2023 Investor Relations Society Conference: CDR’s view


CDR was proud to support the Investor Relations Society conference hosted last week in London. Following disruption from the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and rail strikes in 2022, the 2023 conference felt like the first opportunity in a long time for the IR community to come together to share insights, experiences and best practice.

The conference, hosted once again by journalist Evan Davis, had a wide-ranging agenda and an impressive line up of speakers and panellists from CEOs (from TalkTalk and Informa) and IROs (including those from British Land, GSK, Haleon, LSEG, Redde Northgate and Segro), to fund managers (from Invesco, Legal & General Investment Management and Norges Bank) and bankers (including from Bank of America, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its rapid rise in recent months, AI was the thread that ran throughout the sessions, replacing ESG as the hot topic in previous years. While Goldman Sachs economist, Fillippo Taddei, reported that 25% of tasks we currently do could be replaced by AI, the consensus view throughout the conference was that human interaction can’t be replaced or replicated.

Despite being relegated to second place by AI, ESG clearly remained an important theme throughout the conference. But perhaps in a more embedded way than in the past, giving credence to the view that it is succeeding in becoming integrated. While the ‘E’ remains more of a standalone topic – with a panel session dedicated to TCFD and scenario analysis – the lines are more blurred when discussing ‘S’ related themes. In the wake of the CBI and Crispin Odey scandals, the handling of matters such as these arose in conversation. In his opening remarks, Evan Davis, with reference to the #metoo movement, noted that “often, the handling of [an incident] gets judged more than the occurrence itself” and in a later fireside chat, Sanjay Nazerali (Brand President, dentsu X) commented that “people don’t mind mistakes as much as the cover up” reinforcing the importance of authenticity, accountability and transparency from companies and the individuals running them.

Another theme that emerged through many of the conversations was the importance of clarity. Hardly a surprising observation, but one that was made most notably by the panel of investors who urged companies to simplify messaging and make content digestible and accessible to generalist portfolio managers.

At an event dominated by listed-company representatives, it was fascinating to hear from Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk which was taken private in 2021. Having begun her career in investor relations, and having led TalkTalk as a listed business, her observation of IR for a private company is that “it’s not really different” as the core principles of good governance and transparency still apply. She did, though, concede that it can be “easier to do some things out of public glare.”

While delegates from private companies will have been unlikely to join the ‘consensus management’ panel discussion, it was a well-attended session covering the use of consensus management tools, the importance of intra-period communication for short term expectation management and broader capital markets events for longer term prospects and the potential of AI around the qualitative aspects of managing consensus (but not the quantitative ones!).

Through the fireside chat with Informa’s CEO, Stephen Carter, it was evident how much value he, and the company, placed on IR. Looking back on the outset of Covid, he reflected that when turning to debt and equity investors to raise capital, the relationships they had really mattered. The fact that investors knew them well and trusted management counted for a lot, commenting that they were “100% in a better position because of good IR in the past.”

There was so much valuable content covered over the course of the day, it’s impossible to summarise it, but some of the top practical take-aways we wanted to share are:

  • Develop a clear and concise narrative: Regardless of the complexity of your business, it is important to have a succinct story that can be easily understood by investors.
  • Target a broad investor base: With UK investors having broader remits and competing globally for capital, companies should make sure they are appealing to generalist fund managers and not just sector specialists.
  • Leverage existing relationships when targeting new investors: Seek tips and introductions from existing investors to potential investors and ask brokers for information on who is downloading their research to inform your engagement strategy.
  • Invite investors to your offices for face-to-face meetings: they find this valuable for getting a feel for your corporate culture and gaining exposure to the broader management team
  • Collect feedback from investors during meetings: Leave time at the end of each meeting to collect direct feedback on how investors perceive the company and its investment narrative.
  • Be mindful that investors are increasingly using social media for research: Investors use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and web scraping to research company culture and background information. Twitter is seen as less relevant for this purpose.
  • Engage with sales teams: In a post-Mifid II world, engaging with sales teams is increasingly important as they can provide valuable insights and often have a broader view of the market.
  • Focus on effective and meaningful communications: Bite-size group events can be more effective than lengthy CMDs in educating the market; in any case, only host an event if you have something meaningful to communicate. Consider breaking down CMDs into smaller segments and make them available as videos/webcasts.
  • Prioritise engagement at conferences: Assess the attendees and prioritise engagement accordingly. Asking investors about their preferred conferences can provide valuable insights. Additionally, identifying the attendees and sending direct emails to arrange meetings can lead to high-quality interactions, although the response rate may be low.
  • Focus on governance and reputation management: Representatives of Vanguard and LGIM emphasised the importance of governance in the context of ESG and making board directors available for investor meetings. ‘Me too’ type issues, which have a social element to them, result from poor governance when appropriate checks and balances are not in place to prevent dominant leaders from abusing their power.