It all started with a short reply to a National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) eGroup chatroom just before the holidays. In the week after this posting, I received a dozen or so calls and emails asking about my experience running an integrated investor relations and corporate communications function a few years ago. There must of have been something in the air given the variety of companies and industries saying they were thinking about this.
I was little surprised by this interest as investor relations is often siloed within the finance department with limited involvement with other audiences. This largely reflects the specific information needs of investor audiences. Yet, the idea of an integrated communications makes perfect sense when you consider the importance of companies speaking with one voice. Of course, the complexities of the disclosure environment, multitude of information sources and relentlessness of the news cycle are also factors. Bottomline, everything communicates.
It’s naïve to think what a company says to one audience isn’t heard by another and perceptions aren’t shaped by it. So integrated and aligned communications are a must. But this can take many forms, with varying degrees of centralization or coordination based on the company’s industry and product lines, its critical audiences as well as the nature and intensity of the messaging needs and communications channels.
In my case, when due to a company restructuring I assumed leadership for corporate communications, my first step was to define the integrated function’s strategic purpose and functional scope. This was informed by the company’s broader strategic focus and a prioritization of critical audiences and stakeholders. We defined our critical audiences as investors, financial and industry/trade media, industry councils/associations, governance/regulatory affairs and our local communities. A SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis helped define our priorities and pillars for success. As a small industrial materials processing company with little visibility outside our industry and the communities where our facilities were located, combining external-facing communications under one umbrella made sense.
It may be more difficult for consumer-facing, high visibility companies to integrate the functions just given the volume and types of communications and channels involved. In such cases, I’ve seen a strategic message council approach be effective. This is where leadership from investor relations, corporate communications, government affairs, marketing and human resources, regularly meet to align strategies, priorities and messages and use that alignment to lead their respective teams accordingly.
Something may be in the air when it comes to combining investor relations and corporate communication, but whether it’s a soft breeze or the strong wind of change only time will tell.
Lead-IR Advisors, Inc.
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