A Template for a Winning PR-IR Strategy
This “New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations” for a private or a public company is designed to guide either a privately-held or public company in dealing investor relations needs through effective use of PR, the business news media and the Internet. This plan builds on both my nearly three decades of effective investor relations and investor public relations experience, along with the “New Rules” approach to public relations and marketing developed by David Meerman Scott and Seth Godin, among others.
What this means is simple: New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations blends an innovative and aggressive implementation of a distinctive form of investor relations – IR outreach run along public relations lines along with a keen insight into how the emergence of social networking and social marketing on the internet can enhance Investor Public Relations, taking it to an entirely new level of successful implementation.
A key element of this “New Rules” approach is that social marketing is all about the conversation, the discussion, the free give-and-take of information, rather than the “hard sell” typifying both conventional IR and traditional PR. Top-down lecturing (the typical IR approach taken by most companies) does not work in the New Rules arena of the Internet. Facebook and YouTube invite comments; twitter demands discussion. To be successful, the company with investor relations aspirations needs to be part of that discussion.
The blending of the most innovative approach to conventional investor relations with the most aggressive and visionary use of the Internet sets New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations apart from all other approaches to investor relations.
This New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations plan, when executed, will ensure that either a public company or a private company (which may intend to become a public company) remains SEC-compliant. This plan will raise the IR profile of company and enhance the company’s position in the equity and investment markets.
The ultimate intent in this New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations program is to provide information to current and potential investors, as well as to the various investor marketplaces – primarily through the media and the Internet, but also through all other appropriate communications channels – that will lead to the legal and ethical growth of the stock’s value in the marketplace.
Under this plan, even the company’s PR activities which are primarily focused on product- or service-line promotion, business development – even image or issue management – will have an underlying IR purpose. The reverse is also true – in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to silo information programs for “just employees” or “just customers” – or even “just investors.” Investor PR communications will also reach clients and employees and regulators, and it is therefore essential that the programs themselves not be siloed off to “investor relations” and “public relations” and “social networking” service providers or internal divisions within the company – for maximum benefit and minimum blow-back, these programs must be integrated at both the management and implementation levels.
What follows are some overview strategies and tactics that can be used – and, properly implemented, will work – to help a private company attract the attention (or position itself to attract the attention of) investors, and for a public company to see its stock rise to its appropriate and market-determined value. New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations is investor relations, but with a twist.
New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations requires standard outreach tools which include formalized SEC RegFD-compliant press releases, media pitches and pitch-tip sheets, white papers and case investor outreach communications and targeted work with appropriate business and financial analysts. It also requires a parallel campaign making use of the technologies and tools of social networking, including facebook and twitter, YouTube and blogs, and a host of other technologies and tools. These must be integrated, conventional with social, to create a consistent message across media platforms and to reach and favorably influence the maximum possible number of clients and customers, influencers and investors.
However, effective New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations, especially for less well-known companies, must also involve a heavy dose of aggressive, brand-building public relations – PR programs that on the surface seemingly have little to do with stock prices or institutional investors, angels or VCs. However, below the surface, these brand-building PR programs are essential to overall investor relations success.
Before traditional and standard market-making or VC-attracting IR efforts can hope to work for smaller companies, these firms must first become better-known in the marketplace. In addition, when potential investors first show some interest, they’ve got to be able to find motivational information that will “sell the company” without crossing the investor inducement line. Positive information about products or services, as well as news of marketplace success, can be made to fill this need.
This initial New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations approach is designed to elevate a company’s media and marketplace “position” with key target audiences, including:
· Business and Financial Analysts who cover the market space
· Individual investors and potential investors – including, for private companies, angels and incubators and VCs of all kinds
· Business media pundits, including the growing number of influential online media (including blog media) pundits whose opinions and coverage of companies can dramatically increase public awareness, which is the first necessary step in effective investor relations programs
A strategy note: Every growth-oriented private company is a potential public company. It has been our experience that private companies with public company aspirations should, to the greatest extent possible, follow the SEC RegFD guidelines while still a private company. Adopting and following these SEC guidelines is recommended both for “just in case” reasons and because it will project the private company as more mature (and therefore more worthy of investment) by savvy angels, incubators, VCs and other “flavors” of private-company investment capital. This plan follows this bias toward compliance.
Public and private companies need to have effective investor-oriented websites that provide a wide variety of information required (of public companies) by the SEC and desired by investors and potential investors. A useful example of a public company website (which we designed and implemented in 2006, and which has been maintained as an effective example of the kinds of information needed) can be found at the Patriot Scientific Corporation’s investor’s website: http://patriotscientific.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=40&Itemid=46.
In addition to what is found here in this sample page, additional information is needed, including:
· Case studies, White papers and eBooks
· Analyst reports
· Links to all favorable press coverage (also found on the company’s website press room, but duplicated in the website’s investor relations page)
In addition, the company website should include an “affinity group” section – a closed-panel social networking site (such as is offered under open source by BuddyPress) which will allow clients and constituents, as well as investors and potential investors, to communicate with the company (and the company with them) as well as with one another.
Why have this feature? Realistically, every public company and – ultimately – most private companies will spawn independent websites, blogs, bulletin boards and/or discussion groups which will critique the company (and which will be monitored by the company). By having an internal site which fulfills this function, the company can both more easily monitor the “chatter” and more plausibly participate in the discussion.
Business and Investment Analysts can have a profound impact on potential investors, market makers, VCs and others. It is vital to find them and court them, then include them in the discussion. Databases such as Big Dough, while not inexpensive, are essential to finding the right analysts – the ones most likely to cover a company’s market space, the most likely to be enlisted as an ally in efforts both online and off-line to participate in the discussion.
With this information about analysts who can influence stock value or lay the groundwork for courting a VC or other investor, a company will be able to communicate (in a PR fashion, using PR tools) directly to the targeted analysts help build their awareness of the company and its news. The goal here is to put the company on their radar screens for the first time, and to show company as a viable candidate for future investment.
In addition to its other obvious benefits, for public companies, this approach will help to influence these targets to include company in their future Buy-Side research reports. In the event the company does a road show to the investment community, this groundwork with analysts may prove decisively helpful.
New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations efforts will include both product/service-oriented and company performance (IR-focused) information.
Plan: The core of PR efforts – whether traditional or New Rules – for any company is built around a plan, which is an integral part of a larger strategic plan which includes business development, marketing, investor relations and issues management goals and objectives.
Some companies prefer detailed and polished strategic planning documents that will be shown to the board and shareholders, to private-placement or public-company investors, to banks or other third parties. Others, however, prefer a back-of-the-envelope plan – bullet-points that allow both company and its communications agency to know where they’re going, when they’ll get there, what it will cost and what success is likely to look like.
Implementation: No matter how big the plan becomes (in terms of activities), the plan should always include the following core activities:
1. An ongoing series of press releases (for release to the Web, as well as to specific reporters and editors) to carefully-selected targets.
2. An ongoing series of press pitches, which will be pushed into the world via email, making use of carefully-crafted media contact lists.
3. An ongoing series of phone pitches or even (when opportunity and need arises) face-to-face pitches with identified individual reporters and editors to generate highly-focused press coverage.
4. An ongoing series of efforts to create opportunities to have the company spokesperson featured as a guest on radio (NPR, Sirius Network, individual station and syndicated programs focused on business or on issues touched by the company’s business model)
5. An ongoing series of efforts to create opportunities to have the company spokesperson featured as a guest on Television (PBS, cable news, Cable business news, etc.)
6. A social media support strategy that will reinforce every press outreach with blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and – where possible – YouTube videos (and video-embedded “smart” press releases) to ensure full integration between conventional and New Rules PR and Investor PR efforts
7. An “Off-Broadway” media strategy, at least at first, seeking coverage early-on in second-tier and third-tier business, trade and investment media.
8. Create and implement an investor-focused media release distribution strategy – a “bread-crumbs” strategy designed to get the word out in the marketplace so that when prospective investors (including VCs and angels and others seeking out private investment opportunities) want to conduct their own due diligence – or who are just “shopping” for that next opportunity, they will find the company.
9. An ongoing series of activities to create opportunities for other media placements (through editorial calendars and focused “reconnaissance” of the media marketplace)
10. Insert key words into wire releases as well as blogs and other efforts to start the reinforce conventional public relations with the ongoing online social networking process.
11. Integrate conventional PR and social networking – using blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, tweets and other online communications to extend the reach of each conventional PR effort
12. Reach individuals directly, over the web, via “news” releases
While “press” releases target media gatekeepers, “news” releases distributed via BusinessWire or other media distribution tools which have guaranteed placement agreements, allowing the company to reach directly to individuals via keyword searches: http://pr-marketing2point0.blogspot.com/2010/11/press-releases-new-online-advertising.html
13. A multi-market media tour (including both a “virtual tour” of reporters and editors in smaller or out-of-the-way markets, as well as in front of them in larger markets)
14. Search Engine Marketing using key words to attract interested individual investors, as well as investment decision-makers (useful for both public and private companies seeking investment funding).
15. Create a prominent position for the Spokesperson (as well as the company) on the wide range of online social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to dramatically increase the company’s visibility when the name is Googled.
16. Positioning company spokesperson as “thought leader”
17. A weekly, bi-weekly or monthly press advisory document pitching series of new story angles reporters and editors will want to consider.
18. Integrating the Website into PR and Investor Public Relations goals – The company website needs regularly (at least weekly) updates of information that will enhance the Website’s utility.
19. A crisis communications strategy that will be standing by, ready to go on a moment’s notice.
20. An online market research strategy which will poll targeted audiences with from five to 20 questions, then create press coverage based on the findings. This is a very powerful tool to create media interest (the polling itself can generate online interest).
21. An ongoing plan to capitalize on media trends – putting the company spokesperson forward to provide commentary on all appropriate breaking-news stories.
To be effective in a competitive media and investment marketplace, New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations is, at the core, an integrated program that links traditionally-separate functions such as PR, IR, Marketing and Issues Management into a single co-mingled function that delivers investor support at every level while continuing to provide effective branding, business development, marketing and issues management functions.
Gone are the silos that limit integration – to win in the 21st Century, integration must be the guiding principle of communications. This even extends to employee communications because, on the Internet, no message is private, and no communications effort is isolated.
Such an integrated plan includes:
· Effective, aggressive and technically competent compliance with both the letter and the spirit of all relevant SEC rules and regulations regarding the release of information by public companies. This is the foundational touchstone of all of effective New Rules 2.0 Investor Public Relations activities on behalf of the company.
· Public Relations integration into every “pure” Investor Relations press release. This needs to be done well before release, in order to ensure maximum PR impact (while maintaining full SEC compliance)
· Facilitating media distribution of all IR-focused, as well as all PR-focused, press releases. Even purely Investor-oriented releases will go to targeted market niche and mainstream business media (as well as to purely IR media) targets, including effective wire release distribution.
· Effective and aggressive press clipping service (at least capturing online clips) to monitor and evaluate both the PR and IR value/impact of all Investor Public Relations press releases
· Targeted e-mail outreach to the media, as well as to potential (and current) investors, highlighting company’s success – sticking to subjects already covered in SEC-compliance press releases and formal reports
What New Rules Investor Public Relations “Should” Deliver: There are a number of responsibilities of any investor public relations agency has to their clients:
1. Provide a range of services, such as strategic counsel, corporate governance counsel, SEC compliance counsel and shareholder relations counsel. To this is added specific communications training focused on the IR markets: Shareholders, funds managers, investment analysts, financial media and other key audiences.
2. Create – then distribute – as part of a broader investor relations program, specific IR-focused messaging designed to play well with both shareholders and investment analysts, with reporters and funds managers.
3. Aggressively seek out opportunities to (in a positive context) put the client’s name before analysts and financial media, as well as potential investors (critical for private companies as well as public companies) – this can be done via press releases, via one-on-one contacts or e-mail or phone pitches.
4. Advise and ensure that the client is in compliance with all appropriate public-information requirements promulgated by the SEC; and, whenever possible, to do more than the required minimum.
5. Effectively “crisis-manage” (in an IR context, as well as in a PR context) any blow-ups that impact the company, the shareholders, the board or other factors that might impact stock prices.
6. Maintain regular contact with potential investors, as well as to shareholders – as a group, as well as individually – including monitoring the “boards” when appropriate. Provide events support for annual meetings and other shareholder activities
7. Provide counsel on approaching specific markets – fund managers, side-sell facilitators, etc.
Investment Analyst Tour: An investment analyst/media tour (perhaps conducted separate from the PR-oriented business analyst/media tour recommended elsewhere) has real merit for both public and private companies seeking investors. While the two kinds of tours (media and analyst) serve largely the same purpose (though with different audiences), if budget is no consideration they should not be combined. However, if budget is an issue, combining them can be an effective use of available resources. For budgetary reasons, a media tour and an analyst tour can be successfully combined.
Shareholder Relations In addition to the online captive social networking site noted above – which is a hugely powerful tool for communicating with and relating to investors, online market research can be used to communicate with (and find out the concerns of) shareholders and other stakeholders. This will be built around a questionnaire that will be designed to give the company a profile – a useful “snapshot” – of the shareholders.
Shareholder Education: Shareholders (as well as potential investors) are typically unaware of company’s vision – informing them, helping them to see the benefits of this vision – that’s a key role for both PR and IR to ensure that shareholders or potential investors are “on board” – and to achieve that requires ongoing shareholder education.
In today’s increasingly-integrated communications media world – a world where the Internet is supplanting traditional media as the primary tool for reaching individuals – there is no room for a company seeking to enhance its investor relations for arbitrarily-separated functional silos – PR, IR, Marketing, etc. Instead, success will go to those companies which understand that an integrated Investor Public Relations approach is critical to their ability to reach investors.
This applies to private companies seeking venture capital every bit as much as it does to public companies seeking positive relationships with investors and potential investors, be they individual or institutional investors.
Barnett Marketing Communications
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