CIRI conference: day two roundup
For IROs needing to stay informed about changing economic conditions, and for mortgage owners pondering locking in rates, the last day of CIRI’s 25th annual conference in Montreal began with helpful commentary from Carlos Leitao, chief strategist and chief economist at Laurentian Bank Securities. Pointing to healthy North American corporate balance sheets and reasonable valuations, he saw equities poised for further gains over the next year.
‘Any interest rate increases will be marginal and not enough to derail the equity market,’ said Leitao. ‘When interest rates do normalize, equities could be hit quite hard, and correct, but this normalization is still two to three years out.’
Conference participants then fanned out into a wide range of breakout sessions, including one on creative ways to maximize an IR budget. IR veterans Pat Marshall, vice president of communications and investor relations at Cineplex Entertainment, and Suzette Ramcharan, manager of IR at St Andrews Goldfields, ran through their own budget planning and offered a range of ideas on how to do more with less.
‘The smaller your budget, the more ruthless and creative you have to be in terms of prioritizing,’ said Marshall. ‘If you are a one-person show, you have to begin by factoring in the value of your time. People just starting out often think they have to do everything but the reality is they could probably get a lot more things done for a lot less money if they outsourced.’
Both Marshall and Ramcharan agreed IROs must consider their areas of expertise: ‘Maybe you aren’t a good writer so press releases consume your time. It might make sense to hire a service provider to deliver what you need in a fraction of the time it would take you to do the same thing.’
‘I was spending hours doing PowerPoint before I outsourced it to someone who could do it in 15 minutes,’ added Ramcharan. ‘Ultimately, you still must spend time making content.’
More top time and money-saving tips
– Using a graphic designer may be a better idea than using an agency. While the agency may have broader resources, Marshall noted, ‘you may be spending time and money on things you don’t traditionally need.’
– Looking at each item in your IR budget in terms of overall percentage is worthwhile. Both Ramcharan and Marshall discovered valuable data when taking that perspective.
– Get organized. Marshall has become a ‘checklist queen’. ‘It’s helpful to be able to see at a glance what has been done and what still needs to be done,’ she pointed out. ‘It also helps you sleep better.’
– Exploit e-voting to reduce proxy mailing costs. ‘It requires a lot of time and money upfront, but then it’s pretty clear sailing,’ said Ramcharan.
– Use search cards to reduce mailings. In two years, they’ve helped reduce Ramcharan’s mailings from 8,000 to 250. ‘My quarterly mailing is about 40 copies,’ she added. ‘That’s awesome.’
– Repurpose content. For its part, Cineplex spends plenty upfront for a great AGM and annual report then saves time while helping to ensure messaging consistency throughout the balance of the year that way.
– Push vendors to get the price you want. ‘They are competing, after all,’ noted Ramcharan. ‘And ensure they know what they are talking about.’
– Use free services. For Ramcharan, TSX InfoSuite ‘has been a godsend’.
– Network. ‘It’s key,’ concluded Ramcharan. ‘Building relationships with other IROs, service providers or anyone else with knowledge is very important in this business.’
Free for all
Later that morning, IROs gasped and laughed nervously as Estelle Métayer, principal and founder of Competia and adjunct professor at McGill University, revealed a fascinating range of tools to access ‘the invisible web’ where some 70 percent of information about people, technologies and companies is not yet indexed by search engines like Google.
‘Intelligence professionals, activists and shareholders are starting to use these sources of information,’ warned Métayer. ‘In the next few years, [free and easy-to-use data mining] will shake your world.’*
During lunch – which appeared to be tube-extruded, pressed chicken – conference goers sat through a panel discussion (while electronically contributing their own sentiment) on a range of capital markets topics including shareholder voting rights, the role of proxy advisers, governance and compensation.
Tuesday afternoon featured a roundtable with leaders of IR organizations from Canada, the US, the UK and Australia. Each spoke highly of prospects for Canadian companies marketing in their respective countries.
‘Canada is perceived as a safer place to invest than many other countries,’ said Jeff Morgan, president and CEO of NIRI. ‘Leverage that.’ Meanwhile Ian Matheson, CEO of the Australasian Investor Relations Association, pointed to Australia’s large pension fund market and a disclosure regime similar to Canada’s, while Michael Mitchell, general manager of the UK’s IR Society pitched the international orientation of UK pension funds.
The day concluded with the revelation that an early-morning CIRI conclave had elected Yvette Lokker to replace Tom Enright as president and CEO. Canadian IROs now look forward to the 26th annual investor relations conference in Whistler, BC.
*IR Magazine will follow up with a list of bookmarks for the astonishingly robust and user-friendly invisible web.