Mark Hynes - thoughts on corporate disclosure

Opinions on changing rules, changing best practices, and their effect on investor relations officers.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

IRO’s as travel agents a thing of the past?

Its great in theory. As we sit among the early winter in the UK, with airports closed, the virtual investor conference looks to have a lot of merits.

The importance to the sell side of corporate access is growing, with huge soft dollar benefits to the investment bank. Investor conferences play an important role in creating those relationships. At the same time, many investor conferences are being scaled back for cost reasons, and the sell side is focussing ever more tightly on larger companies.

Also, investors and companies’ management have limited time, and are restricted in their travel plans. Earlier this year, the NIRI conference edition of IR Bulldog highlighted research done (by Rivel) into interest among the buy side in virtual investor meetings. Many were in favour. One investor apparently commented. "It's convenient for everybody. I don't have to go anywhere, the management doesn't have to go anywhere and yet you can still see the whites of their eyes on the screen. It's a very efficient way to communicate."

The technology now exists. Last month PR Newswire (see disclosure) partnered with others to create a virtual retail investor conference. Amazing experience, with company presentations, exhibitor booths, and break out rooms, and a real time list of who was there.

And investors in Asia are coming into the frame, which would imply a still greater travel problem. At the moment, many investor conferences are held on the US East Coast or in London. Adding in Asia would be time consuming and wearying for management.
Meanwhile the concept of bringing investors and companies together virtually is growing. In the US hybrids – webcasting a physical AGM – has been adopted by about 1/3rd of all US companies, with some hoping to go fully virtual soon.

All of which suggests that – logically – virtual investor conferences are a no brainer.

An IR person is sometimes said to be a cross between an accountant and a travel agent. Shall we see the day that the travel agent tag is lost?


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