Let them know! Let them know!

 

Your strategy isn’t popping

Though commodities are dropping

Although growth, it has been slow,

Let them know! Let them know! Let them know! Continue reading

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Three Step Approach to Social Media for Investor Relations

By Dennis Walsh, Vice President

social mediaI recently moderated a webinar hosted by NIRI on social media strategies for investor relations. On the panel with me were David Jackson, CEO, Seeking Alpha; RJ Jones, Investor Relations Officer, Zillow; and Andrew Shapiro, Founder, President and Portfolio Manager, Lawndale Capital Management.

The discussion made clear that professional investors are using social media – activists included. In addition, all public companies should have a social media strategy, even if the objective is just to monitor the online conversation.

If you are in charge of managing your company’s investor relations program, you might be wondering how to get started developing your social media strategy.  Try following this three step approach: Continue reading

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How Investor Relations Can Support the Buy Side’s Investment Process

By Dennis Walsh, Vice President

“Buy-side analysts truly value a company with a responsive investor relations program led by an informed IRO,” shares John Barr, Co-Manager of the Needham Growth Fund (NEEGX) and Manager of the Needham Aggressive Growth Fund (NEAGX).

Most strategic investor relations programs aim to increase institutional ownership with new long-term shareholders. But anyone who has ever worked in IR knows this is often easier said than done. Targeting quality potential investors and conducting outreach can be a major undertaking. Understanding the buy-side’s investment process for identifying long-term holdings is essential to your success. So what are the key elements of a typical buy-side’s stock picking process? At Needham, Barr’s research team sources ideas from a number of methods, including quantitative screens based on various financial metrics, reading trade publications, and talking to people such as buy-side colleagues. Barr says, “If your stock happens to be on our idea list and you call looking for a meeting then we’ll do it. If it’s not on our list, it’s unlikely that we will take a meeting.”

How can IR contribute? Needham analysts like to conduct their own research – it gives them an opportunity to develop their own point of view – so being undercovered by the sell-side is not always a negative. If your company is being considered as a new investment idea for a firm like Needham, a best-in-class IR program can support the due diligence process from start to finish. Consider these insider tips from Barr to help IROs better support the buy-side’s investment process. Continue reading

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10 Tips for Dealing with Shareholder Activism

By Maureen WolffPresident and Partner, Sharon Merrill Associates

For many companies, a looming activist shareholder is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. One reason is that an increasing number of hedge funds are using activism as a standalone strategy. Assets managed by activist hedge funds increased 42% in 2013 to $93 billion from $65.5 billion in 2012, according to Hedge Fund Research, Inc.

The swirl of activism has the C-suite and the board concerned. In a poll of executives for its recent Capital Conference Barometer, Ernst & Young reported that nine of 10 executives acknowledged that issues raised by shareholders have influenced boardroom agendas, with cost reduction and operational efficiency identified as the most pressing concern over the next 12 months.

The threat of activist investors encircling your company can be intimidating – unless you understand how to engage, respond and communicate. Here are 10 strategies to help you prepare. Continue reading

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Sharon Merrill President and Partner Maureen Wolff selected as 2014 NIRI Fellow

Maureen WolffSharon Merrill Associates President and Partner Maureen Wolff was selected as one of five new National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) Fellows. NIRI Fellows are recognized leaders who represent the ideals of the investor relations (IR) profession, and have distinguished themselves on the basis of their integrity, leadership, involvement and contributions to the IR profession throughout their careers.

Sharon Merrill, Chairman and CEO of Sharon Merrill Associates said, “Maureen is extremely well deserving of this great honor by the National Investor Relations Institute. She has been a leader in the advancement of the investor relations profession for the past 30 years and an ardent supporter of NIRI. Congratulations to Maureen and the 2014 class of NIRI Fellows.”

In the NIRI announcement of the Fellows Class of 2014 , NIRI CEO Jeff Morgan said, “I am delighted to honor these five outstanding individuals who have been so important to the development of the profession and to NIRI’s success. NIRI Fellows are nominated by their peers, and represent the highest standards in the investor relations profession and in our community. We look forward to honoring them at the 2014 NIRI Annual Conference this June.” Continue reading

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