Thought-leaders gather at the NYSE

Dec 09, 2010
<p>Discussion was dominated by new financial legislation at the IR Magazine East Coast Think Tank</p>

It’s a year since IR magazine’s last think tank in New York, and things feel very different. In 2009, budget busting was one of the main topics discussed, as IR departments were squeezed by the recession. Twelve months later, IR budgets are edging up again. But attendees are faced with a new set of challenges in the form of incoming financial legislation, principally stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act.

The implications of Dodd-Frank – as well as other topics such as new disclosure practices and overseas targeting – were all discussed at this year’s IR Magazine East Coast Think Tank, which took place on November 5 at the NYSE. More than 60 IR professionals gathered for the event this year to share experiences and network with their peers.

As with all IR magazine think tanks, this event ran under Chatham House rules so there can only be anonymous reporting of what people said. But some participants gave their permission to be identified as attendees for this article, while others have offered their thoughts on what was discussed.

Just a week before the think tank, Microsoft decided to stop using a newswire to distribute its earnings releases, which set the scene for the session covering disclosure practices. Microsoft is by no means an early adopter of this approach, but the size of the firm and its previous support for the wire approach made the move a notable one in the IR community.

The panel for this session consisted of Jason McGruder, head of IR at BGC Partners (one of the first companies to adopt a notice-and-access approach to earnings releases); Sylvie Harton, Marketwire’s vice president of sales; and Michael Littenberg, a securities lawyer and partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel.

‘As public companies expand their use of social media for IR, they need to put in place policies and procedures to ensure these communications are legally compliant,’ advised Littenberg, speaking after the think tank had finished. ‘They need to take into account Reg FD, Rule 10b-5 and Reg G [which deals with certain measures in financial reporting].’

The governance session began with an overview of the changes resulting from Dodd-Frank, before moving on to shareholder democracy issues such as proxy access and the abolition of the broker vote. One attendee from the buy side praised a particular company for sending its IR officer and its general counsel to a meeting at his firm. This was a good way to bridge the gap between the person who decides on voting policy at the pension fund and the person making the investment decisions, he said, adding that governance roadshows are becoming more commonplace since the legislative changes.

His thoughts – and the day’s other discussions – left the audience with plenty to mull over. The conference wrapped up with a networking reception, giving everyone a chance to relax and mingle. Reviewing the day, Mickey Foster, vice president of IR at FedEx, said: ‘The IR Magazine East Coast Think Tank was a great opportunity to get together with so many other IROs and talk about best practices in IR.’

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.

The sessions
Disclosure update – how, when and where to communicate messages

  • Advantages and disadvantages of traditional disclosure vs the web
  • Balancing social media tools with Reg FD and new disclosure rules
  • How to effectively anticipate and address disclosure and compliance

Overseas targeting – broadening your international shareholder base

  • Identifying and accessing new investors in international markets
  • Keeping abreast of investors’ changing investment criteria and needs
  • Targeting regions like China, Australia and the Middle East

Governance trends and regulatory risk – what’s on your radar?

  • Overview of the reforms and implications of the Dodd-Frank Act
  • Shareholder democracy issues: proxy access, Rule 452, say on pay
  • Role of proxy voting advisers

Previewing 2011

  • Recapping the biggest investor relations challenges of 2010
  • Tips and tools for reviewing goals and objectives of an IR program
  • Best practices for planning your 2011 investor relations strategy
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