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Building Better Media Relationships

Media relations are an integral component to what we do at PondelWilkinson, whether a public relations or investor relations engagement.

Crises aside, generating media awareness of corporate entities, their brands, products and services, among readers, listeners and viewers is critical to the success of any communications program.

Shrinking news departments, fewer beat reporters, and an increasingly tighter news hole, however, are making it harder to get reporters’ attention.

Another caveat to these challenges is that only 36 percent of journalists prefer to get their information from PR/IR sources, press releases, and newswires, compared with 42 percent last year, according to the 2017 Global Social Journalism Studycision-global-social-journalism-study

The good news is that experts and industry contacts remain key sources of stories for U.S. journalists. For example, while a reporter may not write about a new app or the latest software version, he or she may be more inclined to interview an executive about key technology trends, such as artificial intelligence or cybersecurity.

Media relations 101, right? Maybe not. According to the same study, only 19 percent of reporters say PR professionals provide high quality content, and just 37 percent are reliable.

Learning what’s important to reporters is vital to establishing long-lasting media relationships, essentially, helping them make their jobs easier.

Follow these simple rules for building successful media contacts:

  • Do your research, learn about the reporter and his or her area of coverage.
  • Customize your pitch, conveying why it’s important to the outlet’s audience.
  • Do not blast pitches.  Just don’t do it.
  • Provide value, such as proprietary content or a unique perspective or point of view.
  • Call first, if possible, especially since reporters are constantly inundated with e-mails.
  • Be transparent to foster credibility.

There’s no easy way to building better media relationships. It takes time, effort and a good sense of news, coupled with knowing what reporters want and need.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Annals of Communication—Thank you, Dave

I had a breakfast meeting the other day at the Mid-Town Café on 56th between Lex and Third in New York City. It’s not a fancy place, but one of many non-descript diners where the waitresses call you honey as you walk in the door and ask if you want coffee as you are getting seated.

A view shows U.S. postal service mail boxes at a post office in Encinitas

The meeting was arranged by my long-time colleague, Gary Fishman, as a casual introduction to meet the principal of an investor relations advisory firm, similar to PondelWilkinson. For purposes of this blog, I’ll just call him Dave.

No need here to discuss our conversation, which is not the point of this piece, so fast forward to the end of our meal. (I had oatmeal and blueberries, the other two gents had eggs.) The waitress brought our check. All three of us made a move to our wallets. My credit card was out first, and with the total check being $19.95, I volunteered to buy. Then we went on our ways.

Within a couple of hours, I received a thank-you email from Gary for my time and for buying breakfast. I was going to email David to tell him how much I enjoyed meeting him, but thought I would wait a while, for certainly he also would be sending me a thank-you email…or so I thought. Then I forgot about it.

I returned to California, and the following day, I received a letter in the mail. It was from Dave, saying how much he enjoyed our visit and thanking me for playing host. In today’s era of speed, did I need instant thanks via email anyway? Probably not.

Receiving the letter struck a chord. While the message could have been precisely the same in an email, there’s something to be said for taking the time to send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service…it commands attention. Compared with hundreds of email messages that we all receive every day, it was the only personal communication I received via mail all week.

– Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

 

 

 

 

 

What Does it Take?

Over the past several months, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it takes to be a good investor relations practitioner. After more than two decades of helping companies through the trials and tribulations of being public, I’m not that surprised that many of the following characteristics or traits that are important cannot be learned from books, on websites or through advanced degrees.

  • Knowledge: Strong working knowledge of financial statements/rules and regulations/capital markets. This one is a no-brainer. It’s hard to do the basics of investor relations without the requisite comprehension of what it means to be a public company.
  • Analysis: Always be ready to review a situation, operating peer or balance sheet with a sharp and analytical mind. Data is readily available, but proper analysis of that data is priceless.
  • Juggling: I don’t mean apples, balls or in the case of a former client, coconuts, but instead deftly managing deadlines, priorities and multiple personalities (hopefully from multiple people, not just one). If you work at an agency, extra points for having to do the above for many clients at one time.
  • Patience: When your stock is dropping, the phones are ringing off the hook and your email is pinging every 30 seconds, it’s important to remain calm when talking to investors and working with management to solve the problem du jour. Everyone has their own ideas, solutions and timelines, so being able to take in all of the information necessary to make the best decision with poise, is key.
  • Brevity: Executives and investors are busy. Say what you need to say quickly and precisely. Get to the point, and get out. This holds true whether your communication is written or verbal.
  • Strong Shoulder: There will be many times throughout your career when a colleague, client or senior executive needs a sounding board and someone to lean on. CEOs are people, too, so when a company is facing challenging times, or a solution is hard to come by, just being available to listen is immensely helpful. I have spent many afternoons as therapist versus press release writer, but those are the times I realize that I am truly part of the team.
  • Sense of Humor: When all else fails, laugh. It’s contagious. Almost nothing is insurmountable, so a little lightheartedness helps everyone reset and refocus. Investor relations is not an easy profession, so have fun with it.We’d love to hear what other traits are important. Let us know in the comments section.

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Observations of a Knock-out Investor Conference

Three people got punched in the face and knocked out at the 16th Annual B. Riley & Co. Investor Conference, held last week at a Hollywood hotel, directly next door to where the final episode of American Idol was being recorded at the same time.

It was not the kind of night-time brawl to which investors are accustomed. And fortunately, it was not investors who felt the sting of those punches.

Rather, in partnership with the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation, B. Riley hosted the 6th Annual “Big Fighters, Big Cause” charity boxing night in conjunction with the conference. The event supports the Foundation’s mission to raise funds for research and awareness to cure Type 1 diabetes and to help children live healthier lives.

For an organization that is part of a fraternity generally known more for greed and making money for itself and its clients, it was refreshingly cool to be part of this invitation-only charity event, that featured food by Wolfgang Puck, an open bar, a world class auction of iconic memorabilia, and a rich environment for business networking.

As for the day-time part of the conference…it was pretty cool as well. More than 200 emerging and middle market companies from a wide range of industries presented to packed rooms of institutional investors, who journeyed to Hollywood from all parts of the United States.

Attendees were treated to chair massages with short lines, fun tchotchkes from sponsors— including a wide array of pens, flashlights, chocolate, ginger candy, key chains, cute little footballs and many glass bowls in which to deposit business cards, with chances to win even bigger items. As well, there was the option of skipping a presentation or two and sashaying down Hollywood Boulevard to gaze at the stars.

There were more men wearing ties than one would expect. There were more people showing off their new Apple watches than one would expect. And just as one would expect, there were many great presentations, and, of course, some boring ones.

It was a classy conference…one could say a knock-out conference in all respects, in which the presenting companies, the investors, the sponsors, and best of all, kids with Type 1 diabetes, all benefitted.

- Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Business Folk

Most, if not all, annual reports for 2013 have been published by now, and as investors attempt to glean what went right and what went wrong by wading through pages upon pages of corporate detritus, often the most readable section is that containing the shareholder letter.

Warren Buffet is arguably the most famous writer of shareholder letters because of his folksy, straight-to-the point style.  Buffet is so darn good at writing shareholder letters that myriad chairmen and chief executive officers attempt to emulate his knack for prose. The problem is, Buffet writes in his own voice, and trying to inject his vernacular into your shareholder letter could smack of inauthenticity, or even worse, someone might call you a poser.

Instead of invoking Buffet when trying to conjure up some down-home writing, l’d rather refer to his style as “business folk.”  Yes, it sounds like a music genre for MBAs.  But writing in the style of “business folk” seems a lot less intimidating than trying to emulate a genius.

Following are additional word-buffing tips:

    • Avoid clichés and creative analogies.  Yes, it is tempting to use catch phrases and descriptors to tell the company’s story, but words can easily become distracting, and soon enough the reader loses focus.

 

    • Write as quickly as possible.  This ensures you are writing what you know and staying on point.  It also helps lay a foundation that you can wordsmith later.

 

    • Use metrics that help demonstrate themes.  Numbers are great because they are hard facts, but they also pose challenges because they don’t always tell the full story.  Try to use numbers that help shareholders understand the overall direction of the company.

 

    • Describe the company’s strategic direction.  Many executives underestimate the power of writing and misuse the activity, particularly in shareholder letters, to recapitulate old news.  Effective writing presents a roadmap that can help manage expectations, as well as demonstrate leadership.

 

    • Read what you write out loud to determine if it actually sounds like something you would say.  If you employ a lot of three-syllable words in your daily conversations, then maybe your writing should contain three-syllable words.  (Note: If expletives factor into your daily conversations, then you should edit those out.)

 

    • Use subheads to break up thoughts.  It is easy for readers to get lost in corporate minutiae, which is why it is helpful to have guideposts.  Subheads help hammer home themes we want investor audiences to remember.

 

    • Make sure whatever you write is in reader-friendly formats both online and in print.

 

    • Words are more important than flashy design.  Sure, an interactive quarterly report is nice, but it’s the words that will help investors determine if you have “a wonderful company at a fair price (rather) than a fair company at a wonderful price,” according to a quote from Warren Buffet’s shareholder letter in 1989.

 

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

PW Participates in IR Certification Exam

First it was the CPA certification for accountants, instituted in 1917.

 

Then in 1963 came the CFA credential, administered by the CFA Institute, for finance and investment professionals, particularly in the fields of investment management and financial analysis of stocks, bonds and their derivative assets.

 

One year later, in 1964, the Public Relations Society of America, www.prsa.org, launched the APR designation as a way to recognize PR practitioners who have mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to develop and deliver strategic communications.

 

Soon, investor relations professionals, courtesy of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI), www.niri.org, will have a test of their own. The designation has yet to be named, but development of the Body of Knowledge (BOK) is now underway, and the inaugural exam is scheduled for mid-2015.

 

The BOK is the basis for most certification exams, including the CFA. It forms the base of teachings, skills, and research in a given function, along with details on the essential competencies required of a practitioner based on a set number of years of experience.

 

It is with great honor that I am serving as an advisor to the NIRI committee preparing the first BOK for the investor relations profession.  I will be working directly with editor Ted Allen and a distinguished group of 25 investor relations professionals from throughout the nation who will write the definitive book—one that will represent every element of the requisite knowledge that will be tested in the IR certification exam.

 

It’s a big project and a tall order, especially for a profession whose practitioners require a wide range of knowledge, spanning disciplines that include finance, accounting, capital markets, news media, disclosure regulations, public relations practices and virtually all aspects of communications.

 

Canada and the UK currently have IR certification programs, and two U.S. universities—Fordham and the University of San Francisco—offer graduate degrees in investor relations.

 

While validation of competency through an exam or graduate degree may not guarantee practical success, we at PondelWilkinson are proud to have been asked to participate in this milestone endeavor for our industry.  I’ll keep you posted as the program develops, but please do not ask me for any answers to the exam—none of the BOK committee members will have access to it!

 

Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

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Prepping for Investor Conferences

With the 2014 investor conference season about to go bananas (J.P. Morgan’s behemoth healthcare conference hits Jan. 14), it is probably a good idea to do a little prep work before spending all that time and money on the road.  Think of it like going to sleepaway camp; you got your sunblock, check, bathing suit, check, toothbrush, check, compelling investor presentation, um …
 
OK, so unless you were the ultimate dork at summer camp, you probably didn’t bring an investor deck with you.  The point is it is absolutely critical that you have the right mindset and materials before you embark on the conference circuit.  Following are a handful of tips to consider:
 

  • Make sure your investor presentation reflects the kind of company you are right now.  Many of us get attached to clever graphics, analogies and even metrics that are no longer relevant to a story.  A few substantial tweaks could make all the difference when it comes to keeping investors engaged.

 

  • Manage your one-on-one schedule.  It is easy to feel pressured by your hosts to sit with everyone on your schedule, but not all of the folks who want to sit with you are interested in investing in your company.  Some are looking for industry trends or even making a bet that your company’s stock is headed south.  Bottom line: Keep a close watch of your schedule and feel free to say no and request a new meeting.

 

  • Piggyback NDRs.  Traveling is expensive, not to mention time consuming.  So, if you’re headed across country, let’s say to NYC, perhaps it makes sense to also do a day of meetings in Boston or Philly.  Or better yet, maybe an analyst from a different bank would like to set up a dinner in NYC after your conference.

 

  • Sleep well and eat right.  OK, I’m an IR guy, not a nutritionist.  But I’ve seen it before, the executive who has been up all night working, eating crappy food, and throwing back one too many glasses of scotch.  And then comes the investor presentation, at which point you can hear all of the air being sucked out of the room because the speaker has no energy.  I’m not saying stop drinking scotch, but I am saying it’s important to take care of yourself.

 

  • And finally, take notes and ask questions.  We usually assume that investors are the ones asking all of the questions, but maybe there is some insight to be gained if management teams ask investors questions.  Investors sit with hundreds of management teams and likely can impart a few nuggets of their own.

 
– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Soft Intelligence and Social Media

Cyber security and cyber threats abound, information security policies are now owned at the highest levels of a company from the C-suite to the board, according to EY’s 2013 Global Information Security Survey “Under Cyber Attack.” While companies seek to protect intellectual property and disruption caused by hackers, one area, as it relates to intelligence gathering by investors, deserves further attention: the oversharing of personal information on social networks.Linked-In
 
Today, social media use by institutional investors stands at approximately 52%, according to a NIRI survey earlier this summer. What I am noticing more and more in my daily conversations with investors is that social media seems to be emerging as a tool to get an edge on impending news, particularly as it relates to the broadcasting of new LinkedIn connections.
 
While tracking Facebook “likes” on emerging brands as a proxy for potential revenue growth or monitoring hiring trends or personnel departures from company LinkedIn pages to gauge near term expenses might seem an obvious use of social media to impact investment decisions, what might not seem so important is the innocuous LinkedIn request.
 
Following a roadshow or investor conference, management might receive a request to “connect” from an institutional investor. If the request is accepted, consider what that might mean going forward if new connections are then broadcast to that investor; it may very well tip your hand on impending news.
 
A quick fix would be to turn off LinkedIn activity broadcasts by visiting the privacy settings of your account. Longer term, it’s wise to consider a companywide policy.
 
Matt Sheldon, msheldon@pondel.com

Lights, Camera, Earnings!

Traditionally, earnings calls have been a cut and (very) dry quarterly procedure. But with the emergence of social media and the SEC’s move to embrace them, following is a summer round up of how companies are finding new and creative ways to put a little pizazz into their calls.Yahoo Earnings Call
 
During Yahoo!’s most recent call, CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman appeared on a high-quality streaming video webcast, answering questions from analysts who called in. The company also live-tweeted key messages from their corporate Twitter account.
 
Zillow made a splash with their call in early August as the first company to answer questions submitted live through Twitter and Facebook. Spencer Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, answered questions from individual investors, as well as sell-side analysts.  Zillow also leveraged both Twitter and Facebook to tell their story visually, posting infographics with metrics that illustrated recent growth.
 
Like Yahoo!, Netflix participated in live streaming video, but they tweaked their approach to the Q&A session by moderating a panel discussion that included a member of the financial press and a covering sell-side analyst.   Questions were screened in advance for CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells.  The questions were also unattributed.
 
The jury is still out whether more companies will embrace video earnings calls in the near future.  But shareholders seem to like it. Approximately 70% said that compared with audio-only earnings webcasts, video webcasts of a company’s CEO inspire more trust, according to a Shareholder Confidence 365 Study that received responses from nearly 11,000 professional and individual investors.
 
The challenge is training management to feel comfortable in front of a camera.  After all, answering questions with a furrowed brow could have unintended consequences when it comes to instilling confidence in your shareholder base.  Same goes for too much powder!
 
Joanne Sibug, jsibug@pondel.com

Cashtag Blues

Last summer, with relatively little fanfare, Twitter added clickable stock symbols to its tweets.
This is how it works: Add a “$” in front of a ticker symbol in Twitter’s search box and you’ll be able to engage in conversations about a particular company, similar to what would happen with a hashtag “#” followed by the name of your favorite pop star.

twitter
In social media circles, introducing the “cashtag” is yet another way to stimulate chatter among people
who are interested in a particular topic, such as public companies. But like all seemingly helpful social media tools, the cashtag may, in fact, send your stock tumbling down in 140 characters or less.  We recently observed such a scenario.

Shortly after market open on an otherwise average trading day, an anonymous tweet began surfacing about an FBI raid on a certain public company.  Soon the company’s trading volume began rising and its shares began
dropping, so much so that, as IR representatives for the company, Bloomberg called us to find out if the rumors on Twitter were true.  We confirmed that the rumors were false, and soon the stock corrected itself.

We later learned that the SEC opened an investigation on the tweeter for a possible “10b-5” infraction, which is when someone makes fraudulent claims in connection with the purchase or the
sale of a security.

Rumors surrounding public companies have been swirling about the Internet long before the cashtag, but this example serves as an important reminder that new information channels, carrying potentially market moving information, are reaching influential audiences at light speed.  And that means the onus will increasingly fall on investor relations professionals to ensure chirping birds are not making fraudulent claims.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com