Failing to plan, the old saying goes, is planning to fail. This is certainly true when it comes to your investor relations strategy. Yet even though strategic planning is every bit as important to your IR success as it is for every other part of your business, we find that many companies fail to plan correctly, if they plan at all.
IR planning is about delivering the right story to a well-defined audience, and about refreshing your message in a way that will continue to resonate with investors. Every good annual plan starts with the same question: What do you want to be different at the end of the year? So it’s vital to articulate your goals before formulating a strategy.
Good CEOs and CFOs know that they only get a limited number of interactions with their buy-side and sell-side analysts each year. Analysts are busy people, with perhaps dozens of listed companies under coverage or on their watch lists. An earnings call is thus one of the few times that companies can have the undivided attention of their covering analysts and interested buy-siders. Use that time wisely. Here are some pointers to consider before you host your next biotech earnings call.
Some people are a little surprised to hear that a decent percentage of our clients at Westwicke are private, venture-backed healthcare companies. “Why,” they ask, “do private companies need investor relations?”
Having spent the majority of my professional career on the buy side at one of the first U.S.-based healthcare crossover firms, I typically respond by saying: “I often wonder why it takes private companies so long before they do reach out to the buy side!”
“The analysts are projecting your revenue for next year” — a year in which you have not provided guidance — “at $50 million. Are you comfortable with this projection?”
Most CEOs and CFOs of public companies have heard a question like that — a “trick” question for which it seems any answer you give can potentially cause you problems. If you say you’re not “comfortable” with that revenue number, for example, do you risk projecting weakness to the investor community? On the other hand, do you want to effectively provide guidance before you formally release it?
In investor relations, credibility is everything. When your authority is damaged, everything you tell the Street will be filtered through the jaded minds of professional skeptics who remember your past failure to deliver, or a time they felt misdirected. That’s why it’s vital to maintain a constant focus on sustaining and growing your level of trust with investors.
Often in meetings, investors will ask a CEO or CFO about a competitive product. Doesn’t the other drug work faster? Aren’t there fewer side effects? Isn’t it cheaper? I hear those questions all the time during road show presentations and meetings. Usually management’s first response is to take a defensive position. While they may not totally “bash” another product, they seem to quickly start listing all of the negative attributes.
That’s not the right approach. Instead, when asked to compare your drug, product, or service to the competition, you should do two things: First, know why the question is being asked. Then turn a negative question into a positive response. Let me walk you through my thinking and how the positioning can actually be shifted in your favor.
Few will deny that analyst research still plays a key role in any investor relations strategy. And every time one of us sees a stock getting a healthy bump in the markets following an analyst upgrade or initiation, we can easily be tempted to believe that analysts wield an enormous amount of influence over a company’s valuation and success.
Should you make expanding research coverage your top IR priority? Have you found yourself pre-occupied with making the cut with analysts and adding more research coverage to your ranks?
However, before you potentially find yourself off course with a misguided plan, let’s consider a few perspectives.
When I started working in investor relations (IR) more than 25 years ago, little did I realize that “creative writing” would often boil down to finding clever synonyms for words like opportunity, growth, and transition — rather than drafting colorful, superlative-rich descriptions of corporate events and milestones. Is it possible to find a new way to express year-over-year financial comparisons or do the numbers in the financial tables mostly speak for themselves?
We are often faced with management teams that seek to fill their perceived “air time” and make their conference call stand out from the hundreds of other calls taking place. If this sounds familiar, and you find yourself wondering how much creative leeway to take with your own quarterly earnings calls, then keep reading as I explain where it’s possible to truly add value, and where it actually detracts from your objective.
Once you’ve made the decision to host an investor day, there are a few critical things to accomplish before announcing it publicly — namely, selecting the date, location, and speakers. A well-planned event is much more likely to be a well-attended event. How can you avoid mistakes and plan an effective investor day? Below, I share a few strategies.
Select the right date.
No one wants to send out a “save the date” announcement only to find out that most of your anticipated guests have a conflict. Be careful to consider Wall Street conferences, previously scheduled investor days by companies your covering analysts also follow, and religious holidays. All of these have the potential to prompt an investor to make the tough decision to skip your event and just listen to a replay of the webcast.
The buy side is structured in many different ways, and knowing the set up and style of your audience is critical both to your pre-meeting preparation and to the level of detail you provide when you answer questions — and whether you take a more quantitative or qualitative approach.
The general buckets to understand are portfolio manager and analyst, but the roles and focus areas of these key players can differ, depending on the institution. So start by asking these questions: