Tales from Wall Street: Dealing with the Angry Investor

It’s been a very rough last few days on Wall Street. After nearly 20 years of doing investor relations, I’ve learned to weather the storm when it comes to crashes, corrections and the impact of what the Fed says (or doesn’t say) on any given day.

That said, investing is not just an intellectual exercise, but an emotional one, too. Whether it’s the Dow dropping 600 points, or less than stellar earnings results, chances are that if you are a public company CEO, CFO or investor relations professional, you’ve dealt with an upset investor.

Following are my dos and don’ts for dealing with an angry or upset investor:

Do actively listen. The best way to do this is to take good notes on what the investor is saying.

Do show empathy. Acknowledge what the investor is saying (and respectfully ask for clarification when needed). Treat every investor with genuine respect.

Do be calm, matter of fact and professional. Dealing with a professional or personal investor’s investments can be highly emotional. Be conscious of your body language and tone of voice. If an investor is profane or abusive, don’t respond in kind. Instead, remove yourself from the situation if you feel tempted to “fight back.”

Do correct misinformation and take the emotion out of the exchange. Avoid attacking the investor’s emotions or feelings about a stock when addressing any misinformation they’ve brought up. Your job is not to change their mind about how they feel about a stock – but to present them with factual information.

Don’t respond with sarcasm. While it may be OK in context among friends, it has the potential to be misinterpreted in a written conference call transcript or when an investor posts what you said on a message board.

Don’t get defensive or try to “solve” the issue right away. Wait for the cue or ask the investor for permission to ask questions or respond.

Don’t say “The stock is turning around or it’s going to go up soon.”

Don’t, under any circumstances, try to advise the investor on whether or not they should keep or sell a stock. If the investor asks you, “What would you do?” the appropriate response is “It would be inappropriate for me to advise you on whether you should buy or sell your stock.”

Do talk about your company’s “investor” story. Each company has its own unique investor thesis. Emphasize the fundamentals of your company’s story.

Do be proactive in your response, but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up. There is nothing wrong with saying “When is a good time for me to get back to you on this issue?”

Do keep your answers short and to the point. It can be tempting to try to add additional assurances or information to your response, but when dealing with public company information issues – the best response is to stick with information already public.

- E.E. Wang, ewang@pondel.com

Everything is Awesome, Not

Awesome stampJust type the word awesome into a Google search and about 1,300,000,000 results will appear. The word is so ingrained into our popular culture, it’s hard not to watch anything on TV or go anywhere without someone using “awesome” to describe something cool or hip.

Countless articles and hundreds of thousands of pages on the Internet are dedicated to the overuse of the word. Several print and online magazines have put awesome on their list of banned words, including an article in the PR Industry’s trade magazine Ragan.com, saying, “let’s stop using it [awesome] as our default every time we are too lazy, busy, insecure, stupid or whatever to think of a more original or relevant word.”

Originated in the late 16th century from the words “awe” and “some,” awesome, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is an adjective that means causing feelings of fear and wonder or awe. Believe it or not there’s “awesomeness” as a noun and “awesomely” as an adverb. Oy vey.

As experts in the communications field, we try to avoid using jargon, slang or clichés to describe a product or service, or anything for that matter. Let’s not even get into words like disruptive, innovative or state-of-the-art. Those words can make any good writer cringe.

According to some writing experts, there are scores of other words that can replace awesome. Amazing?  Maybe, but probably number one on the list of the world’s most overused word. Brilliant? More of a British correlation. Dazzling? Let’s get real. Fabulous? Just doesn’t feel right. Spectacular? Boring.

The truth is there is no real word that can really mimic the same visceral reaction or meaning evoked by the word awesome. The problem is that awesome is used for pretty much everything, from describing a great-tasting doughnut to recounting MLB’s 2015 Home Run Derby. Finding new and exciting words will evolve over time, but until then, it’s hard to deny the awesomeness of awesome.

-George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Tales from Wall Street: Surviving Earnings Season

If a non-deal road show is a planned marathon made up of many, many sprints – earnings season is like a sprint that feels like a very long marathon.

At the risk of sounding a bit like a New Age-y Californian, here are the tips for how I survive earnings season:

  1. Stay Fueled. For you, it may be a Starbucks triple espresso, but for me, it’s my morning smoothie. My personal favorite recipe has 2 cups of kale or spinach, ½ a red grapefruit, ½ an orange, 3-4 strawberries, a few slices of Persian cucumber, a handful of raspberries, 1-2 tsps of raw maca powder (for extra pep in my step) and one tablespoon of chia seeds for protein.
  2. Find your Earnings Season touchstone to maintain your mojo. The most frustrating part of any earnings season is the “middle.” It could be the script’s not done, your team’s onto the XXth revision, you just found out that Yahoo’s printed the wrong analyst estimate, or you’re simply wondering how you will get everything done by Earnings Day.

Maintaining your mojo can be hard but incorporating fun little rituals and having a touchstone activity, can help refocus and reinvigorate your Earnings Season ninja skills. For me, it can be as simple as taking a moment to call or text my hubby* with a quick hello or performing freeway karaoke to my favorite IR songs to remind me that there is life outside of earnings season.

  1. Get Some Good Sleep. It can be hard getting a full night’s sleep when your mind is filled with anticipation for that upcoming earnings call. But as anyone will tell you, a good night’s sleep can do wonders for making sure you are feeling your best and on top of your game come Earnings Day. Research shows that it’s not about the hours you get, but the quality and depth.  Here’s my favorite sweet treat recipe for getting a good night’s sleep the evening before Earnings Day:

1 cup almond milk

1/2 a frozen banana

2/3 cup frozen bing cherries (pitted)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tbsp. of raw cacao nibs

1 tbsp honey

Toss all ingredients in blender. Mix until smooth.

  1. Put Together a Fun Earnings Day Ritual. It might be having your team wear a certain color on earnings day or going out for a quick bite at a favorite local hangout, but I always find that sharing a simple ritual or tradition before the conference call is a fun way to make sure that your team gets some fresh energy before tackling that last stretch of your Earnings “sprint.”

You’ve researched, written, edited, rehearsed and planned for this day. Now your investors get to hear about your results for the first time. Good luck!

*(My hubby has been my rock through nearly 50 earnings seasons to date and despite his own busy work schedule, still has managed to send me a quick “good luck and I love you!” text just before each earnings call. Thanks hon! This one’s for you – and all of the understanding spouses and significant others who support the CEOs, CFOs and IR professionals during and outside of earnings season.)

- E.E. Wang, ewang@pondel.com

Silicon Valley – The HBO Show (not the place)

SiliconWhile binge watching HBO’s Silicon Valley last weekend, I was thinking about whether the show actually mirrors reality, or if it’s mostly a work of fiction. Since I’ve never started up a tech company, I don’t have an opinion on how real that aspect of the show is, but since I do spend my days in the worlds of finance and communications, and I did work for a tech company that was incubated, I believe that the show’s conversations about venture capital, fund raising and public perception are pretty on the money (pun intended).

So, I thought a blog about Silicon Valley (the show) and its ties to business and celebrity of Silicon Valley (the place) might be interesting. But when I sat down to actually write something, I couldn’t quite figure out how to relate what I’ve seen on the small screen to my life in investor relations. That got me pulling up a search engine (one based in Silicon Valley, of course) on the off chance there might be something that would help stir my creative side. Much to my surprise, when I typed “HBO’s Silicon Valley and business” into the search bar, I got 421,000 results. Titles like, “3 Management Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley,” “Business Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley” and “INCUBATE THIS: Trade Secrets Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley” made me realize that this is a topic that has been done before.

At the risk of being somewhat of a copycat, here’s a quick summary of the lessons a lot of bloggers and journalists want to you take away from the show:

  • From Hivewyre: Have a work/life balance. “By taking the occasional break (or, gasp— even a vacation) you’re doing yourself and the company some good. Doing so means recharging your batteries, clearing your head, and coming back ready to kill it!”
  • From InsideCounsel: Protect your IP. “It is important for these companies to invest in protecting its own IP so that it can use that IP to defend itself if necessary.”
  • From WeberShandwick: Clear messaging is essential. “Especially in deep tech, it’s easy to get caught up in the specs and techs of a product. Our challenge is to elevate the messaging to something meaningful, but not generic. Instead of “making the world a better place,” can you get more specific?”
  • From Forbes: Do your homework. “Startups need to have the basics buttoned up long before raising money.”
  • From The Business Journals: Assembling a board is not an easy task. “Good board members can help young companies gain credibility and open doors. Board seats are valued rewards for key investors and personnel. But they also carry tremendous responsibility. Board members must place the company’s interests ahead of their own. And for every new board seat created, the value of every other board seat is diminished. The lesson: board positions matter and should be given out very carefully.”

If you haven’t given the show a chance, check it out. It’s politically incorrect and foul-mouthed, but an incredibly funny look at the culture of tech start-ups, and a fountain of good information…for what NOT to do!

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

The Art of Apology

“I’m sorry.”

For public figures and organizations, no other phrase could be more difficult or more complicated to say. It means something went wrong or someone was hurt (or worse).

Here are the three necessary ingredients for delivering an effective apology:

  1. Honesty: Acknowledge completely what went wrong.

Popstar Ariana Grande’s first attempt at an apology is a perfect example of what not to do. Following the disclosure of a Fourth of July video in which she displayed rude and disgusting behavior in a local doughnut shop, the popstar chose to focus her first apology on her “I hate America. I hate Americans” statements and tried to unconvincingly explain that her comments were directed at her disgust with childhood obesity in the United States.

Her failure to acknowledge the other elements of her behavior during “Doughnutgate” resulted in immediate public and media backlash that kept the story in the news for nearly a week and forced the popstar to address (and re-apologize) for the childish prank several times.

In contrast, a few years ago, I worked with a manufacturer of specialized batteries that discovered that under a certain situation their products were likely to fail. By being proactive in communicating the weakness in the battery design and a solution for avoiding the situation, the company avoided being forced to do a major product recall and was able to maintain its reputation as a preferred and trusted vendor.

The first step to an apology that rings true is to openly and factually acknowledge what went wrong. Whether the circumstances are preventable, accidental or deliberate, an open acknowledgement of what went wrong demonstrates honesty and empathy for those affected by your actions.

  1. Timeliness: Apologize as soon as possible.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson demonstrated how a quick and complete apology can actually end up creating positive results. In June, the actor made an immediate U-turn after he accidentally sideswiped a parked vehicle. After finding the vehicle owner, Johnson delivered an immediate apology and promised to pay for the damages. Johnson’s candid, quick and sincere apology not only resulted in the vehicle owner refusing compensation but reinforced his image as an all-around stand-up guy.

Following the disclosure of a New York-consumer agency investigation that found multiple incidents of overpricing, Whole Foods issued a defensive written statement accusing the agency of “overreaching” in its investigation. Public reaction included the company’s stock price dropping to near yearly lows and consumers calling for a boycott of the company stores. Less than a week later, co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb released a video on YouTube to apologize “straight up” for the issue. By personally admitting that the company was in the wrong and quickly apologizing for it, Whole Foods leadership took the “controversy” out of the story and reinforced Whole Foods brand image as a company where “values matter.” The result: news coverage of the issue ceased and the stock price has seen a steady rebound and increase since the co-CEOs public apology.

  1. Genuine Action: Outline how you’re going to make amends – and follow through.

I once consulted for a large regional hospital that discovered not one but three problems involving sexual misconduct in the same week. While one was sure to become public (an arrest involving criminal behavior); the other two incidents did not involve any arrests but had the potential to put into question the hospital’s security and hiring practices. In addition to acknowledging all of the events that had occurred and the actions the hospital had taken to reach out to potentially affected parties, the CEO also communicated the proactive measures being taken by the hospital to avoid problems in the future.

The result was that instead of a front page headline story reading “Sexual Scandals Rock Local Hospital,” the actual story was headlined “Hospital Installs New Security Measures” and ran on page 11 of the local daily newspaper.

More importantly, by following through on the preventive measures they outlined during their press conference, the hospital and its leadership retained their positive standing in the local community.

When a crisis hits, the public will often judge you or your organization not by what has happened but by the actions that follow. When you find that you or your organization is on the wrong or hurting end of an issue or event, an apology that is delivered with honesty, timeliness and genuine action can reinforce your integrity and reduce the likelihood of lasting material damage to your brand.

– E.E. Wang, ewang@pondel.com

IR Songs

OK, I admit that summertime and investor relations blogs have very little in common. And yes, most of the topics that surface on this blog are serious and may have ramifications for the livelihood of your communications strategy. However, one mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we are in the heart of summer and bringing a little levity to this so called investor relations world is healthy, especially before we head full bore into earnings season.

So, my question to you is this: If “Investor Relations” is the name of a band, what is a plausible name for its hit single? I suppose it would help if we also came up with a musical genre for the band, but I can’t even begin to imagine what Investor Relations would sound like musically. Obviously, money would be a dominant muse.

Following is a top-20 list of actual song titles that could have ostensibly been written by Investor Relations. If you have other suggestions, please post them on Twitter at #IRsongs and we will add them to the list.

  1. For the Love of Money – The O’Jays
  2. It’s All About the Benjamins – Puff Daddy
  3. Money – Pink Floyd
  4. San Francisco Bay Blues (references not having a nickel or a “lousy” dime) – Jesse Fuller
  5. If I Were a Rich Man – Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Block
  6. Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes – Paul Simon
  7. We’re in the Money – Al Dubin
  8. Greenback Dollar – Kingston Trio
  9. Nickel Bag of Funk – Digable Planets
  10. Luck Be a Lady – Frank Loesser
  11. Jack & Diane – John Cougar Mellencamp
  12. Like a Virgin – Madonna
  13. Money, Money, Money – Abba
  14. 99 Problems – Jay Z
  15. Chariots of Fire – Vangelis
  16. Ring Around the Rosie – Artist Unknown
  17. Pomp and Circumstance – Sir Edward Elgar
  18. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  19. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – The Beatles
  20. Back in Black – ACDC

Additional song titles posted on #IRsongs or submitted by blog readers:

  1. Price Tag – Jesse J
  2. She Works Hard for the Money – Donna Summer
  3. Material Girl – Madonna
  4. CREAM (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) – Wu-Tang
  5. Money (That’s What I want) – The Beatles (Barrett Strong)
  6. Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
  7. The Money Song – Monty Python

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Walk Down the Hall before Sending that Email

It’s no secret that the ability to write well, which typically equates to the ability to think well, is a fundamental skillset that goes a long way in many businesses and professions, certainly ours, whether the public relations or investor relations side of our practice.

The University of Chicago, however, revealed in a recent study, that no matter how well and in which medium writing is deployed—via email or text message, in a legal brief, or in our world, a press release—verbal communication is a far more powerful tool than the proverbial pen.

The study conducted by UCHI Professors Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder concluded that the same information that could be conveyed verbally comes off sounding less intelligent and convincing in writing, and that picking up the phone or walking down the hall to a colleague’s office, rather than sending an email, virtually always will be more effective.

The study, “The Sound of Intellect,” revealed that voice inflection and other vocal cues show that humans are “alive inside, thoughtful, active and (written) text strips that out.”

Even if precisely the same words that can be delivered verbally—in person, in a voice message or by video—are put into written form, the study showed that the verbal medium won hands down.

None of this means emailing and text messaging are going away. And as far as skillsets are concerned, solid writing still equates to sound thinking and still reigns supreme at firms such as ours. But the study does confirm that humanity is the real winner, and if there is a choice, perhaps think twice before pressing the send button.

-Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Sell-Side Insights and Wisdom

Recently, our firm sat down with the director of research of a boutique investment bank that provides high-quality research primarily on small-cap stocks. Throughout the course of our conversation, Mr. X (name redacted to protect the innocent!) provided several words of wisdom for investor relations professionals and public companies, so I thought I’d share them here. My thoughts are noted in italics.

  • Don’t add an analyst/portfolio manager/investment professional to your email distribution list unless said analyst/portfolio manager/investment professional has asked to be added. Nobody likes spam.
  • Respond to inbound inquiries in a timely manner. This may seem like “no duh” advice, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t follow it. The rule of thumb seems to be 24 hours, but I try to respond before the end of the same business day.
  • Keep analysts updated with information that management has shared during investor conferences and non-deal roadshows, even if your team travels with an analyst from another firm. It goes without saying (although I’m going to say it anyway) that you should never keep analysts, or anyone else for that matter, updated on previously undisclosed material information.
  • Guidance is helpful in that it provides a framework for reported results. Anything is fine, including expected ranges in dollars, anticipated growth rates and ongoing trends. We didn’t discuss annual versus quarterly guidance, but a bit of research will show that there is little consensus (pun intended) on guidance practices.
  • Many investment professionals have compliance restrictions on how they interact with social media. While this may be true at the office, investment professionals are people too, and can access social media to their heart’s content at home. So don’t stop using social media as a vehicle for dissemination, but understand that you likely need to keep using more traditional channels as well.
  • Don’t respond via press release to Seeking Alpha articles. We all know that content on Seeking Alpha has the power to move a stock in either direction, but Mr. X believes responding publicly via press release looks defensive. Each situation is different, but in general, I tend to agree.

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Tales from Wall Street: The NDR Warrior’s Toolkit

handbag

The mystery behind what’s in an IR practitioner’s workbag is revealed.

Anyone who has ever been on a non-deal road show or done an investor conference will tell you…it’s not for the faint of heart. I describe it as a planned marathon made up of many, many sprints. Meetings with existing investors, new investors, sell-side analysts, investment bankers – a typical day can start as early as 7 a.m. and run as late as 9 or 10 p.m. (depending upon when you wrap up that last dinner).

My job on these trips is to make sure that my management is on top of their game throughout the day: from making sure they have the right background information on the people they’re meeting with to making introductions and helping facilitate the discussion, and finally, helping them stay on schedule and as energetic about their story at 4 p.m. as they were at 8 a.m.

Just as a builder wouldn’t go to a construction site without his toolbox, my handbag is my silent partner in making sure the day is a success. It’s more than just a place to hold my wallet, ID, business cards, lipstick and cell phone – it’s my NDR toolkit.

So what’s in it?

  • My Surface Pro 3 – it can be a prop-up tablet for when we do a 1×1 (or 1×2 or 1×3) meeting or a fully functioning laptop that management and I can use to do work in between meetings
  • Hard copy of our schedule with background info on our meetings
  • Hard copy of last conference call transcript/earnings release
  • A bound hard copy of the investor presentation
  • Notebook, pen and mechanical pencil
  • Must have apps on my phone:
    o   Google Maps
    o   Waze (much better for managing through traffic)
    o   Starbucks (so I can make sure that my management team is ready to go for that 8 a.m. meeting or re-energized at midafternoon)
    o   Yelp! (to find good eats on the fly)
  • Electronics mini bag contents:
    o   Two UBS flash drives with copies of the investor presentation (just in case that AV guy at the conference walks away with one)
    o   Chargers for my Surface Pro 3 and cell phone
    o   Back up battery charger (just in case an outlet is nowhere to be found)
    o   Screen cleaner and microfiber cloth
  • Small Ziplock bag with:
    o   Altoid mints, Orbit peppermint gum – for eliminating coffee or post-lunch breath
    o   Lozenges – to make sure my CEO or CFO’s throat stays strong throughout the day
    o   A few energy bars (just in case we miss lunch and need to eat on the run)
  • Metro card (when traffic’s tied up, there’s no better way to travel in NYC). In San Francisco, it’s a BART card.
  • Antibacterial soap, hand lotion
  • Colgate Wisps
  • Hairbands (perfect for keeping my long hair tamed but also for organizing all the business cards I’ve collected)
  • My iPod – so when I’m winding down the day, I can kick back with a chill tune

– E.E. Wang, Wang@pondel.com

Time to Get Your NIRI On

NIRIThe film industry has Sundance, technology has the Consumer Electronics Show, and the world of investor relations has the NIRI Annual Conference.  More than 1,000 IR practitioners attend what is considered the preeminent IR event of the year, and 2015 will be no exception with a dynamic lineup of panelists, myriad stimulating topics, and the rare opportunity to sing “Kumbaya” with fellow IR folks.

PondelWilkinson will be at the conference not only as an attendee, but as an active participant.  Evan Pondel will serve as a panelist for the workshop session entitled “Social media: Friend or Foe for Reaching Target Audiences?”  Joining him is Beth Blankespoor, professor of accounting at Stanford University, Nils Paellmann, head of investor relations at T-Mobile, and Serena Ehrlich, director of social and evolving media at BusinessWire.

Evan will also be moderating a panel entitled “Engaging Financial Media, Trade Publications, and Bloggers to Enhance an Investor Relations Program.”  Joining Evan is Peter Frost, business reporter from Crain’s, Paul Hart, editor of Midstream Business magazine, and Guy Cohen, director at Seeking Alpha.

The conference runs June 14 to June 17 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.  For more information, please visit www.niri.org.