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Mar 18, 2021

Lights, camera, IR! Virtual investor days should look like TV shows, says senior IRO

Severstal uses professional TV studio for virtual capital markets day in March

Companies holding virtual capital markets days need to think like TV show producers to keep the audience engaged, says Vladimir Zaluzhsky, head of communications and IR at Severstal.

In an interview with IR Magazine, Zaluzhsky discusses the planning and execution of the steel miner’s online event for investors and analysts, which took place on March 11. ‘We’re basically converting our typical capital markets day into a nice TV show, which should be informative [and] entertaining,’ he says.

Severstal held an in-person capital markets day in London for many years, but it was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak. When thinking about bringing it back in a virtual format, the company reviewed what it had learnt from internal online events over the last 12 months. 

A key improvement came when the company started using a studio in Moscow, says Zaluzhsky. ‘This... created a very different experience, both for the presenter and the viewers,’ he says. ‘So we understood, when holding the capital markets day, that we should be using the studio.’ 

The first rule of online events is not to think about them as an offline event plus a camera – they require a special studio and a team with experience making TV shows, says Zaluzhsky. Companies also need to think about what’s happening on the screen at all times. For example, there should be professional segues between speakers and the use of various camera angles and visuals. 

‘If you make it properly, a good online event is no cheaper than offline,’ says Zaluzhsky. ‘Sometimes it’s even more expensive if you take all the costs to prepare it.’ 

Severstal CEO Alexander Shevelev gives a presentation

Severstal also reviewed investor and analyst days by other companies. In particular, Zaluzhsky was impressed with the work done by McDonald’s for its virtual investor update in November, which he describes as ‘so engaging’. The McDonald’s event used a studio setting with slick visuals projected behind the speakers. 

Many companies have conducted online investor or analyst days to update the market during the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost half of IR professionals (46 percent) have either held such an event or plan to in the first half of 2021, according to a global survey by Nasdaq.

The research finds a split approach to the length of virtual capital markets days: 34 percent say their event lasted two hours, 32 percent say it lasted between three and four hours and 29 percent say it was less than two hours. Larger companies are more likely to run longer broadcasts.

For its event, Severstal opted for a simple format of three presentations from management plus Q&A, followed by two concurrent break-out sessions. The live recording was made in a local TV station in Cherepovéts, an industrial town 400 kilometers north of Moscow where Severstal is based. 

The local TV crew were not used to working on investor-focused events and so the IR team collaborated closely with them on planning each shot, says Zaluzhsky. ‘My recommendation would be for IR to spend a lot of time with the team on the ground… so everyone is on the same page with you in terms of the information,’ he says.

Q&A with Severstal's management team

Around 300 people joined for the main presentations, while 60 stayed on in each of the break-out sessions. ‘People appreciated that we kept the main part of the capital markets day short so they could complete their listening, write reports and do something else,’ he says. ‘You can’t keep people for three to four hours with your online events – they just get bored and distracted, and they will leave.’

One complication for IR teams thinking about returning to some form of physical event – even where the only people present are the speakers and production staff – is the need to protect the health of those involved. 

For Severstal’s capital markets day, the number of crew in the studio was kept to the bare minimum and Covid-19 precautions, such as mask wearing and rapid Covid tests, were followed, says Zaluzhsky. By the time of the event in March, most of the management team at Severstal had also received vaccines, he says.

The shift to online events is just one reason why IR teams need to think about making their content more engaging, says Zaluzhsky. He points to the rise in retail investment during the pandemic, the fierce competition for capital and the importance of social media as other reasons why IR should use ‘emotional storytelling’ to attract attention. 

The ‘biggest enemy’ for investor communications today is ‘being boring,’ he says. ‘I see IR functions, ultimately, somehow either merging or co-operating more closely with marketing and public relations.’