“View from the C-Suite: What Management Wants from Investor Relations” was the theme for NIRI Boston’s April event. For a chance to listen to a panel of C-level executives speak candidly to a room full of investor relations professionals, I quickly reserved a car and “zipped” over to the meeting. The panel featured three esteemed executives from the region, including Richard F. Pops, Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer, Alkermes; David D.R. Hargreaves, Chief Operating Officer, Hasbro and Donald Muir, Chief Financial Officer, Lionbridge.
The audience was eager to hear what these top executives expect from a strong IR team. The panel consistently reinforced that IR professionals are most effective when they are knowledgeable, well organized, involved in strategic planning, and are able to stand up to management to ensure best practice.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Although the investment community prefers to talk with senior management, many IR professionals have earned their respect by demonstrating a clear understanding of the company, its financials, and the industry dynamics. Several IR professionals in the room indicated that they frequently present at investor conferences in place of C-level management. The panel highly valued this type of IR support – not only does it save them time, which can be focused on running the company, but it also strengthens the relationship between IR and investors. In addition, IR should be ready to deliver a progress report to the board, whether annually or quarterly. Boards today have become more interested in what management is doing on the IR front. Quantitative metrics such as ownership changes, consensus estimates, analyst coverage and number of investor meetings are typically included in these reports. That said, IR performance is often better measured through qualitative feedback from investors rather than quantitative metrics. The panel confirmed that the investment community is not shy about providing unfiltered feedback on the IR team. So always be on top of your game!
While being able to clearly communicate strategic messaging should be an attribute for any IR professional, having strong organizational skills is just as important. Executive management relies on its IR team to coordinate every aspect of its IR activities, including roadshows, investor days and shareholder meetings. All your hard work planning the meetings can be overshadowed by missing a simple detail, such as a forgotten passport. Management also relies on IR to ensure their time on the road is spent effectively. Map out investor meetings so there is little time spent back-tracking all over town. When meetings are organized by the sell-side, screen the schedule to ensure quality meetings. Years ago, hedge funds may have been the first on the chopping block, but the panel cautioned against this. Today, hedge funds are driving the market, so it is important for IR to make sure management has the right mix of meetings in their road show itinerary.
Most of the IR professionals in the room participate on their company’s disclosure committee. On the panel, the three executives discussed how their IR teams are involved in crafting the messages, preparing authorized spokespeople and anticipating potential questions. With information so readily available on the Internet today, investors are finding it easier to get up to speed on companies and often are asking more obscure questions. Management relies on their IR team to keep them abreast of the information that is out there. It is difficult to know every data point at all times; so Hasbro’s David Hargreaves recommends preparing a thorough briefing book for management before investor events. Lionbridge’s Don Muir pointed out – and the panel agreed – in a pinch, it is better to tell an investor that you will get back to them than provide information that you are not 100% certain is accurate.
The room burst into slightly uncomfortable laughter when it was suggested that IR push back on management when they disagree with their viewpoint. The panel encouraged the audience to avoid being a “parrot” for management. IR professionals earn respect when they clearly demonstrate their expertise in IR best practices. Like in the Flowserve case years ago, if you do not speak up, you may find yourself answering to the SEC.
As a special treat for social media fans, the panel included a rare species: a CEO that tweets! Richard Pops (@popsalks) believed early on that communicating with shareholders through social media channels was an opportunity and, with the help of his IR team, wanted to get a handle on this new communication method before it became widespread. Working closely with his general counsel, a policy was developed on what and when to share information. He believes his time on Twitter has made a positive contribution to the company’s outreach strategy.
PUT IT TO WORK
The opportunity for IR professionals to strengthen their role within the C-suite is growing, but the need to demonstrate their value before earning a seat at the table is essential. Mastering the building blocks should set a solid foundation for increasing the value of the IR role in the eyes of the executive team. So take these skills, do the IR community proud, and serve your executive team well!
Dennis Walsh is Senior Associate and Social Media Specialist at Sharon Merrill. Sharon Merrill helps private and public companies on critical communications with key audiences. For 25 years the firm has been a strategic advisor to management teams and boards, and has implemented award-winning programs in the areas of investor relations, crisis communications, transaction communications and reputation management.