Think tank roundup: voice of the cities

Nov 19, 2010
<p><i>IR magazine</i> hosts think tanks in Chicago, Houston and Toronto</p>

This fall, IROs in North America had plenty to mull over. The big issue, of course, was new financial legislation, specifically the Dodd-Frank Act. But there was plenty more to discuss, including proxy plumbing, social media and Canada’s imminent adoption of IFRS.

Luckily, IR magazine had expanded its think tank schedule and, between September 28 and October 7, hosted three events across the North American region, in Chicago, Houston and Toronto.

Chicago played host to the inaugural IR Magazine Midwest Think Tank, which saw more than 30 handpicked IR professionals gather at 111 South Wacker Drive to discuss topics ranging from governance reform to expert networks. Then it was on to the IR Magazine Energy Think Tank in Houston. Another new event, this think tank was designed to address the needs of a single sector, and many of the region’s big oil and gas companies came to share their experiences and network with their peers.

IR magazine also held its annual Canada Think Tank during this period. The event featured discussions on where Canadian IR is headed, as well as structural changes, such as dark pools and high-frequency trading. IR magazine’s editor-at-large Neil Stewart hosted all three events, which included ‘upside-down’ sessions, where the usual think tank format is turned on its head (see Think tank format, below).

IR Magazine Think Tanks are anonymous and usually there is no attributed reporting of what anyone says during the discussions. Some attendees, however, agreed to offer their thoughts on film to Marketwire on a range of different topics affecting investor relations. Over the next three pages, we collate some of their responses on areas including social media and SRI investors.

IR Magazine Midwest Think Tank – Chicago, Illinois
Sandeep Mahindroo, senior manager of IR, Infosys Technologies
On social media
Whatever updates we make on our IR website, we automatically add to social media pages – in a way, the social media pages are an extension of our IR website: if you go to our IR website, you’ll see a link that takes users to the social media pages. We predominantly use Twitter, and on a selective basis we’re also using YouTube as an associated place for videos and presentations.

A summary of the financial earnings is captured in the form of tweets, which we update and put on Twitter and link to on our IR website… I think the advantage to investors is that they don’t have to listen to an entire earnings call; they can just go to our Twitter page and read the top 15 or 20 tweets. It provides a good summary of the earnings call, it’s beneficial for us, it gets our message out strongly and we get to highlight the key points.

Jennifer Davis, director of IR, Pfizer
On advice for beginners
My first piece of advice would be to engage the buy side. That allows you to provide your senior management members with a lot of information about what investors are thinking beyond what’s published in sell-side reports.

The second piece of advice is to network within your own company. Getting a network of contacts together means you’ll have access to information in a very timely manner when people come to ask you questions. In addition, keep in mind that you can give your contacts within the company news about competitors, transcripts and pieces of information you hear.

The third piece of advice I would offer is this: in my book, everybody gets a call back. If you call someone back and say, ‘Hey, I’ll follow up with you with more information’, that’s so much more welcome than no information at all.

Ron Schneider, senior vice president, Phoenix Advisory Partners
On corporate governance challenges
Two skill sets IROs have that corporate secretaries and their counterparts within companies may not possess are outreach and engagement with investors. They identify prospective investors and talk to existing investors about financial and strategic issues. It would not be difficult to expand that dialogue to include corporate governance and compensation issues, which investors are increasingly focused on.

The other skill would be messaging, because IROs are experts in taking complex information, distilling it down and telling a clear story. I think that is a task that can greatly benefit a company if applied to its proxy-related communications. I think that will pay dividends.

IR Magazine Energy Think Tank – Houston, Texas
Sarah Altschuller, attorney, Foley Hoag
On dealing with SRI funds
I think it’s important for an investor relations officer to understand what issues are being raised in shareholder dialogues about social and environmental concerns. Proposed regulations may not pass – or receive more than 5 percent or 6 percent of the vote – but they flag important issues for the company, both in terms of legal risk and in terms of reputation.

The people raising these concerns with your company may be approaching you about major policy concerns, which your company needs to respond to. It may not be the investor relations officer who is primarily responsible for addressing these issues – it may be your corporate social responsibility staff, it may be someone in human resources – but all of these people can be coordinated [in responding to the expressed concerns]. I think the IR office represents an important frontline in hearing what investors are saying about social and environmental issues and connecting [those investors] with the right people in the company.

Monica Schafer, director of IR, RRI Energy
On going beyond the numbers
I would say to consider your audience and really focus your message on what it wants. As an example, I used to be in SEC accounting/reporting and I thought my job was to protect investors and give them the answers they needed, and I was giving them financial reports to do that. But when I got into IR I realized that the whole form of communication is different and you have to consider what people are asking, and why. So instead of someone asking a question and me responding by giving him or her a spreadsheet and the answer, now I have to ask myself: what is he/she really trying to find out? Am I answering the question properly? Am I giving him/her the answers that are going to help him/her? Also, am I staying in line with a message I want to communicate? And – obviously – am I staying in line with the law?

It’s just a different mind-set of trying to teach yourself to really gear your message to what people want to know so you’re not giving them information that’s not useful.

Marc Greene, managing director, Ipreo
On what keeps him up at night
I think the same things that make investor relations exciting and a tremendous career to be involved in are probably the same things that keep me up at night. It’s always changing: the rules and regulations are constantly evolving. The market changes every day. So I would say that asking myself what challenges we are going to face tomorrow is probably what keeps me up late at night.

IR Magazine Canada Think Tank – Toronto, Canada
Rhylin Bailie, director of corporate and investor relations, NovaGold Resources
On the roadshow schedule
We do quite a bit of marketing. I’m probably on the road one week per month, and so is my CEO. We try to visit the major investment centers at least once a year – maybe a couple of times a year – to reach the institutional investors, and hold broker luncheons and some conferences to reach the retail side.

We like to do webcasts because it gives people who couldn’t be at a conference the chance to hear the presentation, and our quarterly calls give people a chance to ask questions. Our website is a really important tool; we get a lot of feedback on it and [people want it to be] accessible, with information posted there that is easy to find and easy to understand.

We revamp our presentations constantly to make sure we are answering people’s questions and using information that’s up to date and relevant. We try to visit new geographic areas and tap into new markets, like Asia and Europe.

Think tank format
IR Magazine Think Tanks are complimentary, invitation-only events for a select group of senior-level IR professionals. Participant-driven and highly focused, these think tanks embrace an interactive format where IROs can engage in heated debate with their peers about timely topics.

Between three and four industry leaders introduce a topic before participants break out into small roundtable groups to discuss the issues. Each session concludes with a room-wide discussion. Switching tables at the start of each session ensures maximum interaction and networking opportunities with all participants.

In a reversal of a typical think tank session, this year also saw ‘upside-down’ sessions that began with table discussions and ended with a panel. Under the new format, each group of IR professionals discussed key challenges and agreed on questions for the expert panel.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Foley Hoag
Phoenix Advisory Services
RR Donnelley

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