Investor relations and corporate communications are an integral part of all company operations, but how companies measure IR performance is a little more complex.
Measuring the success and return on investment of investor relations campaigns is one of the biggest challenges facing IR teams in 2019.
The digital age has seen most companies take a multifaceted approach to marketing and connecting with investors, combining a mix of traditional and print publications, digital communications and online engagement strategies.
Achieving a holistic observation of multiple IR outcomes can be difficult. As Marc J. Epstein wrote in Performance Measurement and Management Control, “There is little managerial or academic literature on how to implement the management control and performance measurement systems necessary to achieve success”.
So, how do you go about setting reliable goals and performance objectives for the financial year? And is there an easier way to evaluate those outcomes?
Look Beyond the Numbers
Writing for Listed Magazine, AmTrust Financial Services’ chief communications officer and senior vice president of corporate affairs, Chaya Cooperberg, warns boards and management not to look to the company share price to evaluate the performance of their IR department.
Metrics relating directly to the composition of a company’s shareholder base can incentivise effective investor relations strategies.
Cooperberg says there are too many variables in a company’s stock price which are beyond the control of the average investor relations professional, including operating costs and financial results, seasonality, cyclicality and economic trends which can all affect market value.
“I think the best measures are tied to highly specified goals that are tailored to the company’s broader objectives. I have found, for example, that metrics relating directly to the composition of a company’s shareholder base can incentivise effective investor relations strategies, and many of these have the added benefit of being highly quantifiable and objective.”
Set Specific Targets
Successful IR teams are setting specific targets for individuals that link in with broader company objectives.
Chaya Cooperberg recommends first attracting a shareholder base that is ‘aligned with and supportive of’ company strategy. For example, companies planning to grow and expand quickly through significant investment and acquisitions will want to attract shareholders who demand rapid growth and progression, not the slow and steady investors who look for long-term yields.
It is reasonable for a small to mid-cap IR rep to meet up to 60 new targets per year, or 15 per quarter.
Investor relations teams can then set targets for engaging investors with those matching qualities. Cooperberg says it is reasonable for a small to mid-cap IR rep to meet up to 60 new targets per year, or 15 per quarter. “Identifying the right potential investors should result in some taking a position. A success rate of only 10% would bring four to six supportive and informed shareholders into the stock.”
Engagement isn’t just another buzzword. It’s a vital and measurable component of investor relations activities. And research shows that when companies make an effort to engage their target market, it pays off.
Leading ASX companies are at greater risk of hostile shareholder activism when they fail to effectively engage investors, particularly surrounding ESG issues.
The Australian Company Directors Magazine in March 2018, identified that leading ASX companies are at greater risk of hostile shareholder activism when they fail to effectively engage investors, particularly surrounding environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and where the Board is not actively engaged with investor relations.
Canadian governance practitioner Professor David Beatty, believes investor relations is becoming a board role, rather than a management one, as shareholder activism intensifies and the market shifts its focus to corporate ESG performance.
The Influence of Social Media
Traditional methods of engaging with investors through conferences and roadshows are still important, but social media is increasingly being used as a tool to engage with investors. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all offer in-built metrics to evaluate reach and readership, and provide a direct and immediate line of contact with stakeholders.
However, the National Investor Relations Institute’s 2016 Social Media for Investor Relations Survey revealed many companies are still ignoring this valuable resource, with 72 per cent of IR professionals who responded not using social media for work purposes.
A more recent study in 2018, titled “Investors’ Attention and Social Media: Evidence from Small and Medium Entities” conducted by researchers at Monash University and ESSEC Business School found relevance in utilising twitter strategically.
The study showed that firms sending more tweets containing financial information before earnings announcements generates higher investor attention at earnings announcements. They then document that SMEs communicate strategically on social media, i.e. firms tend to send fewer tweets before disclosing bad news at earnings announcements.
” Cross-sectional analyses indicates that Twitter activity has an economically significant effect on investors’ attention and may be used strategically by listed SMEs with low media coverage and with less analyst following.”
Small caps, such as medical cannabis stock, MGC Pharma engage with their investors on as many touch points as they can with LinkedIn, twitter, facebook and blogs all helping to gain critical investor attention.
Quantitative, Qualitative and Milestone Driven
Erik Knettel, senior managing director at Grayling USA, New York, says there are three types of IR Measurement: quantitative, qualitative and milestone driven.
According to Knettel, quantitative data can be measured by the number of target investors engaged through direct outreach, for example, one-on-one meetings, phone calls and emails. The frequency of direct interactions with top 50 shareholders is another useful metric to gauge IR performance, as is reducing the financial reporting gap – the number of days from the quarter end to the financial reporting date.
Knettel agrees with Cooperberg that stock price is not an accurate direct metric for measuring IR performance. Instead, he suggests using earnings track record, revenue and margin expansion, financial guidance and management credibility as more accurate ways of measuring IR success.
Knettel says qualitative data is about perception, or what resonates with investors.
A quarter of IROs globally use investor feedback from brokers, investor perception studies or informal conversations to measure IR performance. Benchmarking and peer analysis also fall into the qualitative metrics basket.
In its 2017 Investor Perception Study, IR Magazine provided analysis of companies across a range of sectors and market caps that were ranked in categories including:
- Grand prix for best overall investor relations
- Best investor relations officer
- Best financial reporting
- Best use of technology
- Best investor meetings
- Best corporate governance and disclosure
Qualitative data, or non-financial data, can take also take into account investor feedback about how easy a website is to navigate to find information quickly and efficiently, or how many days it takes to respond to investor queries.
In other words, qualitative data is often about ‘measuring the unmeasurable’. Satisfaction metrics are not easy to define, but regular satisfaction surveys can help lock down and analyse this elusive data. One study of 125 Swedish firms revealed that just a one per cent increase in satisfaction led to a 2.37 per cent increase in ROI.
3) Milestone Driven
Just as blood donors are recognised for a certain number of visits or blood donations, and football players and umpires are celebrated for a milestone number of matches, corporations should also acknowledge and honour the milestones within their teams.
That means celebrating when an employee notches up a record number of years at a company, or other noteworthy achievements like IR and corporate communications teams producing an award winning annual report. These measures not only boost team morale, but are positive PR opportunities that can and should be shared publically with stakeholders to demonstrate a company’s skill, staff commitment, and positive and welcoming culture. A team that is innovatively growing, but also places value on longevity and loyalty makes a positive impression on potential investors.
Sharing genuine company milestones with a wider audience on social media is a great way of creating digital engagement opportunities and driving investor perception of your company.
Why Measure IR Performance?
Why do people look at cute puppy pictures? Or watch cat videos on the internet? One could say, because it makes them happy.
Similarly, the satisfaction of hitting your goals and targets for the quarter or financial year overall, is one important reason why IROs and companies should measure IR performance.
Just like in sport, a player has to understand what he’s doing and why. And we have to be responsible for improving them.
It can equally be applied to keeping IR and Comms teams motivated and accountable.
Ask colleagues and peers to share how they measure their own performance and add that knowledge to your tool kit for future reference. Keeping the lines of communication open will help in the challenge of meeting your goals as a team.
- Epstein, M.J (2016), Performance Management and Management Control: Contemporary Issues, in Studies in Managerial and Financial Accounting, Vol 31, p. 6.
- Cooperberg, C (April 21, 2014) Taking the Measure of your IR team, Listed magazine: http://listedmag.com/2014/04/taking-the-measure-of-your-ir-team/
- Australian Institute of Company Directors, “Rise of the Activist Investor” 26th March 2018
- NIRI: https://www.niri.org/resources/publications/niri-analytics
- Knettel, E (2014), NIRI AZ Investor Relations presentation, p.20: Measuring Investor Relations – Investors
- ibid, p.20
- Knettel, E (2014), NIRI AZ Investor Relations presentation, p.21: Measuring Investor Relations – Investors
- ibid, p.21
- Knettel, E (2014), NIRI AZ Investor Relations presentation, p.22: Measuring Investor Relations – Investors
- IR Magazine: https://www.irmagazine.com/articles/corporate-access/21572/investor-feedback-top-ir-measurement/
- IR Magazine: https://www.irmagazine.com/articles/awards/22166/investor-perception-study-europe-2017/
- Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/1988/01/no-nonsense-guide-to-measuring-productivity?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
- NBRII: https://www.nbrii.com/customer-survey-white-papers/wise-investing-customer-surveys-and-roi/
- ABC South West Victoria: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/07/30/4283712.htm
- Interactive Investor: https://www.interactiveinvestor.com.au/our-work/interactive-annual-report/59-telstra-case-study-2
- Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/money/planning/how-to-read-an-annual-report-for-those-that-dont-want-to-20160803-gqk0qe.html
- The Independent (UK): http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/instagrammability-holiday-factor-millenials-holiday-destination-choosing-travel-social-media-photos-a7648706.html