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May 04, 2022

IR remit is expanding but pay not keeping up, say irlabs founders

As the female-led IR firm gears up for its Capital Markets Comeback Tour, co-founders Alyssa Barry and Caroline Sawamoto talk about getting creative – while maintaining the basics of good IR

Launched last year, Canadian IR firm irlabs is run by two women – Alyssa Barry and Caroline Sawamoto – who combine their experience of everything from market crashes to corrections, proxy fights to M&A, big budgets to ‘scrappy shoestring IR budgets’.

Caroline Sawamoto and Alyssa Barry, irlabs
Caroline Sawamoto (left)
and Alyssa Barry, irlabs

They say the company is taking an ‘all-encompassing’ approach to the Canadian capital markets and investor relations with copywriters, analysts, PR professionals, graphic designers, digital strategists and ESG experts on staff.

This diverse skillset reflects what they see as a growing remit for IR, though Sawamoto notes that salaries today aren’t necessarily reflecting that growth in responsibility.

Talking about IR Magazine research that has consistently uncovered a gender pay gap in IR, Barry says that for her, ‘diversity and pay equity starts at the top. Last year, we partnered with Women Get On Board to conduct evidence-based research on the lack of board diversity in Canada.’ What they found was that just 16 percent of board seats for new issuers on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchange were occupied by women and only 5.5 percent of board chairs were women. ‘If so few board members are women, the push for equitable pay will not happen,’ Barry says.

Sawamoto adds that ‘companies with IROs need to keep up with salary surveys and pay staff accordingly. IROs have a unique position as their jobs consist of many roles spanning ESG, compliance, finance, IR, media relations and corporate governance, to name a few. Expectations on IRO skills, education and accreditation and expanded investor engagement keep increasing, but the pay is not keeping up.’

So what other trends do the pair, who each spent the first 15 years of their respective careers as in-house IR for ‘a variety of public companies in a range of industries’ see emerging in the IR space? Barry cites the ‘ever-increasing compliance and regulations. For example, the scrutiny on news release content is greater now than ever’, as well as the perennial challenge of finding new and better ways to communicate with investors.

While on the one hand, she says it is still ‘all about getting back to the basics of telling great stories and building relationships with analysts and other key stakeholders’, Barry also says the firm likes to get creative. ‘We got creative with our client PesoRama, Mexico’s only true dollar store, and provided dollar store swag to investment advisers to break through the barrage of messaging,’ she recalls.

This is a philosophy it seems the pair apply to everything irlabs does. ‘Our Capital Markets Comeback Tour this spring is a great example of engaging with capital markets in a fun way,’ says Sawamoto. ‘We’re holding sold-out evening events in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto with capital markets and the media, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

‘We’re not afraid to push the envelope on making meaningful connections.’

Garnet Roach

An award-winning journalist, Garnet Roach joined IR Magazine in October 2012, working on both the editorial and research sides of the publication. Prior to entering the world of investor relations, her freelance career covered a broad range of...