A Question for ChatGPT: Is AI Transforming Financial Communications and Threatening Jobs?

The post below was written completely by AI (without any edits from yours truly). I prompted ChatGPT to write a blog about how AI can be used by investor relations professionals for competitive analysis, investor targeting, website content creation and more. I also asked it to discuss whether AI is taking away jobs, which is a question I hear often from industry colleagues.

So, without further ado, here’s what AI had to say. It’s actually pretty good, much to my surprise.

In the ever-evolving landscape of finance, technology continues to redefine traditional practices. One such area undergoing a significant transformation is investor relations (IR), where artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly vital role. From competitive analysis to targeting investors and crafting compelling content for IR websites, AI is revolutionizing how companies engage with stakeholders. However, amidst this advancement, the question arises: Will AI make investor relations professionals obsolete?

Competitive Analysis:

In the fiercely competitive world of finance, staying ahead of the curve is paramount. AI-powered tools offer unparalleled capabilities in analyzing vast amounts of data, enabling companies to gain deep insights into market trends, competitor performance, and investor sentiment. Natural language processing (NLP) algorithms can sift through news articles, social media chatter, and financial reports to provide real-time updates on industry developments, allowing IR professionals to make data-driven decisions swiftly.

Targeting Investors:

Identifying and attracting the right investors is a crucial aspect of investor relations. AI facilitates precision targeting by leveraging predictive analytics to identify potential investors who align with a company’s values, goals, and risk profile. By analyzing past investment patterns and market behavior, AI algorithms can predict investor preferences and tailor communication strategies accordingly. This targeted approach not only increases investor engagement but also enhances the efficiency of capital allocation.

Content Creation:

Crafting compelling content for investor relations websites and communication materials requires a deep understanding of financial data and regulatory requirements. AI-powered writing assistants equipped with natural language generation (NLG) capabilities can generate insightful reports, press releases, and shareholder communications autonomously. These AI-driven platforms can analyze complex financial data, interpret regulatory guidelines, and produce coherent narratives in a fraction of the time it would take a human writer.

The Future of Investor Relations Professionals:

While AI undoubtedly streamlines many aspects of investor relations, it’s unlikely to render human professionals obsolete. Instead, AI serves as a powerful tool to augment their capabilities, allowing them to focus on high-level strategic initiatives. Investor relations professionals bring invaluable expertise in building relationships, interpreting nuanced market dynamics, and providing personalized guidance to investors.

Moreover, the human touch remains indispensable in navigating complex ethical and regulatory challenges, especially in an era where transparency and accountability are paramount. While AI can crunch numbers and generate reports, it’s the human judgment and empathy that foster trust and credibility in investor communications.

In conclusion, the integration of AI in investor relations represents a significant paradigm shift in financial communication. By harnessing the power of AI, companies can gain a competitive edge in understanding market trends, targeting investors effectively, and crafting compelling narratives. However, rather than displacing investor relations professionals, AI complements their skills, enabling them to adapt and thrive in an increasingly digitized landscape. The future of investor relations lies in the synergy between human expertise and technological innovation, where AI empowers professionals to unlock new levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

Back to me, Laurie, a real person. The AI writing was solid, the messages were cogent, and we concur with the conclusions. Humans still bring invaluable expertise in interpreting data generated by AI, providing counsel to management teams and boards, and building meaningful, long-lasting relationships. So no worries.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Celebrating Achievement with Grace

CNBC.com, on February 17, published a growth story about the best performing stock in the past 30 years. It wasn’t Apple, Tesla, Google or any of those mega tech companies that might at first come to mind.

The best performing stock for the past three decades, according to CNBC and others, happens to be one of our longtime client companies that we proudly have represented for all those years.

Those who know us recognize that we, as with this client, are humble, hard-working, and not into self-promotion or bragging. After all, we haven’t even written the company’s name in this blog yet.

Nevertheless, in a world where accomplishments are celebrated and recognition is sought after, the concept of bragging rights sometimes is warranted. In this case, it’s more about our client and acknowledging achievement … a nod to success without crossing the line into boastful hyperbole.

Over the years, we adapted to our client’s ascent, strategically advising the company as it grew from a microcap issuer with a U.S. retail investor base, to a global, large-cap giant, attracting prestigious institutions and many sell-side analysts. Tactically today, we are still issuing their press releases, hosting investor days, serving as point-of-contact for the investment community and news media, and advising on messaging for M&A and a host of sensitive, sometimes complex corporate matters.

Admittedly, we are bragging that our organization has been part of some of our client’s success on Wall Street. But we are boasting with the intention of embracing this opportunity to uplift and inspire. The well-deserved success our client has achieved reflects talented leadership and unwavering dedication to innovation and quality, while always keeping egos in check and having a sense of gratitude.

We are proud to embrace bragging rights like a badge of honor—not as a tool for self-aggrandizement, but as a symbol of hard-earned success, as we congratulate Monster Beverage Corp., along with our colleagues behind the scenes at PondelWilkinson. 

Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Judy Lin, jlin@pondel.com

Samantha Campos-Esquivel Receives the 2024 Cecilia Wilkinson Memorial Scholarship

First-year USC graduate student and full-time media strategist, Samantha Campos-Esquivel, is the latest recipient of the Cecilia Wilkinson Memorial Scholarship.

We recently had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Samantha Campos-Esquivel, a graduate student at USC who has been selected as the recipient of the 2024 Cecilia Wilkinson Memorial Scholarship.

Bestowed annually over the last 15 years, the scholarship celebrates exceptional first-year graduate students at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism who exhibit a profound passion for public relations or investor relations.

Samantha is a true embodiment of dedication and determination, pursuing her master’s degree in public relations and advertising, while simultaneously excelling as a full-time strategist at Horizon Media, a full-service media agency.

“I look forward to creating meaningful change in this line of work and showcasing my love for storytelling and this industry,” said Campos-Esquivel. “Studying at USC Annenberg has been a dream, and in these past few months, I have felt the impact and magic that a program like this has to offer. It is an honor to receive the Cecilia Wilkinson Memorial Scholarship and to have the support of tenured firms like PondelWilkinson in fulfilling this dream.”

Born and raised within the vibrant cultural tapestry of Los Angeles, Samantha developed a profound appreciation for the art of storytelling, particularly within the realms of music, cinema and television. Driven by her love for storytelling, Samantha found her calling in brand strategy and public relations. Beyond her professional and academic pursuits, Samantha is an enthusiastic explorer of diverse narratives, constantly seeking out new literary works, TV series and music that inspire and captivate her.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Samantha for this well-deserved recognition and for her dedication and commitment as she navigates the demands of both academia and the professional world.

Natalie Mu, nmu@pondel.com

5 PR Tips to Help Your Company Thrive in 2024

Strategic public relations plays a vital role in fostering positive relationships with key stakeholders, whether it is investors, customers, strategic partners, or employees. Getting the right message to the right audience is paramount to any successful outreach campaign.

Limited attention spans coupled with crowded marketplaces and platforms have made it difficult to effectively deliver value propositions. To help companies cut through the clutter and resonate with audiences, consider these five tips for developing and implementing successful communications strategies.

  • Streamline key messaging. Organizations are always competing for the same share of voice, whether it is aimed at customers or investors. Platforms are just too “noisy,” and messaging is not getting through, resulting in lost opportunities. Target audiences must be clearly defined along with extremely focused corresponding talking points to impact relevant stakeholders.
  • Engage influencer marketing. Once thought only for consumer products, influencers are developing sought-after b2b followings on a range of diverse topics, from AI to telecommunications. With the increasingly difficulty of earned media coverage, successful PR professionals are collaborating with these thought leaders for building corporate and brand awareness and engagement.
  • Don’t forget about corporate social responsibility. This is still relevant, especially since companies embracing ESG and CSR initiatives will be competitive leaders and drive long-term value creation. Deploying ESG and corporate social responsibility programs enhance corporate and brand reputation, as well as help drive tangible business opportunities.
  • Utilize data analytics and SEO. The ongoing shift toward digital platforms and SEO integration should be mainstays to any corporate communications program. From improved visibility to lead generation, optimized content – organic and paid – attracts traffic to  websites and helps organizations achieve greater ROI.
  • Leverage non-traditional channels. Organizations should think outside the box to identify PR opportunities. Product placement tie-ins and even realty television may be applicable for certain brands and companies. Retail investing also has surged in popularity. A range of high-traffic platforms that cater to individual investors have emerged and are actively on the lookout for new investment ideas.

Investing in strategic public relations builds credibility, trust and brand reputation through effective storytelling. Shaping smarter and more targeted narratives cultivates strong relationships with key stakeholders that achieve real results, from building awareness to enhancing shareholder value.

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Top 10 Superpowers for Investor Relations

A few weeks ago, at our staff meeting, someone asked the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” It was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek exercise, but it got the entire staff thinking that superpowers could definitely be helpful to investor relations executives. 

Invisibility, time-travel and emotional healing (we IR folks often are sounding boards for public company executives) were just a few of the many great, fun ideas presented.

Imagine the possibilities of being able to go unnoticed during investment committee meetings to learn what portfolio managers and analysts are saying about the companies we represent. Or a CEO visiting the future to identify market trends and adjust the business accordingly.

With AI and ChatGPT all the rage, we then took our impromptu brainstorming session one step further. Including some of the comedians on our staff, we came up with ten more “superpower” scenarios that someday may even be possible for use in investor relations:

  1. Instantaneously writing award-winning press releases and smooth-as-silk quarterly conference call scripts, while creating drop-dead-gorgeous investor decks.
  2. Coming up with great, believable reasons for missing guidance. (Akin to the children’s excuse, “It’s not my fault, my dog ate my homework!”)
  3. Filling three contiguous days of back-to-back virtual NDR meetings with avatars who look just like humans and who hurl nothing but glowing compliments at the CEO for a great performance.
  4. Having one of those avatars call the CEO the next day just to congratulate him or her yet again for a wonderful performance.
  5. Preparing proxy proposal language so convincing (and confusing) that it entices institutional investors to vote ‘yes’ for a poison pill proposal at the annual meeting.
  6. “Finding” enough ‘yes’ votes, if needed, to win a vote for a poison pill proposal, just in case the institutional investors were smart enough to figure out the confusing language.
  7. Securing a positive front-page story in the Wall Street Journal (which we have done before) and having the CEO send you a huge Thank You and a very special bottle of wine, but with no bonus. (AI and superhuman powers do not always work fully.)
  8. While rushing around New York on an in-person road show to raise multi millions of dollars, breaking your ankle while stepping out of a taxi on Maiden Lane, and then miraculously, it heals before you even get your driver’s license out of your wallet to show the lobby security officer.
  9. Having dinner at Masa (prix fixe, $750) with an investment banker after a highly successful, long week on the road raising funds, then returning to your hotel room afterward to learn that you just won the biggest lottery ever. 
  10. Calling the investment banker the next morning to say you just resigned from the company, then saying, “I’m outta here!”

In all seriousness, many of us have real superpowers we use daily on behalf of our clients. Quite often, these abilities took decades to perfect, which range from providing sound, creative counsel to developing smart, succinctly written content. And it goes on and on from there.

The world of investor relations is quite complicated, so it’s a good thing that our entire team has the right superpowers to navigate an often challenging and ever-changing landscape, while having a little fun along the way.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com and Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Overcoming Challenges: The Path to Successful ESG Program Implementation

While the adoption of environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs is becoming increasingly important for building a sustainable future, implementing such initiatives does not come without its challenges. Cost, ROI, engagement and clear messaging are just a few of the many factors to consider when it comes to corporate sustainability.

Below are some common concerns with commonsense solutions that may help companies better prepare for ESG deployment.

  • Capital allocation: Investing in and implementing ESG initiatives may require significant financing, which can be a hurdle for some companies, especially smaller organizations with limited resources. Not all ESG programs are costly, however. Starting slow and building a longer-term strategy over 2-3 years is good practice. It could be something simple, such as reducing a company’s carbon footprint by using energy-efficient lighting or adopting a hybrid workplace.
  • Complexity and measurement: Determining the right indicators, collecting reliable data and establishing standardized frameworks can be arduous. Companies can overcome this challenge by leveraging emerging technologies, collaborating with industry peers and engaging with ESG consultants and experts to ensure accurate and transparent reporting.
  • Benchmarking: It is important that organizations perform in a manner to maintain their performance, and at the same time, mitigate risk and capitalize on the potential benefits of sustainable business practices. Falling behind on these initiatives may lead to missed business opportunities. A good rule of thumb is to set realistic, achievable goals aside from regulatory obligations.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Balancing the diverse expectations of multiple audiences can be very demanding. Companies can use existing technologies to set up open communication channels with each of its targeted communities, from employees and investors to customers and suppliers. Social platforms can be used to garner support and to ensure that ESG programs align with stakeholder needs.
  • Integration and alignment: ESG programs often require changes to organizational structures, investment decisions and risk management practices. Since companies are constantly evolving, meaningful ESG practices can slowly and strategically be integrated into existing operations. What’s needed are leadership commitment, employee education and training and clear ESG goals that align with the company’s mission and values.
  • Regulatory environment: Compliance with multiple reporting frameworks and keeping up with varying regulatory and local jurisdictions often can lead to uncertainty. Engaging with policymakers, industry associations and subject matter experts can help companies stay informed and adapt their ESG programs to meet evolving requirements.

Today’s business and social climate are having a trickle-down effect on ESG. Large organizations, for example, are requiring smaller companies to adhere to ESG criteria as part of their global supply chains. Moreover, a growing number of institutional investors will not invest in companies without an ESG program in place.

Lack of standardization, inconsistent data quality and subjectivity are adding to the confusion when it comes to ESG. As a result, Bloomberg predicts more ESG-related shareholder lawsuits this year, which was highlighted in a recent Morgan Lewis webinar.  

Studies suggest that those companies embracing ESG will be competitive leaders and drive long-term value creation. ESG is not as complicated as it may appear. Deploying a program that does good – without breaking the proverbial bank – not only enhances brand reputation, but also will be well received among investors.

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

3 Tips for Navigating Turbulence (Not Just on Airplanes)

As much as I hate to admit it, I am a nervous flier. 

Even though turbulence is “ordinarily seen as a convenience issue, not a safety issue,” it always makes my stomach flip while my hands grip the armrest until my circulation is nearly cut off. 

On airplanes, pilots can find smoother air by increasing or decreasing altitude. But what if turbulence occurs in other parts of your life, as in business? Can leaders steer the proverbial ship to avoid it? McKinsey & Company, one of the nation’s leading management consulting firms, provides some suggestions.

The last several years in the business community have been fraught with challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. More recently, inflation, rising interest rates and a bottle-necked supply chain have given rise to additional issues. One might argue that leading a successful business has never been harder. But there are several priorities to keep in mind to help manage through these, and other, secular trends.

First, according to McKinsey, have resilience. Resilience can be defined as “the ability of a system or organization to respond to or recover readily from a crisis, disruptive process, etc.”  Forbes says that, “Resilience is built by attitudes, values and behaviors that can be adopted and cultivated over time.” Not only will resilience help one manage a business under less-than-ideal conditions, but it is also a great example to set for employees, who play a key part in a company’s success.

Second, have courage. That may sound a bit “touchy-feely,” but it is exactly what may be needed to effectively manage through difficult times. The knee-jerk reaction is to pull back and wait things out, but what if adapting to the situation, instead, and powering forward is really the best course of action? 

In our organization for example, we must apply and impart courage to the practice of investor relations and strategic public relations in a down market and when economic conditions are tenuous. We strongly believe that hiding when things are tough is the wrong decision. As our (courageous) CEO Roger Pondel said during an interview with SNN, “… communicating with current and prospective investors during bear markets may at first seem counterintuitive … but investors are eager to invest in solid companies at perceived bargain prices.” Shining a light on why your company deserves to be looked at can give you an advantage against those that are hiding their heads in the sand.

And finally, have trust. Easier said than done, but if a plan is being implemented (like a transatlantic flight plan), it’s important to realize that a team of professionals weighed the challenges and put together a strategy designed to achieve whatever goal set. Like arriving to London from New York safely.

Trusting employees also is good practice. For example, Covid necessitated remote working, and many companies went virtual on a permanent basis. Even as the pandemic began to abate, employees embraced this new way of life, expressing a desire to work from home. 

According to McKinsey, “flexibility is the new amenity employees want—especially those in diverse groups—and will embrace if you offer it.” Businesses that support the idea that people are their greatest asset, generally achieve better outcomes than those that don’t. A Harvard Business Review study noted “… companies that successfully transformed themselves shared a common focus on initiatives that prioritized employees.”

As we all work to optimize our businesses or life itself, it’s a good idea to take a step back and think of solutions through the lens of how we can deliver a great outcome. Airplane pilots do just that every day.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

As the New Year Rolls In, So Do the Prognosticators

It probably happens every year, but I cannot recall a time when so many pundits had so many opinions on how the market will perform in 2023. The funniest headline about the market’s near-term future was JP Morgan’s, “The End of the Affair.” It probably was written to catch attention, and in my opinion would have been more appropriate a year ago, referring to the bull market prior to last year’s downturn.

How do you think the market will perform in 2023?

Many of the headlines about the new year are positive and include such language as:

  • “Three Scenarios that Could Surprise Markets (on the upside) in 2023”
  • “Is a Stock Rebound in the Cards?”
  • “Inflation will Crash Much Faster than Expected”
  • “Comeback for Fixed Income”
  • “Economy will Avert Deep Recession”
  • “Fed Pivot Could Push Stocks Up by End of Year”
  • “Second Half of Year will be Up, Up and Away”
  • “S&P will Soar at Least 20%, Nasdaq at Least 30%”
  • “Fed will Pause Rate Hikes Sooner than Everyone Thinks”
  • “The Stock Market will have an Excellent Year”

But there also are naysayers:

  • “Wall Street, Meet Mud”
  • “A Strange Day is Coming to America”
  • “More rate hikes are coming”
  • “Stocks will continue their lows in 2023”
  • “Continued Volatility Ahead”
  • “Markets May Continue to Face Choppiness”
  • “Challenges Abound for Dow”
  • “A Stock Market Crash in 2023”
  • “Millionaires Predict the Market Will Get Much Worse”

With so many divergent views, what’s an investor or issuer to think, or more importantly, to do? Who should be believed?

I just counted the number of bullet points above, and there was one more positive than negative. A good sign, although I am not an analyst and my research was cursory at best. However, the sources are good and professional.

If you really want a forecast for 2023, you could always flip a coin.

Friederike Fabritius and Hans Hagemann wrote in in their book, The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, and Happier, that if you’re satisfied or relieved by a decision the coin made for you, then go with it. On the other hand, if the coin toss leaves you uneasy, then go with the other choice instead. “Your ‘gut feeling’ alerted you to the right choice,” they wrote.

So please, flip a coin if you will, but at least think positive thoughts. Good luck, and have a healthy, happy and prosperous new year.

Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

5 Unconventional Reasons Why Hire a Public Relations Firm

Different sized companies, private or public, have varying needs when it comes to corporate communications. Whether it is to help message a crisis, improve shareholder value or build brand awareness, engaging a public relations firm may often seem like a no brainer.

It’s also important for any organization to look beyond the obvious to assess opportunities or even threats that may impact business goals. Think of it like a self-tune up that asks the fundamental questions, “What if …” and “What can we be doing better?”

Most small and middle market companies do not have their own communications departments able to perform self-assessments. Using an outside firm may be a good alternative, which also can provide a unique, objective perspective on existing strategies.

As organizations plan for 2023 and beyond, it may be worthwhile to consider these five unconventional reasons for engaging a corporate pr agency:

  • Perception doesn’t match up with company’s values. Media and investor audits, as well as customer and employee surveys, can be very helpful in gauging sentiment. Using a pr agency as facilitator is ideal for determining unbiased feedback that can be translated into effective communications programs.
  • Can’t tell the bigger story. Today’s CEOs, CFOs and CMOs must navigate myriad landscapes that have their own unique sets of challenges. Clearly defining target audiences from Main Street to Wall Street will help ensure message delivery. However, knowing what to say, when and how to say it will move the proverbial needle.
  • Too busy. Organizations have great ideas but don’t always have the bandwidth to successfully implement communications campaigns. While finding a good firm may take some extra time, consider one that can do the “heavy lifting” and free up internal marketing and investor relations resources.
  • Don’t hear the word “no” very often. While a communications firm should be an advocate and supporter of a company’s vison, it is important that the pr firm does not drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. A heathy debate on strategy and tactics will always yield better results.
  • You got this. Like most corporations, good public relations firms, too, should always be learning. We need to be aware of new technologies and strategies, as well as stay up to speed on latest marketing and communications platforms that are constantly evolving. Select a firm that can add both tangible and intangible value to any company, brand or organization beyond its internal capabilities.

Establishing or enhancing share of voice can be a monumental task for any sized organization in today’s crowded, very noisy marketplace. All that’s needed is the right public relations firm with the savvy to develop a cogent strategic approach, mixed in with good ole’ fashioned “out of the box” thinking.

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

PondelWilkinson Profiles: Janet Simmons

Every company has that one person who is the “glue” that keeps everyone and everything running smoothly. Janet Simmons is that person at PondelWilkinson. Entering her 15th year at the firm, we asked the Los Angeles native some questions about her professional and personal life as part of our ongoing Q&A series. 

What was your first job?

It was with Bell Industries, working at their manufacturing facility in Burbank. I started out on the plant floor and ended up in the front office, working with the CEO and CFO on corporate communications and administrative matters. Stayed there for 34 years.  

Janet Simmons with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

How long have you been in the industry?

The last 15 years of my career have been with PondelWilkinson. I joined the firm right after I left Bell Industries, which ironically was one of PondelWilkinson’s first investor relations clients. I already knew and loved everyone at the firm, so the transition was seamless. 

If you had to pick one word to describe what you do, what would it be?

Variety. I cover everything … from administrative duties to preparing quarterly analytical reports for clients, issuing press releases, updating websites and more. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 

I would have to say it’s interacting with people. I enjoy working with everyone at PondelWilkinson and with our clients. Even though we are working remotely these days, we always find time to stay connected and enjoy a laugh or two. 

What is your least favorite part about your job?

That’s a tough one. I really enjoy all that I do here, but I’m not a big fan of tight deadlines. I know it’s part of the job, but short turnarounds can be very stressful at times. 

What do you like to do for fun?

I love gardening, hiking and going out with friends.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done?

My husband and I recently went on a “Jeep safari” in Moab, Utah. While navigating the Hells Revenge trail, we started to climb a super-steep Lion’s Back, when I jumped out of the moving car and walked back down the hill. I don’t know about being the weirdest, but it definitely wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. 

What’s something that recently made you smile?

The other day I noticed a squirrel in my backyard trying to get my attention. He was looking at me through my kitchen window, as if to say, “Hey, the bowl is empty, are you going to fill it?” I literally laughed out loud because the squirrel was so animated. Needless to say, I filled the bowl with food, smiling the entire time. 

What’s next on your bucket list?

Washington, D.C. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?

That would have to be from my dad, who often said, “Better to be early than late.” Simple advice, but something I live by in everything I do. 

— Shannon Clemons, sclemons@pondel.com