July 1, 2021
Whether you are conducting a quarterly earnings call, analyst day, industry conference or one-on-one meeting, your biggest challenge may be finding a way to set your company apart from its peers. When times are tough in your sector, how are you better prepared to weather the storm? When your markets are booming, how are you uniquely positioned to drive and sustain profitable growth and outperform everyone else?
In my experience, preparation really matters. It is not a luxury. Real, intentional, smart preparation should include critical thinking, devising and revising the messaging, thinking through all aspects of the event experience, and preparing for even the most unwelcome of questions.
Recently, I was fortunate to moderate a panel discussion at the annual NIRI National conference. My three distinguished IR panelists were:
- Jeff Goeser, Executive Vice President of Finance, Orion Advisor Solutions
- Debbie Hancock, Hasbro, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations
- Dennis Walsh, Vice President, Investor Relations, Wish
Our conversation focused on how to prepare for these important encounters, lessons learned over time, and different ways to build engagement and trust.
Here are four key takeaways from the session:
1. Add value before, during and after every interaction. In IR, your job is to know your investors. That means understanding why they are meeting with you, what they care about, and how your company is uniquely positioned to address those topics. It is also critical to possess a deep knowledge of your company and industry to facilitate an informed and insightful conversation. In the words of Debbie Hancock, “Do excellent IR. Your role adds tremendous value.”
2. Do not be afraid to voice the unpopular opinion. IR takes courage. Dennis Walsh shared the importance of preparing the management team for tough questions and calling out which responses may be disappointing or frustrating to the Street. The risk of management’s frustration with your guidance in advance of a question is much lower than the risk of having management struggle with their responses.
3. Challenge everything. If you are going to propose a change that you believe is in the best interest of the company’s engagement with its investor audience, do your homework. Talk with trusted internal partners and external advisors, investors, analysts and then take your case to the executive team. Be sure to adjust carefully for what will work specifically for your situation, ownership, structure, analysts, investor base, etc. And, as Jeff Goeser says, “Most importantly, fail fast.”
4. Find ways to differentiate. If an IR professional can find ways to make the relationship between management and investors easier and more meaningful, it will be a differentiator. For example, if you want to improve the line of strategic questioning your executives get on earnings calls, consider doing the following:
- Conduct proactive outreach to analysts in advance to understand what questions they are likely to pose.
- Provide FAQ answers as part of the earnings package that gets posted in advance of the call.
- Use technology, such as Slido, to allow investors to ask questions anonymously.
The bottom line is that if you thoughtfully prepare your management team, stay respectful of everyone’s time and gain an intimate knowledge of your audience, then your company and your IR program can stand out from the crowd in the noisy world of financial communications and disclosures.