NIRI annual conference: Tuesday and Wednesday roundup
First on Tuesday’s agenda was a 6.00 am ‘fun run’ through Seattle, finishing up at the Seattle Museum Sculpture Garden. Unfortunately, the city’s weather had reverted to type by this point in the week and the runners headed out under gray skies and drizzle.
Inside the convention center, delegates tucked into breakfast while watching a 7.00 am panel entitled ‘Increasing ties in emerging markets’. ‘Broadly… investors are searching for growth anywhere they can get it,’ said Paul Sweeney, US director of research and senior media analyst at Bloomberg.
Over in the main hall, the only general session of the day saw Jeff Morgan, NIRI’s president and CEO, play a video of an interview with SEC director of corporation finance Meredith Cross – who couldn’t make it in person on the day – and host a live panel discussion about her comments.
Morgan asked Cross about planned regulation that would require companies to compare executive compensation to median employee pay. ‘That’s a nightmare chart as it’s not telling a story – it’s just data,’ he said.
It will be up to companies to put the figures in context, replied Cross.
After this, the conference split for breakout sessions, lunch and learns, and more breakout sessions in the afternoon.
The session on creating a compelling investor presentation, moderated by David Fine, principle of Fine Communications, was the best that one Europe-based IRO said he had seen all week.
The final day of the conference saw the remaining delegates gathered in the main hall for a panel discussion with three board directors. Peter Boni, president and CEO of Safeguard Scientifics, offered some advice on handling activist investors.
While the temptation is to call them out in the press, Boni said you can only lose by being defensive. The most successful approach he’d seen was when a company lined up shareholders, analysts and consultants to back its direction and dismiss the activists’ plans. ‘You’re clean – you don’t pick a fight,’ he stated.
The final general session of the conference gazed into the future of IR with a speech from futurist and Seattle area local Glen Hiemstra. Applying his predictions to IR, Hiemstra imagined a world where one-on-ones could take place through virtual reality goggles and retail shareholders would become ‘transparency fanatics’.
After lunch, NIRI’s 2012 annual conference finished off with two interactive workshops. In one, delegates worked through a scenario to see how investors make buy and sell decisions.
The other covered crisis communications. The audience took on the role of IR at WidgeCo, a widget manufacturer that is thrown into crisis when a supplier’s factory goes up in flames. To add to the problems, WidgeCo’s CEO happens to be visiting the factory that very day to check product quality – and there is no word on his whereabouts.
First, each table had to formulate its initial crisis response, which included making the decision about whether to issue a release or not.
Then, a journalist and analyst entered the room and began to pace around, randomly putting a microphone in front of audience members and asking awkward questions.
Being professional communicators, the workshop participants (mostly) stuck to their prearranged company line.
With the end of the workshop came the end of the conference. Over the four days, NIRI saw well over 1,000 registrants make the trip to Seattle. Thoughts will now turn to next year’s event, taking place in Hollywood, Florida.