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May 24, 2022

Bear-market necessities: Highlights from the IR Magazine Think Tank – East Coast 2022

IROs gather in New York to discuss the big challenges facing the profession

The stock market sell-off, renewed shareholder activism and incoming SEC rules were just a few of the topics discussed by IR professionals last week at the IR Magazine Think Tank – East Coast 2022.

The event – which takes place under the Chatham House Rule, so there is no direct reporting of the conversation – heard from a mix of senior IROs, investors and expert advisers, and sought to help companies and their IR teams chart a path through one of the most volatile markets on record.

Speakers at the think tank

The day kicked off with a discussion on macroeconomic conditions, from record levels of inflation to the war in Ukraine and slowing global growth. Amid tightening fiscal conditions, cash is more valuable than ever, the audience heard. Every dollar of cash a company is producing today is worth more, while every dollar of forecast growth is worth less.

The next session focused on shareholder activism. The first three months of 2022 saw 73 new activist campaigns, marking the biggest quarter on record, according to data from Lazard, so there was plenty to discuss.

A new generation of activists is trying to make its mark, the audience was told, so don’t just look out for familiar names on the share register. Companies were also advised to have a ‘day one’ action plan ready, set up in partnership with their various advisers, to avoid ending up on the back foot when a campaign launches.

Following this conversation, the audience took part in the first roundtables of the day. This is a unique element of IR Magazine Think Tanks in which attendees discuss the talking points from the panels at their own tables, offering the chance for candid discussion among IR peers about the challenges facing the profession.

After a coffee break, delegates returned to the conference room for two panels on ESG. The first looked at the best way to measure and report your company’s ESG performance, while the second considered sustainability programs in the context of stakeholder capitalism.

Of course, the SEC’s new climate disclosure rules, which remain in a comment period, featured heavily in the discussions. We are shifting to a time when companies must be a lot more accountable for their data and communications around climate, the audience heard. Delegates were also reminded that, where companies don’t disclose ESG information, investors will try to fill in the gaps. Issuers with good disclosure can be reassured that investors are working with accurate information, they were told.

Afternoon panels considered the changing landscape for corporate access. Attendees heard how IR teams are balancing in person with virtual meetings and blending sell-side events with direct engagement. They also received a masterclass in putting on hybrid events.

The penultimate section of the think tank focused on IR careers, with presentations and panel discussions on the development of the profession and how to achieve your own career goals. Speakers pointed out that IROs are in a privileged position where they have touchpoints with basically every part of the business. You can use that to build connections and think about how you would like your role and career to develop, delegates were told.

The final session featured a Q&A with a panel of investors. Topics ranged from the likelihood of a recession in the coming months to which ESG data providers are most valuable and how many meetings it typically takes for an investor to buy into a stock. With valuations way off their highs, attendees heard that now may be the time when long-standing relationships with investors could be converted into an investment.

To find out more about the IR Magazine Think Tank – East Coast 2022, please click here.