NIRI 2017: An IR storm takes over Orlando

Jun 09, 2017
A delegate's report from Saturday to Monday

Last week, the city of Orlando, mostly known for being the home of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, saw around 1,200 IROs, service providers – and a few IR journalists – prompted to come and ‘break the mold’ at NIRI’s annual conference. 

The American IR community’s grande messe, held this year at the Marriott Grande Lakes, was marked in many ways by the theme of water, from the hotel’s tempting lazy river and (alligator-infested) lakes to the display of Florida’s finest tropical deluge.

At the NIRI volunteers’ appreciation dinner on Saturday evening, Gary LaBranche, the association’s new CEO, enjoyed a symbolic christening when his al-fresco speech was disrupted by a heavy rainstorm. 

On Sunday, early risers were invited to a yoga class in the hotel’s citrus garden, after which the first general session on ‘disruption on the market’ kicked off with Bloomberg’s Brad Stone moderating. 

The CEO of IEX, Brad Katsuyama, reminded delegates that exchanges now made more money selling data and services than matching buyers and sellers. ‘Our story is not about having a market share view but rather focusing on higher-quality trades,’ he said. 

For John Geller, CFO of Marriott Vacations, tech innovation should tackle customer acquisition, a high cost for the business. Asked whether Airbnb-type newcomers were a big threat, Geller said the company enjoyed a good level of brand loyalty from its customers, although there was some competition in urban locations. Innovation is key in a sector where the customer is always a step ahead of the industry, said Gillian Munson, CFO of online media group XO. ‘IR teams shouldn’t hesitate to seek help from consultants to manage investor expectations during a disruptive phase,’ she highlighted. 

It was then time for an introductory Q&A between conference chair Valerie Haertel, IRO at Bank of New York Mellon, and Gary LaBranche, NIRI’s new CEO. In his new role, LaBranche will act as chief communicator with the SEC and Congress, pushing for the strategic advancement of the IR profession, which he believes has had a breakthrough in sophistication with the launch of the Investor Relations Charter. NIRI needs to develop more strategic relationships, be more inclusive, be open to change and think out of the box, he said, stressing that members should get involved in discussing regulations and their weight on the IPO market.

In one of the following breakout sessions, three ‘tech-savvy IROs’ shared their tips. Conrad Grodd from Pandora is an adept of SendGrid, an email tool for building management briefs for roadshows as well as ‘eye-catching emails for investors’. IROs can also track opening stats as well as click-through rates. 

Virtual shareholder meetings as a low-cost, democratic solution for AGMs was the recommendation of Darin Arita from Voya Financial, an ING spin-off. These can avoid the awkward situation of having an empty ballroom, while the ‘technologically challenged’ will find the process as easy to master as an earnings webcast, he said, noting that 90 percent of these virtual events were audio only.

Patrick Van de Wille, chief communications officer at InterDigital, uses a Salesforce database to distribute IR news, press releases and white papers, but also to log all investor meetings and follow-up. User stats then allow him to calculate a cost per non-deal roadshow and per investor. Most of all, he believes investors can be more heavily influenced by the buzz of general communications than financial statements. ‘The key is to get people out of the IR website and onto the main one,’ he said. 

Next up was the view from Wall Street, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue session, where Rich Myers from Edelman interviewed Anthony Scaramucci, founder of SkyBridge Capital and the yearly Las Vegas-held, alternative investing-focused SALT conference. The former hedge fund manager, who has just been announced as the new ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, shared his views on hedge fund fees (‘it’s a free market’), the Paris Accord (‘unfair toward the US’) and even gave a glimpse into his blue-collar upbringing (‘macaroni and cheese on the table’). 

Improving shareholder value through employee communications was one of the afternoon themes, with Debbie Belevan from First Republic Bank as moderator. ‘Internal is external,’ said Edelman’s Ashley Engler, highlighting the role of employee voices in amplifying business strategy and thought-leadership. Earnings per share at companies with highly engaged staff are 147 percent higher, she also noted. 

Mike Conway from Sherwin-Williams keeps employees in the loop by using clip reports pushed via a mobile app where staff members can also watch the latest ad or follow a Facebook or Twitter campaign. Mark Donohue from Impax Laboratories explained why employee dialog – such as town halls or bi-weekly newsletters – is crucial in times of hardship and how IR should collaborate with other departments in educating employees. ‘It’s all about finding the right balance between face to face and virtual engagement,’ Engler concluded. 

Monday ended on a cheerful note, with author Loretta LaRoche talking about humor and stress management at the evening reception before delegates moved on to join one – or more – of the much-anticipated vendor parties.

Read part two of recap: Tuesday and Wednesday here.

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