What I Wish I Knew When I Started in Investor Relations (Part II)

20 February 2020

By Karen Greene and Matt Tractenberg

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We recently posted a blog sharing some words of wisdom from investor relations professionals across a variety of industries, providing some valuable insights to those who might be newer to the role. In fact, we collected so much advice from these seasoned pros that we decided to return with a second installment. 

As highlighted in the previous blog, because IROs work their way up to the investor relations leadership role through different functional areas – whether finance, marketing, treasury or elsewhere – we bring incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences to the role. For the same reason, most of us could have really benefited from the knowledge of our colleagues when we were new to this role.

We’re thrilled to bring even more great advice and perspectives from some of our industry’s best and brightest.

“IR professionals are expected to have solid business acumen, know their company and industry inside and out, possess strong financial skills, be an expert at relationship building, marketing, and a host of other knowledge areas and competencies. This is what makes it such a fun and challenging career! That said, I think it is important to remember that the foundation of a successful IR career is to have excellent communications and interpersonal skills. I would include on this list the ability to listen to and learn from your stakeholders, being open-minded, knowing how to effectively resolve conflict, being authentic and trustworthy, soliciting feedback internally and externally, having confidence, and, of course, knowing how to craft clear and concise messages.” – Deb Wasser, VP of IR at Etsy

There is no question that above all, strong communications and interpersonal skills are paramount to succeeding in investor relations. IROs may come from various backgrounds, but this is the one trait we all share. Without the ability to build a strong rapport and gain the trust of investors and analysts, internal business leaders, board members, and the C-suite, the IRO cannot be effective in her or his role.

“To have had more resilience in the face of endless revisions! Learn to not only be open to, but to seek out constructive, productive feedback on your writing. While you may think that your earnings script is worthy of a Pulitzer, it will be a far better product if it’s a collective work of art. But also know that, while every script can always be improved, edits are suggestions, and as such, not every single one must be incorporated. Learning to discern what truly improves the content or readability from what just adds another’s fingerprint to the finished product – that is a great lesson to learn early on.” – Rebecca Gardy, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications at GreenSky

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but pride of authorship has NO place in the IRO’s world. Learn to build time for others to review and make suggested edits when preparing materials, and put your ego aside when receiving feedback. At the same time, stand up for the points you believe are important and be prepared to defend why. The IRO is often the record keeper of what was said or promised previously, or what might trigger a negative shareholder response.

“It is difficult to operate from a black and white standpoint in a gray world. As an investor relations executive it is imperative to analyze situations and points of view from multiple perspectives. Always try to see through multiple lenses.”  – John Shave, Managing Director, IR, Safeguard.

Taking a 360-degree perspective on all business matters is key for an IRO, as they need to consider the needs of a highly diverse base of constituents. This can include the board, sell-side analysts, industry analysts, media, current shareholders, prospective shareholders, employees, and customers. The views of each of these groups can ultimately impact the valuation of the company and the IRO has to consider the views of each audience.

“I began my IR career wanting to draw an immediate and direct correlation between engagement and ownership. However, that’s not the way our world works. That view was an immature and impatient one. Investors are evaluating your company on a multitude of variables, only some of which are within your control. Add to that an ever-changing space of investment alternatives and vehicles, and you’re trying to thread the needle. The point here is that now may not be the right time, but that doesn’t mean never. Lack of investment also doesn’t mean that your engagement was not productive or successful. Cultivate the relationships for the long-term, and you’ll find that when conditions change, you’re more easily considered as an investment opportunity. ” – Matt

“One of the most valuable things I’ve learned over the years is there’s ALWAYS more to learn. Leave yourself wide open to taking advantage of available programs, resources, new technologies, and new ideas. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing from years of experience you’ve got all the bases covered, but the truth is the world around us is changing rapidly, from regulations to investor behavior to the tools that make us more efficient. The more current and knowledgeable you are, the more effective you will be in your role as an IRO.” – Karen

Having been IROs for many years, we both know all too well that the job spans multiple disciplines – from sales to finance to communications, to crisis management and more – and much of its training happens on the job and in the trenches. Maybe the best advice of all is to seek support and outside perspectives whenever you can. Whether that means tapping peers within your network and at industry events or through programs like Q4’s Investor Relations Success Platform.

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