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Apr 12, 2024

Don’t sweat the macro stuff: Five things we learned at the IR Magazine Forum – Canada 2024

Investor relations professionals gather in Toronto to hear about the latest issues affecting them

Almost 100 of Canada’s leading IROs gathered in Toronto ahead of the IR Magazine Awards – Canada 2024 to dive into the big trends bringing change to investor relations today. From a packed agenda covering everything from navigating the challenging macroeconomic environment to making AI work in the real world and the new rules – and preferences – guiding ESG, we bring you five key takeaways from the forum.

1. Don’t get too bogged down on the macro stuff

Laurie Havelock, IR Magazine editor-at-large and moderator at the forum, kicked off the day with a conversation focused on the challenging macroeconomic environment many IROs find themselves operating in. Speaking on an equally bleak-looking morning in Toronto, Havelock was joined by Roy MacDonald, group vice president of investor relations at George Weston and Loblaw Companies and Robert McConnaughey, senior vice president and head of IR advisory and community impact at Corbin Advisors.

Summing up a conversation that examined not only Canada-specific case studies but also the wider global environment, McConnaughey stressed the importance of focusing on what companies can control. ‘It’s being clear about what's happening but not getting bogged down in apologizing too much for the macro [issues],’ he told the audience. Instead, messaging should ‘pivot to, Here's what we are doing to differentiate ourselves against that [economic] backdrop.'

2. AI can boost your LinkedIn engagement

‘I use ChatGPT quite a bit, [but] I do not use it to draft our press releases. We're a small firm and we don't have the capability of a strong technology or compliance team, so I don't want to put anything confidential or [any] material non-public information into ChatGPT.’ So said Kam Mangat, vice president of investor relations and corporate strategy at NEXE Innovations, on a panel alongside Chris Makuch, senior director at Notified.

Mangat has found, however, that feeding the press releases she has written into the generative AI tool makes a big difference to how they perform on social.

‘Once I have a press release published, I put it through ChatGPT,’ she told delegates. ‘I have a prompt that says: create a LinkedIn post from the viewpoint of the CEO, [with a] target audience of B2B customers. Give me the top three hashtags, make sure it is optimized for SEO and longtail keywords.’

Mangat explained that she repeats the process from different internal perspectives as well as for different social media platforms: ‘What I found is that, first of all, it takes me five minutes to do each post – [and they’re] already optimized for SEO.’ She also saw a boost to engagement. ‘When I compare how those LinkedIn posts are performing, I'm outperforming what I was doing before,' she said. '[This] has really helped me gain followers and increase my audience. And it's a cost-effective way of doing it.’

3. Retail can act as an efficient sounding board

Talk of improving social engagement provides a slick segue into our next key message from the forum: that retail investors can serve to spread the message of IR – as well as offering investor relations a deep insight into what the retail community is focused on.

Robin Boschman, director of investor relations and corporate communications at E3 Lithium, shared her views with delates from a panel where she was joined by Dan Rollins, senior vice president of corporate development and investor relations at Torex Gold Resources. The panel was moderated by Lauren McDonald, conference producer at IR Magazine.

‘[Retail investors] can be incredibly engaged and loyal – and be ambassadors on your behalf,’ said Boschman. They can ‘bring in other high-quality retail shareholders to your story,’ she added. Talking about some of E3’s retail cohort, she explained: ‘We have quite a few sophisticated retail [shareholders] who have been in our story since we were a 40-cent stock. They've done fairly well, they're bullish on the story and are very engaged for the long term. And we can talk almost every week.’

This high level of engagement is often a turn-off for IROs, noted Boschman, but she felt IR should recognize the return on this investment. 'It's true that [talking to these investors] takes a lot of time,' she conceded. 'But the information I can get from one person, who talks to 10 of his friends – a lot of our shareholders are male – [makes this] a is highly efficient [process]. For me, it's a very good way of listening to what's happening: what's confusing, what are people worried about? What is it that you need to hear from the CEO right now? [Our retail investors] tend to invest together so we can have a call with 10 of them at a time and they can [represent] a fairly substantial holding in the stock.’

4. The need for ESG-specific funds is over

There was consensus across the ESG panel – featuring Prabh Banga, vice president of sustainability at Aecon Group, Meryem Baskoun, director of corporate sustainability communications and reporting at Air Canada and Sylvie Harton, chief business strategy officer at Lumi Global and moderated by Steve Wade, IR Magazine’s head of content – that the way in which investors view ESG has changed.

‘How we see ESG on a day-to-day basis, at the company level and for investors as well [has changed],’ said Baskoun, adding that ESG used to be talked about as ‘non-financial information. It has always been siloed from everything financial.’ Compare that to today and there has been a huge shift, she said: ‘I don't know whether the [term ESG] will exist a few years from now, because it will be just how business is done on a day-to-day basis. When you meet an investor, you don't talk about ESG separately from financial statements.’

For Baskoun, the latest reporting standards, focusing on combining qualitative and quantitative ESG information, are representative of this shift. ‘I don't think it's [about] deprioritizing,’ she said. ‘It’s more about becoming part of regular business.’

This is also having an impact on the investor side, added Banga. ‘ESG funds were sort of the buzzword a couple of years ago, and I think that was a part of branding, marketing, getting ESG out there [as well as a] behavior change in getting investors accustomed to learning more about what ESG funds would entail.’ Now, she noted the many ESG-skeptic headlines focused on divestment and criticism. For Banga, however, this is not about ‘deprioritizing’ ESG. ‘There just maybe isn't a need for ESG-specific funds anymore: all funds should have some element of ESG management incorporated into them,’ she said.

5. IR is changing – but some things remain the same

Responding to ESG, AI, the growth of retail or volatility all require flexibility and responsiveness from investor relations. One panel focused on exactly that: how to develop yourself and your team for the changing IR landscape.

McDonald moderated a panel featuring Adam Borgatti, senior vice president of corporate development and investor relations at Aecon Group, Janet Craig, vice president of investor relations at Maple Leaf Foods, Christopher Deans, assistant vice president of investor relations at IGM Financial and Nathalie Megann, president and chief executive officer at CIRI, to talk about the themes impacting the profession.

Many on the panel spoke to the core IR skill of managing information – something that goes way beyond numbers in a spreadsheet. While recent decades have seen a deluge of data fall under the scope of IR and recent AI developments offer the potential to better manage some of that data burden, a big part of success in the role remains simple curiosity and communication, argued Deans.

A key skill is ‘an insatiable need to want to find answers and to dig in, to go gumshoeing around – and having the capability to do it yourself without being told to do so,’ he explained.

‘I don't think that's a very common trait out there [but] I think it’s incredibly important to have in IR. And what goes hand-in-hand with that is a curiosity to get all the information in – because you've asked the right questions – [and] knowing how to drill down, to relay [information] back and then communicate it.’

IR Magazine Forum - Canada 20124 partners

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...