A GUIDE TO GLOBAL IR: Leveraging Languages and Platforms to Reach International Investors

June 19, 2012
by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media
Neil Hershberg

Neil Hershberg, SVP – Global Media

A recurrent theme at this year’s recent NIRI conference was the growing importance of global investor relations, and the corresponding need for international “best practices” standards.

The heightened industry focus reflects the realization that today’s financial markets transcend geographic boundaries, and that the competition for capital is more intense than ever.

While the spotlight on global investor outreach is certainly welcomed, the reality is that many of today’s accessible and affordable turn-key solutions are inadvertently ignored. The ability to seamlessly connect with a much larger investor universe is within easy reach of virtually every issuer; most importantly, it requires no budget-busting expenditures in the way of expanded infrastructure or staffing.

The key is to capitalize on the full potential of the major financial platforms that serve as the lifeblood of the global investment industry. Specifically, this means leveraging the multilingual platforms of the leading news/data systems, regional financial services that are hugely influential in their respective markets, and postings to non-U.S. portals that are closely monitored by the retail sector.

There is a natural tendency to narrowly view Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters as largely an English-language bridge to international investors.  Yet these powerful, robust platforms reach investors worldwide in scores of languages. (Bloomberg, for example, hosts 41 languages.) This important capability is largely underutilized, and should be a strategic element of all multi-dimensional investor relations campaigns.

To be clear, English is universally recognized as the international “language of business.”  Yet there are sizeable audiences with substantial assets whose preference remains their own native languages. The major financial services, locked in a fierce competitive battle for subscribers, are keen to cater to these diverse constituencies.

Business Wire is the only commercial news wire that has committed the necessary resources to fully capitalize on this obscured opportunity. Simply put, Business Wire’s geographic and linguistic footprint is the largest in the industry, enabling public companies to target portfolio managers and retail investors in developed and emerging markets alike, reaping the unbridled benefits of these powerful platforms.

To put this potent opportunity into perspective, Business Wire releases are available in 19 languages on the Bloomberg terminal: Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The scope of languages available on Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters is comparable. Collectively, these financial systems approach some one million subscribers in the international investment industry.

Additionally, there are other prominent platforms popular with international investors that include Business Wire in more than a dozen languages, e.g. FactSet and Factiva.

Another important resource that is easily overlooked is the regional and national financial services that lack the profile — but certainly not the credibility or local influence — of their global industry brethren. These information providers can prove to be extremely effective in mapping an international outreach campaign with their pinpoint saturation of key money markets.

Business Wire content is broadly accessible via these respected regional providers, including SIX Information (one of Europe’s largest financial systems); vwd (a major presence in the D/A/CH region); Interfax (the dominant business news service in Russia/CIS); Agência Estado (Brazil’s leading financial news service); awp, the Swiss financial news agency; and Jiji Press, Japan’s leading financial news wire.

Supplementing these premium services, which primarily target professional portfolio managers, retail investors worldwide can routinely track corporate developments via leading financial portals, including such popular sites as Infobolsa, abcbourse, and BFMbusiness. Like Business Wire’s distribution network itself, our online reach continues to be a never-ending work in progress, with pending additions including Il Sole 24 (Italy) and Quick (Japan).

This year’s NIRI conference was entitled “Great Expectations.”  By simply leveraging readily accessible — and comparatively affordable — options, IROs are likely to experience “Great Realizations” in achieving their global outreach goals.


Why the Deck is Stacked Against Retail Investors

February 3, 2011
by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media
Neil Hershberg

Neil Hershberg, SVP - Global Media

The classic Cole Porter musical, “Anything Goes,” is returning to Broadway this spring.

Retail investors won’t have to wait that long. In practice, “Anything Goes” has become the unofficial mantra of Wall Street, the Digital Age’s equivalent of ‘The Wild West” when it comes to disclosure.

Unfortunately for individual investors, who invariably get the short end of the stick, the folks in a position to end today’s information free-for-all have yet to take action.

At the risk of sounding like the Cassandra of capitalism, here’s why retail investors are swimming upstream:

1. Reg FD’s “level playing field” has become the regulatory equivalent of an ecological disaster area; it is eroding faster than many storm-swept East Coast beaches.

Mega-cap companies with huge investor followings have, for reasons best known to themselves, opted for micro-disclosure, dispensing with broadly disseminated news releases in favor of standalone web postings or similar truncated practices.

Rather than providing simultaneous, real-time information access to all interested investors, these best-practice contrarians have essentially decided to ladle access on a sequential basis to anxious  investors clamoring for corporate updates.

Over the past few decades, we’ve regressed from “trickle down economics” to “trickle down disclosure.”  Unfortunately, retail investors are the ones getting hosed.

Ironically, technology trend-setters are among the most flagrant abusers of acknowledged best-practice disclosure practices. These industry leaders should know better than anyone the inherent technical limitations of the Internet, and why the web’s architecture makes it impossible to meet the complex challenge of simultaneity.

2. Retail investors also are unknowingly getting eaten alive by spiders; these automated creepy crawlers have become a hidden epidemic.

While Bloomberg recently generated headlines when it published Disney and NetApps earnings results in advance of their official release, the real concern for retail investors should be the stealth spidering tactics of traders deliberately seeking to stay under the radar.

The spiders unleashed by Bloomberg and Selerity likely have plenty of company. In all probability, armies of incognito spiders are clandestinely retrieving troves of actionable, non-public data for their trading masters.

Even if these spiders fail to uncover non-public material information, their very use provides an unfair edge if publicly traded companies do not broadly disseminate their news via a service such as Business Wire.

The reason is that spiders are faster than the RSS readers that retail investors rely on for news alerts when disclosure is limited to a standalone web posting. Whereas Business Wire distributes market-moving news simultaneously and in real-time to financial information systems, portals, and media platforms worldwide, standalone web postings create a feeding frenzy for these rapacious spiders.

Retail investors have a legitimate reason to be suffering from arachnophobia; they are at a distinct disadvantage to market players that control these powerful technology termites.

3. There is a well-known saying that in life, “timing is everything.” That is certainly the case on Wall Street, where latency and milliseconds rule the day.

Winning on Wall Street is largely contingent on the ability to access and act on information faster than anyone else.

Institutional investors clearly have the necessary resources and technology at their disposal to triumph in today’s trading environment.

Notice-and-access and web disclosure disproportionately favor the professional investor, who can read – and react (perhaps even robotically) – far more quickly than the average retail investor.

The trading activity following Netflix’s recent web posting of its earnings (January 26 at 4:05 pm/ET) illustrates the high stakes involved.

More than one-third of Netflix’s total share volume for the day, or just over three million shares, traded after Netflix posted its earnings.

In after hours trading, Netflix’s shares were up $19.16 (10.47 percent).

Although individual investors now have the opportunity to trade in the after-hours market, they are being steamrolled by institutional traders, who clearly have the capability to react with more immediacy.

Retail investors are forced to play a bad hand. A recent blog post by Jack Campbell at 24/7 Wall Street, “Ten Ways Wall Street Crushes Retail Investors,” elaborates on many of these same themes: http://247wallst.com/2011/01/26/ten-ways-wall-street-crushes-retail-investors/

The common denominator linking all these examples is access to material information.

Regulation Fair Disclosure, in its original iteration, is clear on this point: all investors should have equal access to information at the same time.

The answer to the disclosure dilemma is obvious: the integrity of Regulation Fair Disclosure must be restored if retail investors are to be equal market participants.

Simultaneous, real-time access to disclosure news is the only solution that will put an end to the emerging two-tier access system that is slowly taking root.

It’s time for retail investors to get the fair shake they deserve.


Web Spiders: Enough to Make Investors’ Skin Crawl

November 23, 2010

by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media

Neil Hershberg

Neil Hershberg, SVP - Global Media

Forget about bedbugs. The real threat to anyone involved in the financial markets these days is spiders – and I’m not talking about the eight-legged variety.

Spiders — sophisticated web-crawling software – are seemingly rampant on Wall Street, wreaking havoc in the financial markets, and yielding big profits for select investors in the know.

There were several incidents recently in which earnings results were leaked to the market in advance of their scheduled release. The predictable result: widespread investor confusion.

Shares of NetApp Inc., one of the affected companies, sank sharply in the subsequent market volatility, leading to a nearly one-hour trading halt.

The use of these advanced search bots is certainly nothing new; what has become apparent is their disruptive impact on fair and orderly capital markets. More ominously, the growing use of these bots threaten to make a mockery of the principle of fair disclosure.

The problem is not uncommon. Ironically, Jeff Morgan, president and CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute, issued a warning to NIRI members about a week ago:

“I recently spoke with a member who told me about a situation where a news organization ran a story on their earnings 45 minutes before the earnings announcement was scheduled for release. The company released their earnings immediately and began an investigation. The company found that the news entity breached an unpublished area of the company’s online newsroom and accessed the confidential draft earnings release by using sophisticated, proprietary web crawlers. The company routinely used this private website area to post and format draft earnings releases prior to publication. Their plan was to do as they had done for many prior quarters and open access to the release once it became public. Unfortunately, the unpublished release was discovered overnight by the media outlet’s proprietary web crawlers. For IR professionals the lesson learned is to be sure your documents are secure on the web wherever they reside. And a word to the wise – the member noted that the news organization pointed out that this type of discovery has happened before.”  [IR Weekly, November 9, 2010 issue]

The major market-moving news services have long relied on spidering technology to ferret out news that hasn’t been disclosed via conventional channels. What has largely remained under the radar is how the wizards of Wall Street are similarly taking advantage of state-of-the-art software to identify hidden trading opportunities. It is a safe bet to assume that the financial news wires aren’t the only ones routinely trolling the Internet in search of actionable information.

While spiders are a major concern, issuers must also deal with another silent but potent threat: Their own lack of imagination in naming their important  news and data files. Due to habit or inertia, many issuers sequentially name their financial files, or use other intuitive names for identification purposes. This scenario potentially allows a skillful web spy to decipher the URL of material information waiting to be released to the market place.

As if all this depressing disclosure news isn’t disturbing enough, there was also the recent revelation that Google might be stacking the deck in favor of  its own properties. According to Harvard Business School assistant professor Ben Edelman, Google’s search results aren’t as objective and unbiased as the search giant has led us to believe. Edelman’s study concludes that “Google has made inaccurate representations to the public including to users, publishers, advertisers, investors and regulators.”  Based on his findings, Google may not be the unbiased arbiter of information exchange that it has successfully portrayed itself to be.

Clearly, “self-publishing” is more complex – and has more associated risks with dire market consequences – than may seem obvious. The costs and complexities of the required security upgrades are likely to far outweigh any perceived cost-savings. And the potential loss in market valuation and credibility in the event things go awry is by far the largest financial liability of all.

So what is the simplest, most effective way to navigate this obstacle course?  More importantly, what is the best way to maximize the reach of your message so that the market is fully informed? Hopefully, it should be obvious that posting the news on your web site won’t get the job done, and also is fraught with hidden dangers and unintended consequences.

A broadly-disseminated news release issued via Business Wire remains the surest way to ensure full and fair disclosure. All market participants have simultaneous, real-time access to price-sensitive information.

We have invested tens of millions of dollars in building the industry’s most advanced and secure systems for processing and distributing news. We are vigilant about security to the point of paranoia: Our databases, workflow systems, and public facing web sites are secured from spiders or anyone trying to gain unauthorized access to clients’ pre-released financial information.

And it isn’t just us saying it – Business Wire is audited annually in multiple jurisdictions where we are sanctioned to operate as a regulatory disclosure service. Additionally, as a proud member of Berkshire Hathaway, we answer to a higher authority and undergo a separate corporate security audit. These rigorous reviews, conducted by the world’s leading independent auditing/management consulting firms, certify that our network systems and operational procedures meet the most demanding global standards.

In a risk/reward analysis, web disclosure simply doesn’t make sense for issuers, and is a major disservice to investors.


Sorting the Real from the Fake: Credibility Matters

October 22, 2010

by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media for Business Wire

 

Neil Hershberg

Neil Hershberg, SVP - Global Media

 

Recent news stories on companies victimized by false press releases, fake news stories and bogus web sites describe the perpetrators as “pranksters,” and  dismiss their actions as “spoofs” and “stunts.”

According to my dictionary, the more appropriate term for activities that deliberately seek to deceive others is FRAUD.  And when those actions affect the capital markets, the regulatory authorities are likely to weigh in with their own lengthy lexicon of legal definitions that will put this important issue in its proper perspective.

Several well-known companies have recently been traumatized by a troubling trend known as  “corporate PR hijacking.”  These elaborate campaigns have included fake press releases complete with quotes attributed to actual company executives, counterfeit web sites, and fake news stories appearing on phony sites masquerading as legitimate, well-known news outlets. Companies that reportedly have fallen prey to disinformation tactics include BP, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil and, most recently, Chevron.

Bona fide media organizations have unwittingly become trapped in this bewildering “House of Mirrors,” conveying erroneous information to the marketplace. These so-called stunts have a habit of snowballing, gaining dangerous momentum that can do irreparable harm.

The issue of fake PR is one that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and it remains to be seen if marketers and agencies can figure out a way to effectively combat the seemingly greater number of individuals who seem eager to participate in such efforts,” observed Advertising Age.

The challenge of separating fact from fiction on the web certainly isn’t new.

Paul Boutin, writing in The New York Times, said it best:  “On the Internet, every day is April Fool’s Day.” [March 31, 2010]

While portrayed in media accounts as a creative way for critics to convey their message, the reality is that corporate PR hijacking has real victims and unintended consequences.

  • Corporate reputation is a company’s most prized asset. These surreptitious attacks have the potential to cause monumental damage;
  • The integrity of all media is at risk as false information is unintentionally disseminated;
  • Valuations of public companies can be affected as the market reacts to erroneous reports.

In other words, we’re past the point of simple pranks, stunts and spoofs. We’re talking serious business, with major implications for all market participants.

Under these circumstances, the trusted role of Business Wire as a credible news source is more important than ever.

While no organization is totally infallible, Business Wire combines proprietary technology with the largest editorial staff in the industry to deliver some 1,000 stories daily over its patented news delivery platform to the global media, the investment community, and consumers.

Business Wire Connect, our web-based order entry system, enables us to authenticate and validate all issuers. It has been operational since 1998, and is continuously enhanced and upgraded. Our network systems and editorial workflow procedures are independently audited on an annual basis by the world’s leading accounting firms, a mandatory requirement for re-certification as a sanctioned regulatory disclosure service in multiple jurisdictions.

We also realize, however, the limits of technology and that there is no substitute for human intelligence. We have a seasoned staff of close to 200 editors worldwide who vet copy prior to distribution. We are proud to boast that we have the highest editorial accuracy rate in the industry.

While several of our competitors have recently introduced “do-it-yourself” platforms, our goal is be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. There is enough misinformation floating around without our providing yet another pass-through conduit.

Based on our almost half-century performance standards, Business Wire has earned its reputation for credibility in news rooms and trading houses worldwide. In fact, the world’s leading financial information platforms and international news agencies allow us to “auto-publish” our content directly on to their systems, a true testament to our enviable track record.

We appreciate that everyone is understandably mindful of costs these days — as are we. It is especially important, however, to factor in the priceless value of credibility, reliability and trust in any deliberation, qualities that are of paramount importance in today’s chaotic information environment.


A Closer Look at the BRIC Countries: India

July 16, 2010

by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media, Business Wire New York

BRIC Country FlagsBrazil, Russia, India and China, collectively referred to as the “BRIC” countries, are widely seen as the pistons powering the 21st century global economy.

Previously, we’ve profiled Business Wire’s powerful partnerships in Brazil and Russia, key markets where our unique strategic relationships provide Business Wire members with privileged access to the financial, government, corporate and media sectors. Agencia Estado in Brazil and Interfax in Russia are the most prominent business and financial news services in their respective markets, whose influence extends far beyond the investment industry.

This month’s spotlight is cast on India, whose economic growth in the past quarter-century has been nothing short of explosive. It is clearly a market that is on everyone’s ‘short-list’ in terms of potential  business development opportunities. Creating a brand identity and reaching business decision-makers in India has become a top priority for companies seeking to stake a claim in today’s Southeast Asia gold rush.

Once again, Business Wire has captured the high ground by offering the most comprehensive distribution platform available.

Business Wire India [BWI], a licensed affiliate with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, has established itself as the country’s leading corporate news service. Many of India’s best-known multinational companies are clients, using BWI for both their domestic and international distribution needs.

Read the rest of this entry »


Business Wire White Papers Now Available

June 15, 2010

- by Phil Dennison, Senior Marketing Specialist

Recently, Business Wire launched a series of white papers on a variety of public relations- and investor relations-related topics. The first two in the series are now available:  Engaging Global Audiences – Public Relations and Bridging Borders by Neil Hershberg (Senior Vice President, Global Media) and The State of XBRL – Rules, Regulations and Best Practices by Michael Becker (Senior Vice President, Financial Product Strategy).

To download these valuable information pieces, visit http://GloMoSoMe.BusinessWire.com.


Common Sense in Investor Relations

June 4, 2010

by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media for Business Wire

Neil Hershberg, SVP - Global Media

“The website-only minimum is a weak minimum . . . It’s like the NCAA requiring a 2.0 GPA. Any student should have to do more than the minimum.” –NIRI Member

It is refreshing — and reassuring — to see that common sense and reason still prevail in the investor relations industry.

The National Investor Relations Institute, the prestigious international association of IR professionals, recently surveyed its most senior members to gauge the pragmatic impact of the SEC’s “Interpretive Guidance Release on Web-Based Disclosure” [August 2008] on current news distribution practices.

The Guidance Release ranks as one of the most controversial in the SEC’s history; its lack of clarity has created considerable confusion within the IR community.

Self-styled disclosure “experts,” many masking their own commercial interests in the debate, aggressively jumped into the fray, seeking to advance their own business prospects while giving the appearance of detached observers. Fortunately, real-world transparency kicked in as the industry saw right through their vacuous arguments.

The NIRI membership survey, independent, comprehensive and authoritative, should finally settle the issue as to how the industry itself defines disclosure “best practices.”  The good news is that the overwhelming majority of respondents continue to engage in disclosure activities that serve the best interests – and information needs – of ALL market participants. The real winners here are investors as a whole, who continue to have broad and equivalent access to issuer information that may influence their investment decisions.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Only seven percent of respondents have made changes to their disclosure practices as a result of the SEC’s Guidance, generally adding new distribution channels. In fact, a higher percentage of respondents today are relying on paid press release services as a primary disclosure vehicle than before the SEC issued its Guidance Release. The broadly disseminated press release lives – because it works.
  • The most common reason cited for not making any changes to their current practices is because there is no compelling reason to do so. Other key drivers in the decision to retain the status quo are the desire for exposure, the greatest transparency possible, and legal opinion.
  • Many respondents view additional communications channels as supplemental to traditional channels, rather than replacements for them.
  • The use of corporate web sites for information dissemination at this time is almost entirely driven by business considerations rather than regulatory ones.
  • When asked to rank the factors that influence their decision to issue a press release versus an alternative channel, respondents ranked, on average, materiality as the most important factor, and cost as the least.

(NIRI members can view the full survey results here.)

We thank NIRI for its thoughtful, real-world guidance re: the SEC’s Interpretive Release, and for its invaluable insights on how its members have responded in terms of their own business practices.

Above all, we applaud the investor relations industry for continuing to recognize the value that a broadly disseminated press release, made available to ALL market participants simultaneously and in real-time, means in terms of full and fair disclosure. Its reassuring to know that the investor relations industry remains committed to the principles of its core mission.

We wish NIRI success at its annual meeting in San Diego June 6 -9.  There probably has never been a more exciting time to be in the investor relations industry.

UPDATE:  Mark Hynes has some additional thoughts on this topic at his own blog, in a great entry, “Why Would an IRO Limit News Dissemination?”


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