Today’s, investor relations pros do a lot more than just talk to the Street. We serve as a critical conduit for information between the Street and internal business channels AND as a connector of information within companies. Everywhere we look, investor relations’ relevance is rising.
It’s more important than ever for organizations to find IR experts who can wear multiple hats and deliver value across the organization. Let’s discuss the drivers of change and how modern investor relations pros are adding value.
Drivers of Change in Investor Relations’ Relevance
While there has always been (and still remains) a bit of a mystique around investor relations experts, that mystique is beginning to fade and make way for more of an MVP role in companies.
Historically, IR as a function was considered mainly for big companies and primarily to communicate with investors about big events that could affect a company’s stock valuation. As a result, traditionally, investor relations’ relevance was seen as more of a back-office function, which involved responding to queries from private investors about non-receipt of dividends, annual reports, share certificates, or legal cases about ownership of shares. Institutional investors interested in contacting the company would meet directly with the CFO or CEO.
But times have changed. The demands from both the sell side and the buy side have intensified because of less reliance on expert networks, increased regulations, the pace of communications, and technological advancements. Additionally, increasing numbers of startups, especially in the software sector, has led to increased investment opportunities.
3 Ways Successful IR Professionals Provide Value:
What used to be purely a communications and public relations role has quickly evolved into a specialized blend of key front-office responsibilities. Today’s Investor Relations Officers (IROs) are responsible for conducting competitive analyses; supporting corporate portfolio-shaping activities (AKA M&A, divestitures, etc.); ensuring regulatory compliance; engaging in corporate sustainability efforts; and acting as in-house market structure experts.
Let’s look at just a few of the ways IR adds value:
1. Playing a more direct role in business strategy formation.
According to the most recent Korn-Ferry survey, 67% of Fortune 500 executives rate having a strategic mindset as the most important leadership characteristic for CCOs. But we didn’t need a survey to tell us that IR professionals are taking on more leadership roles within companies.
Taking the lead on communicating and positioning naturally means deeper knowledge of business operations—such as budgets and forecasts, financial planning and analyses, IT systems, risk assessments, and other facets of the enterprise.
2. Dissecting the financial analysis of peer companies.
Successful IR professionals not only have a deep understanding their own firm’s business operations, but they also research the finances of their peers. Modern IR pros are especially well-situated to do this work because they increasingly come from finance or analyst backgrounds and 72% have worked for three to six companies over the course of their careers. Companies are smart to use this institutional knowledge to their advantage.
3. Communicating the company’s position in highly tailored ways.
Yes, communications is still a big part of the work that IR professionals do. But even this traditional role has evolved. Communicating with stakeholders is more complicated than ever. As investor populations become increasingly diverse, there are more complicated market forces to take into account. It makes perfect sense that IR experts rely upon their comprehensive understanding of the company when communicating with investors and other stakeholders.
Lessons and Recommendations:
So what does all of this change mean for individual IR pros and their corporate partners?
First and foremost, valuable information needs to be shared. The relationship with the Street means that IR pros get a candid (often unfiltered) view of the company, the market and the competitive environment. Investor relations’ relevance has grown largely because sharing this information with the rest of the company is easier than ever.
This information needs to be shared:
1. With the C-suite – for situational awareness, strategy development, market approach, messaging, and as fodder for future investor meetings. Obviously. Depending on how your C-suite likes to receive info, this may take the form of a quick email or text or conversation; an end-of-day update from a conference; or a weekly/monthly update on the state of the firm’s communications and/or market movement.
2. With the broader leadership team – trends in investor/analyst comments must be shared with the extended team. This is valuable information about our market and competitive environment. It also provides real-time feedback on strategy… are we hitting our milestones (and communicating that we do so)? What do investors like about our competitors? What do they see as our key discriminator? (Sometimes that’s different than what we might think!) What are they watching in the industry? What do they ask about most? (Think: interest rates, low barriers to entry, regulations, pricing pressure, etc.).
The key is to offer trends in feedback combined with insight about your company’s competitive positioning, trading dynamics, and market conditions. The goal is to provide unique insight that business leaders can use as they assess their operations, competitive strategy, and markets. Often, this takes the form of a weekly/monthly or even quarterly updates as part of your quarterly business review process.
3. With employees – this is both outside in AND inside out. As important as it is to spend time with investors, analysts and other financial stakeholders it’s equally important to spend time learning more about your company.
Personally, I have found it incredibly helpful to make it a point to visit distributed corporate locations regularly. This serves two functions. First, it gives me the opportunity to get a better understanding of the operations of the business, check out a manufacturing line, spend time with the local sales team, get a demonstration of the latest R&D projects, etc. All of this is important to being able to discuss the depth and breadth of our business initiatives.
Second, I recommend returning the hospitality by holding an open discussion about how your company is traded and viewed by Wall Street. Discuss what it means to be a “deep value” or “growth” stock. Discuss what your institutional holders look like and why. Discuss your peers institutional profile and any similarities/differences. And, share some of those key trends in Street feedback.
Among distributed sites/field sites there sometimes is a perception that HQ roles are disconnected from the realities of the business operations. By sharing the Street perspective, you can make a more direct connection to an employee’s day-to-day work and the company’s performance and public perception.
Increasing regulatory, technological, and investor demands have profoundly altered investor relations’ relevance. What was once primarily a communications function has been transformed into a leadership position requiring economics, finance, and business operations expertise.
The evolution in investor relations’ relevance provides an opportunity to share critical market feedback more broadly and strengthen the connection between internal and external operations. It’s also an optimal moment to engage partner firms that are prepared to embrace the expertise of their IR professionals and showcase it as a differentiating factor.
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