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Our Blog: The Podium

Maureen Wolff

Maureen Wolff is chief executive officer at Sharon Merrill Associates. She is a National Investor Relations Institute Fellow, Senior Roundtable Member and Honorary NIRI Boston Director. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs, CFOs and boards of directors on critical communications issues including corporate governance, shareholder activism and proxy contests, CEO succession planning and disclosure issues. mwolff@investorrelations.com
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Recent Posts

When It’s Time for a Change: Replacing a Director

Note: This is the finale in our three-part series on succession communications.

As you’ve no doubt noticed from our previous posts on communicating CEO and CFO transitions, there’s no such thing as a “standard” executive announcement. And messaging board-level succession carries additional nuances you’ll need to consider as you frame a board change in the best position for long-term success with the investment community.

To assist in that effort, here are five points to guide you in announcing a change on your board.

1. Change is good. Change carries inherent uncertainty, and investors typically frown on that. However, institutional shareholders, and shareholder activists in particular, have emphasized board refreshment in recent years as a means of improving corporategovernance. Proxy advisers Glass Lewis and ISS also view it favorably. The theory here is that more frequent board turnover opens a company to new thinking and the best possible strategic benefits in the long run. Put another way, your board either can be stagnant or growing. Approach your announcement from a confident perspective, because chances are your shareholders will welcome the addition of new viewpoints.

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Investor Relations Blog, Succession Planning, Corporate Governance, Crisis Communications, Investor Relations, Corporate Communications, Succession Communication

When It’s Time for a Change: CFO Succession

Note: This is the second in our three-part series on succession communications.

A new CEO is the highest-profile personnel announcement a company can make, but a new CFO isn’t far behind. As with any executive transition, the reasons can vary widely – from termination to mutual separation to a legitimate retirement. Regardless of the rationale, however, you’ll need to negotiate a different set of questions when communicating a CFO transition.

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Succession Planning, Crisis Communications, CFO, Corporate Communications, Executive Transition, CFO Transition, Succession Communication, Transition Communication

When It’s Time for a Change: CEO Succession

Whether it’s the longtime CEO’s retirement or the recent hire’s sudden exit, communicating the transition of the top executive is one of the most critical messaging tasks a company can undertake. So let’s discuss them both: the transitions that are well-planned, thoughtful and strategic, and those that are likely to catch investors by surprise. Here are three things to remember before your company changes CEOs.

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Strategic Messaging, Succession Planning, Investor Relations, Corporate Communications

Activists and Boards Agree on Need to Communicate

When it comes to corporate governance, board members and shareholder activists do not often agree.  But there is at least one opportunity for common ground: better communication.

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Board Communications, Shareholder Activism, Board of Directors, Crisis Communications, Shareholder Communications, Investor Relations

Crisis Communications: Preparing for the Unexpected

When you do work in crisis communications, you’re often asked to share war stories alongside other communications professionals on conference panels. The cases that are analyzed run the gamut of private and public companies, from small start-ups to large multinationals, in industries from consumer goods and high tech to pharmaceuticals and financial organizations. But there are consistent themes that typically rise from these discussions.

“Somebody’s Watching Me”

In the age of social media, somebody is watching every move that companies and their employees make. And more and more frequently, they are reporting their findings and opinions as fast as Twitter and Facebook will allow. Social media are not only accelerating the pace that information is being delivered but reshaping the entire communications landscape. In today’s crisis situation, anyone and everyone can now add their opinion into the conversation at a moment’s notice.

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Strategic Messaging, Crisis Communications, Investor Relations

The Art of Communicating an Acquisition: M&A in 2016

Global merger and acquisition activity set an all-time high last year, breaking the previous record set in 2007.  According to an EY survey in October 2015, 59% of executives planned to actively pursue acquisitions in the coming 12 months. Given that this number is significantly higher than the 40% reported in the survey a year ago, we very well could see another record-breaking year for M&A in 2016. 

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Disclosure, Strategic Messaging, Mergers & Acquisitions, Credibility, CFO, Shareholder Communications, Investor Relations, CEO, Trends, 2016

Keeping the Activists at Bay: Five Steps to an Effective Response Plan

The new reality is that no public company, no matter how highly regarded or well managed, is immune from activist attention. The number of activist campaigns waged against public companies increased in 2015 to 375 according to the research firm FactSet.

Once an activist surfaces, every move a company makes can have a profound and cascading effect on its long-term viability.  Therefore, it is essential to craft response plans before any sign of danger emerges.

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Targeting, Wall Street, Shareholder Activism, Investor Meetings, Buy-Side, Proxy Season, Proxy Fight, Crisis Communications, STREETSCOPE, IRO, CFO

Communicating a CEO Transition The Right Way

Whenever I speak about properly communicating a CEO transition, I talk about the importance of having a plan. But not all companies undergoing a management change have the advantage of foresight.  So let’s discuss them both: the transitions that are well-planned, thoughtful and strategic, and those that must be managed on the fly. Here are three things to remember before your company changes CEOs, no matter the reason.

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Succession Planning, Investor Relations, CEO

A Fireside Chat with NIRI President and CEO Jim Cudahy

I moderated a fireside chat with NIRI’s new President and CEO, Jim Cudahy, as part of NIRI Boston’s 2015-2016 Season Kickoff Event last week. We talked about the state of IR today, and what we can expect from NIRI in the year to come. Here’s what he told us:

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Investor Relations Blog, SEC, Securities Law, NIRI, Speaking Engagements, Investor Relations

Going Public: After You Price

In this three-part conversation, Sharon Merrill President and Partner Maureen Wolff shares insights on the IPO process from an investor relations perspective. In our final installment, we discuss the next steps a company should take after becoming public.

The Podium: Hello, Maureen. Thank you for joining us again. In today’s discussion, we will focus on the actions companies should take after the initial public offering has priced. We imagine there is much to accomplish.

MW: There certainly is. Hopefully, at this point, a newly public company already has completed the many messaging and infrastructure tasks we discussed in our previous conversations. Those items include having in place a completed IR website, corporate communications policy and training in public company employee protocol, Regulation FD and public speaking. Other items include selecting vendors for various investor relations activities, such as IR website hosting and news distribution.

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Investor Presentation, IPO, Investor Relations

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Be Proactive, Not Reactive

With our new Proxy GamePlan, we create a year-round, data-driven strategic roadmap for effective shareholder engagement. Implement a best-in-class program rooted in a deep understanding of your company’s proxy practices, shareholder voting trends and peer landscape.

Learn More About  Proxy GamePlan

Find Effective IR Counsel

Whether you’re seeking external IR counsel for the first time or evaluating your current provider, you need a firm that understands your strategy, adapts to your culture and tells your story. Download our free guide on how to assess the effectiveness of an investor relations firm.

How to Assess  an IR Firm

Activism Defense

No company is immune to shareholder activism. Sharon Merrill helps boards of directors and executive management teams identify the activist red flags lurking in your shareholder base, assess your governance risks and develop an action plan to prevent, detect and neutralize any threats. Download our free white paper, “Leveraging Institutional Shareholder Relationships to Reduce Activism Risk,” and learn how the best defense against activism is a strong offense.

Download Activist Defense White Paper

Captivate your Audience

Speaking persuasively is critical in today’s competitive business environment. Effective speakers use voice techniques and body language that project authority and credibility. Download our free e-book, “A Guide to Delivering Captivating Presentations,” for insight into good -and bad- presentation habits, and learn how to improve your skills.

Become a Persuasive Speaker 

Perceptions Matter

How do you ensure that investors clearly understand your strategy, growth drivers and market position? The most effective way is through a perception study. By periodically taking the investment community’s pulse you can avoid the knowledge gaps and misperceptions that hurt valuation. Download our free whitepaper, Why Perceptions Matter, to learn more.

Why Perceptions Matter 

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