NIRI 2013 Session Recap: Investor Relations on a Shoestring Budget
19 June 2013
We are back from another great NIRI conference. As usual, the NIRI planning committee put together a stellar roster of sessions. It was difficult to choose which ones to attend, but I managed to narrow it down to a handful. One I found particularly interesting and thought you may too, was: ‘Investor Relations on a Shoestring Budget’.
Not surprisingly, this session was geared towards small cap companies. As small caps have smaller budgets to work with and typically have a harder time garnering the attention of institutional investors compared to their mid and large cap peers.
The panel consisted of the following:
R. Idalia Rodriguez, Director, Solebury Communications Group, LL
Mark Donohue, Vice President, IR & Corp. Comm., IMPAX Laboratories
John Schoger, President & Co-Founder, Voyager Institutional Services, LLC
John Shave III, Vice President Business Dev & Corp Comm., Safeguard Scientifics
The panel tackled the following topics:
• Leveraging your investment bank relationships
• Investor Days/Site Tours
• IR Website Audit
• Social Media
• Be a ‘Resource’
• Integrate Communications
• Vendor Audit
What follows are some of the key takeaways from the aforementioned topics. To make it easier to follow along, I have compiled thoughts from the entire panel and/or provided points verbatim from the presentation.
Leveraging your Investment Bank Relationships
There was an assumption prefaced when this topic was put forth that companies have at least one or two relationships with the sell side. So based on this, the panel said that they leverage their investment banks for help with targeting reports, comp tables, and access to non-traditional institutional investors who could have interest in their company.
They also work with the banks to help understand their peer groups. While most companies usually know who their peers are (IMO should if they don’t), the banks can dig deeper into reviewing companies that have the same characteristics and return profiles.
As a smaller company it can be difficult to gain coverage. So if you don’t have any relationships with the sell side, you need to do your own research. For example, you can put together a list of analysts that cover your peer group and ask your investment bank for help getting in front of this list.
You can also proactively reach out to these analysts. But keep in mind, that getting coverage isn’t going to happen overnight. You have to establish that you are a good resource at your company and have regular contact with them i.e. not just calling them when you are reporting earnings. It’s okay to ask about investment styles, and what they are looking for in a company to cover it in their universe. Make sure that you aren’t calling the technology analyst if you are a biotech company.
Investor Days/Site Tours
Investor days don’t have to break the bank. The panel said that the NYSE and NASDAQ both have state of the art facilities and are more than willing to allow companies to host events. There are many benefits, including their central locations, which makes it easier for investors to attend.
The panelists agreed that investor days are a great way to showcase the management team. For example, bringing along someone that isn’t one of the ‘usual’ faces of the company, such as a product person, will help tell your investment story. You can also use the day to introduce new strategies, products, etc.
Site/plant tours are also highly valued by investors. There is little to no cost with large returns such as the ones outlined above.
An interesting point was also made about keeping hotel costs down. As most investment banks use hotels in the vicinity of their office, they usually have a ‘corporate rate’. So don’t be afraid to inquire with your investment bank to see if they have any discounts they can pass along to your company.
IR Website Audit
Enlisting a company to do a website audit can also have major returns. These don’t have to be expensive either. There are many things a company can do to ensure their IR website becomes a highly valued destination for investors including:
• Ensuring easy navigation to rich content.
• Regularly updating content and having that information prominently displayed on the homepage under a ‘What’s New’ section for example.
• Embedding videos – such as interviews with senior management (these can be done in-house using an iPhone for example).
• Enhancing your FAQ’s to be more informative.
It is imperative to keep your IR website current and up-to-date as research shows that the website is still one of the first places that investors go when they are researching a company.
Using social media to augment your disclosure practice is a cost-effective way to broaden reach and increase awareness. Since we conduct research on this topic, I don’t want to seem biased here. So what follows are the key points as outlined on the slide for this topic:
• The SEC’s recent ruling on Social Media as a tool for the dissemination of information will only accelerate its adoption with some likely bumps along the way.
• The investment community now has access to social media. For example, Twitter has been embedded in Bloomberg.
• Given the expense of issuing news releases – Social Media can be a very effective tool to lower costs allowing you to reallocate to other IR activities.
• Use push technology to broaden your exposure in a very cost effective manner and drive traffic back to your website.
• Corporate blogs
– Provide industry information, thoughts, insights – be a resource
– Create a two way dialogue with investors – e.g. solicit questions ahead of your earnings call. Microvision does this and then posts a video with the CEO providing the answers.
– Add video clips from industry events.
• If you choose to adopt social media for IR it will be imperative to update your corporate communications policy.
Be a Resource
Investors and Analysts value knowledgeable executives who can help them better understand industry trends, competitive dynamics, the impact of new products, etc. I know of some IROs who have worked hard to become a valuable resource to their investors, and subsequently have taken meetings without management. However, it is sometimes not possible to have all the answers. So it’s okay to let an investor know that you will get back to them. Or put them in touch with someone on the management team who can field their question. If you are the IRO, ask to sit in on the meeting, so that you gain knowledge from the interaction.
• Know your company as well as the peer group. Become the ‘go to’ IRO in your industry for the sell side to gain insight and information.
• Develop relationships on the buy and sell side.
• Help Wall Street to better understand the macro and company specific metrics.
When attending industry conferences, manage your management team’s schedule wisely. You should also be mindful about making good use of the investor’s time as well. So put together backgrounders on the investors that your management team is meeting with. Doing so, will help your C-Suite to be aptly prepared. It will also help make a good impression on the investor, especially if it’s the first time meeting them.
Co-ordinating communications across PR, Corporate Communications, HR and Marketing can have more than a monetary impact. It is essential to ensure that all internal and external communications are consistent. If they aren’t, this can create a major headache for all departments, including IR. As confusing information in the marketplace will potentially increase inbound calls – with the likelihood they are similar in nature.
Taking the time (or having a colleague help) to properly research the IR services available to your company can really help cut down costs. As it will enable you to put together a key list of questions that you can have ready to ask, so that your can have effective conversations that don’t last for hours. In my experience, vendors will work within your budget, so don’t be afraid to be up front and honest about what your $ threshold is as most are willing to negotiate and do have price flexibility.