Many factors — inside and outside your company, even outside your industry — affect how investors perceive you. Some would argue there is no such thing as a misperception; in other words, whatever investors think about your company is your reality.
But perceptions can change. If the prevailing perception is not what your management team wants it to be, there are ways to alter the perspective to be more in line with how you want to be viewed. While the efficient market hypothesis states that share prices reflect all publicly available information, investor expectations about future earnings and profitability are imbedded in today’s stock price. Shaping perceptions about the future is an important goal of successful investor relations.
Stepping outside your company to see how others view it is an essential part of perception building. Assessing how outsiders respond to the following basic questions is a good place to start:
- What does the company do?
- Who are its customers?
- How much risk is there in bringing the company’s new products to market?
- What/who is the competition?
- Does management instill and exude confidence?
- What is management’s track record?
- What do bloggers and others involved in the social media sphere say about the company?
An investor perception audit – a formal survey of buy-side investors and sell-side analysts, typically conducted by an independent third-party – has become part of the standard investor relations activities for many public companies. Done properly, a perception audit should highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly about a company’s IR efforts and its reputation on the Street. While many companies shy away from asking the tough questions, we would encourage companies to seek both positive and negative feedback, and to actively address any concerns that are raised.
In a 2007 survey of over 3,000 companies titled, Perception Studies: What are They Thinking?, the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) found that the majority of respondents surveyed had conducted perception audits. Of this subgroup, 92% said that they use perception audits to determine the extent to which their company’s strategy was understood and 78% noted that perception audits were useful when refining corporate messaging. Here are some other reasons why you should consider a perception audit:
- Measuring Effectiveness: Perception audits are great for measuring the effectiveness of IR practices. Your corporate strategy may be on target, but aspects of it could be getting lost in translation when you communicate with the Street. An audit can highlight ways to improve your corporate messaging and to market your business more successfully.
- Assessing Disclosure Levels: Understanding what investors appreciate in your disclosure and where you have the opportunity to be more transparent can be key. Importantly, determining how relevant your metrics are to the Street can be helpful as you craft your financial message.
- Management Perception: Audits can be a valuable resource for the board of directors to use as an objective analysis of management as well as a vehicle to collect feedback on the management team’s credibility and reputation on the Street.
- Audience Segmentation: A well-structured perception audit will allow you to identify differences in perspective, sentiment, or expectations between the buy- and sell-sides, between current shareholders and non-shareholders, and between the largest buyers and largest sellers in recent quarters.
- Investor Day Preparation: Perception audits can be used to help plan an investor day, providing you with an objective roadmap of what subjects to focus on, what information to present, and how to make the day as productive as possible.
- Building Credibility: The investment community values being asked for its opinion and views conducting a perception audit as an indication of the management team’s interest in improving.