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.
I’ve asked my colleagues to share other important, often-overlooked tips for optimal IR planning. Here’s what they had to say:
Take the long view
Optimal IR planning should be done with at least a 12-month horizon in mind. To make the best use of management’s time when they are interacting with the investment community, develop a comprehensive and thoughtful plan that prioritizes time with investors first but also allows for the cultivation of new relationships with sell-side analysts. Plan your IR activities for the next four fiscal quarters to ensure that your team is able to balance the demands of investor conferences and non-deal road shows for existing coverage, while leaving time for attending events hosted by non-covering brokers. Be sure to consider hosting meetings with investors at non-Wall Street industry events or medical meetings. These events give investors the opportunity to better understand your story, and meet with other members of your management team.
Don’t try to attend every healthcare investor conference or accept every invitation to conduct non-deal road shows
Many management teams, I have found, don’t say “no” enough. Management teams can spend too much time on the road if they accept every invitation. Not only does it take CEOs and CFOs away from running the day-to-day aspects of their businesses, but the repetition can render the company story stale, especially if there is not a lot of new information. Our advice is to space out and optimize your appearances, go to a variety of geographic locations, and meet with different types of investors, including generalists, healthcare-specific, etc.
Remember that there are plenty of investors outside of New York and Boston
Many management teams believe that if they visit and engage investors in New York and Boston, then they have “checked the box” on developing and maintaining a shareholder base. The beauty of our capital markets in the United States is that we have great investors throughout the nation. In order to build a long-term, focused, high-quality investor base, you will need a strategic plan to engage investors across the country and, in some cases, around the globe. Try to implement a plan that targets investors regardless of geography and engages them wherever they are.
Keep your eye on the schedule
A failure to produce and adhere to a schedule, both in front of earnings and for general annual planning, has consequences. Earnings season can be derailed quickly if issues arise; having a planned schedule on the calendar can help get things back on track. Additionally, making an annual roadmap by planning ahead for conferences and roadshows can help companies avoid missing out on vital buy-side exposure.
Give yourself some room to maneuver on milestone deadlines
It’s important to carefully consider your expected news flow around key milestones as you build your plan. But given the number of factors that affect the timing of key milestones, many of which are out of your control, consider giving yourself some room to maneuver. Remember, missing a deadline, regardless of why you missed, hurts your credibility. Provide initial guidance on a first-half or second-half of the year timeframe, rather than pegging deadlines to specific quarters. A six-month window is a timeline that is likely achievable and one that can be refined the closer you get to the event when you have better clarity around patient recruitment, analysis, or one of the other factors that influence event timing.
Expect the unexpected
Most companies plan only for the events that are expected – but product failures, litigation, patent challenges, management changes, and other unanticipated events do happen. A valuable exercise is to brainstorm what events could occur, even if there is only a slight chance, and outline a general plan for dealing with the event. This gives management a starting point and allows the company to react quicker.
Focus on broadening your sell-side relationships
Equity research analysts can and do change firms, especially at times of market extremes. When the market is hot, analysts move from bank to bank in search of better remuneration packages; when the market is cold, they may leave investment banking altogether to take up a job in business development or strategy. The point is, your bench of covering analysts can quickly be depleted, leaving you underrepresented on Wall Street. And if no one is there to hear and write about your good news, you might as well not have any. Our advice to clients is to engage in a consistent analyst outreach program so that there are always new analysts ready in the wings. It takes time to build up analyst relationships, so ongoing dialogue and engagement is key.
Ensure that management has the bandwidth and resources to carry out an effective plan
Company leaders are constantly being pulled in several directions. Make sure ahead of time that those responsible for communicating with investors and analysts have set aside time in their schedules for these activities. Failing to appropriately allocate time specifically to investor relations can equate to sloppy investor communications, stale corporate presentations, and missed opportunities to develop relationships with investors and analysts – all of which can drive your company out of favor with Wall Street. To ensure that this happens, construct a thoughtful long-range plan that allocates time effectively and gives direction to those individuals. Be sure to designate the right number of people to carry out the plan and make sure they aren’t overloaded. You might also want to consider the possibility of outsourcing some IR activities.
Those are all great points, and I’d add two more. First, remember to account for your plans for raising capital as you develop your IR plan. The primary point of having investors, after all, is to raise capital for the company – so your IR plan must support your capital markets plan, and vice versa.
We hope this advice will help you to learn from the mistakes of others rather than your own. For even more IR guidance, give our new eBook, Westwicke Partners Insider’s Guide to Investor Relations, a read. And, as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions and thoughts.