Do Former Sell-Side Analysts Make the Best IR Officers?

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Rob Berick Discusses IR officersBy Rob Berick, Senior Vice President / Managing Director, Falls Communications

There seems to be an increasingly steady influx of former sell-side analysts becoming IR officers at the companies they once covered. In fact, a recent study by the National Investor Relations Institute and Korn/Ferry International found that only 12 percent of new IROs have a background in corporate communications/public relations. This raises the obvious question: do former sell-side analysts make the best IROs? 

No doubt, there’s a lot to like about their background:

  • They bring a different kind of “Rolodex” to the role, one filled with personal relationships at key institutional investors and other sell-side analysts that follow the company.
  • They sat among the investor audience, so they have a different perspective on what works and what doesn’t work when positioning the company within the investment community.
  • They bring a different level of “Street” credibility with investors as they come from a land of financial models and earnings estimates (and know the rumored secret handshakes).

Seemingly a natural fit. But is this specialized experience enough to handle the diverse demands of the IR function?

But consider this parallel phenomena: a highly accomplished, veteran business reporter grows weary of never-ending race to cross the headline first … knows a lot of folks in the media personally from his/her years on the beat … knows a good story when he/she sees it, as well as what worked when stories were pitched to him/her … and, after a few discreet conversations with the folks he’s/she’s been covering for the past few years, decides to trade in the notepad for an iPad and become an in-house PR executive. Also makes perfect sense – in theory. And, yet, it’s far from a slam dunk. In fact, I’ve seen many former journos unable to make the transition smoothly.

Why is that? Well, for one thing, there are other important aspects of the job that can be overlooked or under-appreciated when interviewing a perceived “insider”. In the case of investor relations, the IRO also needs to be able to:

  • counsel management and the Board on complicated governance/proxy matters
  • develop an integrated communications strategy – including digital marketing – to support and protect the company’s investment brand
  • help lead the company’s enterprise risk/reputation management efforts
  • navigate the two-way flow of information during periods of corporate crises
  • maintain and enforce disclosure policies and protocols in an ever-evolving compliance and regulatory landscape
  • earn cross-functional team leadership credibility in a corporate culture

This is not to say that some of this new breed of IROs isn’t up for the challenge on “Day One”. But, just has been the case for the reporter-turned-PR pro, it’s not a given – and the experience/skills gap is often much wider than expected or appreciated.

I suppose that, like so many things, much of the success lies in how the role is defined more so than the resume of the individual. So, that being the case, is there something we can infer about how IR is being defined today in light of so many former sell-side analysts getting in-house jobs?


About the Author: Rob Berick assists public and private companies engage investors and enhance value through communications; provides senior counsel to management teams and boards of directors on a wide range of capital market and governance issues; advises leadership teams during periods of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), including shareholder activism, leadership transitions, workplace incidents, etc.  Regularly quoted in the media on communications and governance matters; is a member of the editorial board for the American Bar Association’s governance committee and a columnist for PR News magazine.

 

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