by Fred Godlash, Marketing Specialist, Business Wire/Los Angeles
Awards were recently given out to a different type of Hollywood crowd, as the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) announced its annual Individual Leadership Award winners at the international conference in Hollywood, Florida. Among the award recipients were Dennis Walsh, Vice President and Director of Social Media, Sharon Merrill (Boston chapter); Sarah Jager, Regional Manager, Business Wire Dallas (Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter); Emily Riley, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations, Radian Group (Philadelphia chapter); and Bernadette McCormick, Regional Manager, Business Wire Minneapolis (Twin Cities chapter). All received accolades for exemplary leadership contributed to their NIRI chapters, but achieved success in different ways.
Dennis Walsh is going into his second year as a board member for the Boston chapter; it is one of the largest and oldest chapters of NIRI and presents a host of challenges. Walsh recognizes that his branch demographics are composed of 80 percent corporate affiliates with 54 percent of the members having 10 or more years of experience. The chapter leverages this member experience to help get speakers, services, and sponsors while also creating an atmosphere for more seasoned members to give advice to newer members. When putting together events, speakers need to be chosen carefully to include relevant issue topics for all members. Walsh says, “We put together a panel of speakers of different professions that give different perspectives. This will create a mix for everyone from the seasoned pro to the beginner.”
Some of the big changes made by Walsh include leading an initiative to redesign the chapter website, adding resources like SEO enhancements, social media integration, including communication channels like LinkedIn Groups and Twitter, and recaps of monthly events in a blog-style format. All the changes added interactivity to the chapter. “If someone is looking for an event or to just ask questions we now have open communication. Last year we only had 12 Twitter followers but this year we have 150 and growing. This really shows how IR views have changed toward social media. What once was considered a platform only for teens is now considered an effective communications tool to use as an extension of an organizations outreach program. Today, people choose how they consume information, so organizations can either join in on the conversation online or be left out.”
Boston is not the only city to embrace change.
In Dallas/Ft Worth, Sarah Jager surveyed the local chapter to find out member preferences for meetings. By reaching out she was able to increase meeting attendance. Just like Walsh from the Boston chapter, Jager used members from the Dallas Chapter to help get resources. Jager says, “We were able to get a highly influential CFO from AT&T to speak on a guest panel. AT&T even let us use their headquarters to meet. This is a resource every NIRI chapter can leverage.” Social media and networking is also a large part of the success for the Dallas/Ft Worth chapter.
Jager uses LinkedIn groups and other social media platforms but also has members reach out to other members or potential speakers by forming a calling tree. A program that was very successful for her chapter was the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses offered by her branch. Members were able to network with peers and also get the CPE credit needed by the state.
Emily Riley keeps members engaged in Philadelphia by finding hot topics that are of interest to the chapter like the use of social media and compliance, proxy battles, and ways IR professionals can be more efficient. Just like the other NIRI members interviewed, Riley utilizes member resources for mentoring junior staff, finding the right people to speak to the group, or simply to share knowledge. Riley says, “Unlike some of the bigger metropolitan areas, Philadelphia only has so many public companies. We are a tight-knit group that helps each other out by sharing resources. My mentor encouraged me to be part of NIRI and it has helped me in my profession.” The positive sentiment created by Riley helps her chapter to be more involved and efficient.
Bernadette McCormick is a big part of her chapter NIRI Twin Cities. Her attitude is to take on any job needed to help the organization. A 17-year veteran of the NIRI Twin Cities Board of Directors, Bernadette has served in several capacities: as President, VP of Membership, Programs, and VP of Sponsorship. Her contributions to the chapter includes the creation and facilitation of “NIRI Twin Cities Large Cap Senior Circle” which provides a private forum each quarter for IROs from local top large cap companies to peer counsel confidentially. When asked what her key to success was for the chapter McCormick beams, “I try to put fun back into the chapter. Getting things done in the world of IR professionals is very stressful and to recruit, engage, plan, and make commitments can be drudging work. I put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction. I believe a successful chapter should enjoy the meetings because we are humans first and IR professionals second.” Her compelling work attitude keeps everyone in the chapter in a good mood, and McCormick likes to keep meetings short and to the point. All the winners have a unique style of contributing to their local chapter, but all of them share a passion to provide convenient local education, networking, and leadership opportunities for the IR community.