Consulting means listening

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

I was recently asked to participate in CIRI’s Mentorship Program, specifically as a mentor to a new consultant.

This got me to thinking: what makes a good IR consultant? Knowledge of business generally and the accumulation of hard skills specifically are good starting points. But it’s not enough just to understand behavioural finance, corporate disclosure best practices or even how to conduct an investor perception survey.

Soft skills are equally important. I have met many consultants over the years who possessed the requisite hard skills but failed miserably to master even the most basic soft skill: listening. Too many consultants are in love with the sound of their own voice to stop and truly listen to what a client is saying. You know the type: they offer advice before hearing the whole story and they name drop incessantly. It’s easy to do this because consultants find perceived similarities in work they do across different client accounts, they always want to look like they have all the answers and they bask in the glory of past successes. The problem is the quick-draw consultant often provides misaligned IR strategies and cookie-cutter advice.

So in my CIRI mentorship role, and as the owner of Fundamental, I put a premium on soft skills not the least of which is listening intently before acting.

Investor Perception Survey

Posted by on Jan 5, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Investor perception surveys are used by leading companies in all industries. But do they meet their intended goal of giving management/the board greater insight into what investors/analysts really think?

The answer, in my opinion, is no if the survey consists largely of questions that ask the audience to use scale-based ratings (i.e. what do you think of management on a scale of 1-5). Such surveys sound enticing. After all, what executive doesn’t want to say “my rating was 4.5, one full percentage point above the benchmark.”

In reality, however, it is the anecdotal information, found in conversations and replayed in direct quotes in qualitative investor surveys, that provide the greatest insight.

Getting this kind of information is not easy. It requires the formation of direct and insightful questions and careful probing by an informed, independent surveyor. But it is well worth the effort for companies that really want to know where they stand with owners and advisors.

Annual Reports – A wise investment?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Once the perceived cornerstone of investor communications, annual reports have taken a back seat to many other tools in recent years.  Nevertheless, “AR” preparation continues to occupy hundreds of hours of management time each year for the average mid and large capitalization company.

Is it worth the time? A quick answer is no, if you don’t use the report wisely. To me, wise use of the annual report means developing non-financial content that is insightful, detailed and makes your shareholders want to read every page.

Believe it or not, there are shareholders – institutional and retail – who do want to read your AR to understand your CEO’s vision and corporate values, discover how you help a customer meet a specific challenge and learn more about how your divisional executives are managing risk and adapting to change.

Unfortunately, those investors are often confronted with undifferentiated AR messaging, including platitude-filled, backward looking shareholders’ letters and end-to-end marketing sections that are rich in self-promotion and poor in communicating value.

ARs also have greater reach than one might imagine. AR content can be harvested to refresh your website and investor presentations, AR stories can spawn social media exchanges and your AR has the gravitas to colour and inform customer, employee and community perceptions.

Getting your public messaging straight through the AR process is also a great way to ensure your management team is on the same page with respect to strategy, opportunity and your corporate agenda.

There are many companies using their ARs wisely and perhaps yours is one of them. If not, with some creative forethought, it can be.

Here’s to an effective – and wise – 2012 AR process.


Investor Relations as a Career Choice

Posted by on Dec 15, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

I have the pleasure of speaking to students about careers in investor relations on a regular basis. Their number one question: what skill sets do I need to get an IR job?

Not an easy question to answer because IR requires a multi-disciplinary approach. I have worked with extremely effective professionals whose academic backgrounds range from journalism (my route into the business) and law to commerce and accounting.

The common ground is the ability to think and act strategically. That is, to think like a CEO and an investor, because we work directly for one and indirectly for the other, and to act by developing communications programs that enhance understanding between our two masters.

There are a number of soft and hard skills required. As I tell the students who ask, my journalism degree and time spent at CBC and CKO Radio took me only to the ground floor. From there, it was a combination of on-the-job training and lots of extra-curricular learning, in part, courtesy of the Canadian Investor Relations Institute (which has just launched a certification program which I highly recommend) and the Canadian Securities Institute.

Managing all aspects of my own business, from finance to marketing and sales for more than a decade also helped to make me truly appreciate the challenges and rewards of business leadership and ownership. Serving on the board of CIRI and prior to that a community charity also increased my appreciation for how good communications can fuel good strategy.

IR today is a great career – made all that much greater by the diversity of people practicing it.



IR and Social Media: A Trend Waiting to Happen?

Posted by on Jul 20, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

On September 28 and 29, 2011, Federated Press will host an investor relations symposium in Toronto, bringing together practitioners from a variety of public companies and consulting agencies. I have been asked to speak on financial communications trends.

Not to pre-empt my presentation, but one of the topics I intend to address is social media (“SM”) and its future as an investor communications tool.

With a few notable exceptions, Canadian public companies have remained largely on the sidelines of social SM trends over the past two years when it comes to communicating with the investment community.  I believe this is about to change due to several factors.

  1. Major companies in both the US and Canada (think Dell, Barrick Gold to name two) are blazing the trail and finding good results from SM engagement.
  2. Organizations such as the Canadian Investor Relations Institute ( is now providing additional education and educational resources on the topic ( the British Columbia chapter of CIRI is hosting a seminar entitled Social Media 2.0 on September 29 2011 to help investor relations officers to learn how to set up and maintain SM);
  3. The legal community is coming to terms with SM and is beginning to provide advice to issuers in its usage (for example, in a bulletin published by Fasken Martineau in December 2010, Caroline E. Clapham offered several helpful tips for those considering SM).
  4. Equity issuers are beginning to recognize that today’s generation of SM users will become tomorrow’s equity market participants.

While there is risk associated with SM (including tipping, insider trading, rumour mongering, breaches of confidentiality), the reality is that these risks existed for public companies long before the advent of electronic information exchange. With proper safeguards (likely including the appointment of official SM communicators on corporate IR/PR teams), I believe SM risk can be managed to a degree acceptable to all public companies.

In short, I believe SM is a trend about to happen.