The IRO Recipe – Don’t Leave Out this Ingredient
The field of investor relations is unlike any other. It’s a unique recipe – add two tablespoons of accounting, one cup of corporate finance, three-quarters of a cup of financial statement analysis, one dash of creativity, and several healthy heapings of writing expertise, mix together, bake over the course of multiple quarterly earnings periods and then you have a polished Investor Relations Officer (IRO).
This recipe may change; there is flexibility in the ingredients and amounts. Nevertheless, there’s one ingredient that should never be left out; it’s the one input that can differentiate an IRO from all others, and that is your ability to communicate in writing.
Often when you communicate in writing you are doing so on your own behalf. In college, your professors regularly recounted “find your own voice,” or “communicate in a way that is uniquely you.” In investor relations, however, your challenge is not necessarily to find your own voice, but rather to find “his voice” or “her voice” or even “their voice.” A successful IRO is tasked with communicating on behalf of others: the CEO, the CFO, and additional members of the executive team.
Never before in the history of IR has communicating effectively and consistently been more important. With the macro-environment undergoing unprecedented change, the need to connect consistently with your shareholders to provide an informative and sometimes comforting message has been increasingly essential. These communications help strengthen the perception of your management team, while at the same time reassure stakeholders of your company’s long-term potential.F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “Writers aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” So how do you make this transition from writing in your own voice to that of another? Whether you are in-house writing on behalf of a single C-suite, or part of an agency writing on behalf of multiple companies across industries, the process to finding your executive suite’s voice is the same. Consider the following three steps as you build the voice of others so that you too can write as if it was your C-suite themselves dipping the quill of the pen. Once you get the knack of it, there’s no limit to your voice repertoire.
Three Steps to Building “the Other” Voice: Just Think IRO
- Immersion: It’s often said that the best way to learn another language is to immerse yourself in that language. Think about your executive team’s voice as if it is a new language to be learned, something you have to fully immerse yourself in to appreciate all of its beauties, quirks, and nuances. Begin by reading as much as you can about your executive team. Learn about their career and educational backgrounds and how they progressed to their current roles. With that as your basis, start reading prior earnings scripts, press releases, interviews, employee communications, and anything else you can get your hands on that they have written or said before. Watching and listening to your executives speak is just as important. Review past conference webcasts, corporate town halls or television appearances. Upon completing your initial fact finding mission, take note of several items: 1) what are the key phrases/words used most often by these individuals; 2) is their speech formal or casual, serious or more humorous; 3) are they succinct or lengthy in their discussions; 4) do they like to address certain topics more so than others; and 5) are there any specific mannerisms or behaviors you’ve picked up on that are apparent in their written and oral speech.
- Recon: In the Recon phase, you observe your executives in their “natural habitat,” live in action at work. Set aside time to observe them speaking with fellow colleagues, investors, and clients. Be cognizant of how speech patterns, word choices, and tones change depending on their audience. After you believe you’ve had enough time to observe your executives, schedule a meeting or call. Come prepared with a list of questions that show you’ve done your research, you have a sense of how they like to communicate, but you want to confirm and reinforce that you have their communication preferences correct. For instance, “I notice at the beginning of earnings calls you like to recognize our employees as contributing to the quarter’s performance. Is this type of recognition important to you?” Or what about, “In our press releases you never say ‘I am pleased,’ when speaking about quarterly results. Do you prefer other phrasings?” There’s no right or wrong questions here as long as you tailor your discussion to the executives at hand.
- Organization: The final step is to put it all together, to organize your notes into a single living document that you can reference time and again. In this document, highlight the key words and phrases these executives like to use depending on the audience, take note of terms that are off limits, mark down any distinctive word choices, and keep track of personal facts, achievements, and other details that might make for nice color as needed. This is your executive digest; your key to unlocking their voice.
Where to Go from Here?
It may not always be possible to follow these three steps precisely. For instance, when it comes to Immersion, there might not be much prior written documentation by your executives for you to review, particularly for those individuals new to the public space. Or your executive team might travel too often for you to successfully Recon by observing them at work or shadowing them on calls. With that in mind, be flexible and open to changes. Learning the “other voice” is a process. It’s the bread that takes hours to rise before it goes into the oven, not the cake you pop in the microwave for 30 seconds. Get to know your executive team the best way you can, within the boundaries that work for your company or your client. When the opportunity arises, leverage some of these best practices to make yourself indispensable to management and become an IRO whose recipe stands out from the pack.
About the Author:
Kimberly Esterkin is a Managing Director at ADDO Investor Relations, a strategic investor relations and financial communications firm in Los Angeles. Kimberly was recognized in 2019 as part of the inaugural class of NIRI’s top “40 under 40” in investor relations in the country and was featured on the Nasdaq Series ‘Intro to an IRO’. Kimberly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is happy to assist you in finding your C-suite’s voice.