Posts Tagged ‘News media’

Deadlines in IR – and thoughts on coping

August 3, 2011

Often the investor relations job revolves around corporate news, and sometimes timelines get compressed so we must get it out quickly. This kind of breaking news puts the IR professional on deadline – a short deadline. This morning, for example, a client got in touch just after 7:00 and asked me to write a news release on a transaction – and make it fast so the execs negotiating the deal could show a draft to the other company today.

Mentally this took me back to my time in the daily newspaper business. In the news biz, deadlines must be part of your DNA. Not faraway deadlines like, “We have to do an annual report on 2011 and drop it in the mail by March 23 of next year.”

Real deadlines get your heart beating and adrenaline flowing. These deadlines are measured in minutes rather than days or weeks. The feeling returns:

Something blows up, a plane crashes, the mayor resigns unexpectedly. Suddenly you’re hunkered over a keyboard, the City Editor looking over your shoulder. “Give it to me in takes,” he says. Takes are scraps of two or three paragraphs that an editor can mark up and send to be typeset.

To meet a very short deadline, you have to move copy fast. “We’ll hold the presses for this,” the City Editor’s boss says … a costly move, only for an extraordinary news event. We have to get this into the papers to go on the trucks and be thrown on people’s driveways (or nowadays, we rush to beat the competition in posting the story to the Web).

So you think fast and write fast. Tick, tick, tick. You must get that news out, but of course even more importantly you must get it right.

Since I’ve calmed down now from my morning deadline, I’ll share a few thoughts about deadlines and how we as IR professionals can cope with them:

  • Plan your approach. When you get a short-notice assignment, spend the first few moments jotting an outline of key messages, a short list of resources you need, a rough work plan to guide your use of time.
  • Clear your mind. Take a few breaths or get a cup of coffee before diving in.
  • Assess your progress. Once you’ve made some headway, make a printout and read it over to see what works – and what’s still missing.
  • When it’s done, check it. If you’re working fast, the need is greater than ever to proofread what you write – better yet, get a reality check from colleagues.
  • Practice stress management. Really, this is about lifestyle. Many IR people would benefit from taking time off, staying in better shape, eating better – all of those healthy tips that can best be implemented when you’re not on deadline.

What do you think? Any secrets or tips for coping with deadline pressures in IR?

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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IR nightmare: leaking earnings

August 2, 2011

As the Q2 reporting season winds down, a nightmare scenario for investor relations professionals comes to mind: accidentally leaking your company’s earnings release or M&A announcement by inadvertently posting it online. Such a leak spreads easily into a widespread spill into social or traditional media.

Can’t happen? Well, it does. A panel discussion at the NIRI 2011 Annual Conference in June was all about warning IR people of this potential mishap. Two folks from Microsoft, IR manager Dennie Kimbrough and IT manager Josh Bailey, courageously provided the red meat of the NIRI panel discussion called “Keep a Lid on It: How to Guard Against Leaks, and What to Do if One Happens.”

Most importantly for all of us in investor relations, the Microsoft staffers shared lessons learned on how to guard against similar leaks at our companies.

The software giant is one of a handful of companies – Walt Disney, NetApp and Transocean are others – recently tripped up by the interplay of humans and technology, causing the inadvertent, early and selective release of earnings.

For MSFT, it happened on January 27, 2011. According to Kimbrough, the first word of a problem came about 12:35 p.m. Pacific time, an hour before the market would close. A Reuters reporter called to confirm an online report of the software giant’s Q2 earnings – not due out until after the close. Not the media call you want to get.

It seems MSFT’s 77-cent earnings per share figure was already out on StockTwits, through the work of Selerity, a “low-latency news aggregator.” For us non-techies, that means Selerity uses web crawler programs to snoop around continually for information on web pages that might move stocks – and move the data quickly to its clients, who are hedge funds, banks and prop traders.

What Selerity’s crawlers found was a page where someone at Microsoft posted Q2 earnings data on what they assumed was a secure “staging” page, but actually was a live web page. “It was just a simple human error,” Kimbrough said.

There was no link to it, as an official news release gets when posted to a website, but crawlers don’t need a link. Kimbrough said MSFT put its earning data up on the blind (but public) web page at 11:23 a.m., and Selerity’s crawler found it six minutes later. Selerity sent the numbers right out to its clients – and broadcast MSFT’s 77-cent EPS on StockTwits at 12:50, a full 70 minutes before the close.

Bailey, the Microsoft IT guy, explained three kinds of web crawlers: Those used by search engines “play nice” with web administrators in handling nonpublic files. Others scrape email addresses and phone numbers from thousands of websites to enable marketers to spam us. A third, scarier group of crawlers search for not-yet-public pages, systematically guessing URLs that might provide interesting data (something like “…/earnings/Q2/press release.html”).

The problem isn’t brand new. Another panelist, Andy Backman (a former IRO and now CEO of InVisionIR) recalled an encounter 10 years ago when a reporter guessed the URL for his company’s second-quarter earnings release – and reported the numbers an hour and a half before the release was due out.

Of course, the damage-control step to take if a leak of this sort happens is to issue the darn news release – get it out fast! Microsoft posted a brief statement to its corporate blog immediately after the reporter’s call and had the full earnings announcement up by 12:55 Pacific time, about 20 minutes after the reporter’s call.

But prevention is the real need.

And prevention is where IROs can play an important role by taking precautionary steps as part of the team that develops earnings and M&A announcements:

  • Keep online staging areas secure to prevent public posting of earnings and similar announcements. “The only way to protect yourself against web crawlers is to keep your files on your side of the firewall,” Bailey says. Both in-house staffers and third-party service providers like lawyers, CPAs and newswires need to have strict procedures in place. The IRO needs to check.
  • Don’t allow anyone to leave drafts lying around on a printer or desk. This is the old-fashioned leak, allowing non-confidential employees or even members of the public who pass by to see nonpublic information sitting out in the open. “Shred everything. Lock it away,” Backman advises.
  • Demand better code names for M&A projects or offerings. Lawyers and I-bankers love to create code names. And they’re fun – we all get a sense of adventure working on a hush-hush project called “Operation Pegasus.” Trouble is, Backman notes, code names are almost always picked because they point to the real name. We’re making a bid for Procter & Gamble, so we call it Operation Pegasus. Sometimes namers use a double entendre (the acquisition of Energizer might be “Project Bunny”). Backman suggests: Pick a code name that has nothing to do with the target company – a code name.

In many respects, IR professionals need to be a little paranoid. For most of us, Q2 reporting is finished (my excuse for not posting in July), but security of financial information is a process issue we can start working on now for next quarter.

As gatekeepers of material information, IR people need to work with colleagues in finance and IT to ensure that “Top Secret” remains so right up until our broad dissemination to the market.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

News affects stock price? You bet

February 25, 2010

We can all probably guess the least favorite news in the eyes of investors. Yes, it’s the earnings warning: Pre-announcing a disappointment in the numbers produces the most negative response in stock price, a new study shows.

The CXO Advisory blog, which reports daily on studies of investing theory and practice, provides a good summary of a February 2010 working paper by three finance professors who looked at the impact of 285,917 news releases from 2006 to 2009. Or you can access the original paper here.

Negative news hits stock prices harder, on average, than positive news helps, the study shows. And announcements of bad news also tend to be anticipated by stock price declines, suggesting the possibility of leaks.

The five most negative announcements for stock price impact? Pre-reporting bad financial results, FDA rejections of medical products, loss of a customer, poor financial performance on regular reporting dates, and product defects.

The five most positive? Pre-reporting better than expected financial results, share buybacks, FDA approvals of pharmaceuticals, spin-offs and EU pharma approvals.

During the financial crisis, context seemed to change the market’s reaction to news announcements: Issuances of debt or secondary equity offerings, for example, weren’t seen as such negative events during a time when weaker companies couldn’t access the capital markets.

The authors, who classify corporate announcements into nine major categories and 52 subcategories, believe regulatory changes such as Regulation FD in 2000 and Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 have given news releases a more powerful impact on the market by encouraging an instantaneous, direct-to-shareholder communication mode. In fact, the professors observe:

Possibly as a result of the vagueness of the SEC’s information release requirements firms err on the side of disclosing too much information. Additionally, firms may prefer to release immaterial news in order to attract the attention of potential investors.

One possible use of this study for IR is to help gauge materiality of various kinds of events – the loss or gain of a major customer, for example – based on the average impact that similar events have had on companies’ stock prices.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

The rising value of trust

August 11, 2009

As the pace of change accelerates – economically, culturally, personally – people are being overwhelmed with too much information to fully process, authors Tom Hayes and Michael Malone opine in a Wall Street Journal commentary on August 10, 2009. And that overload, they say, places a premium on the value of trusted sources:

Without the luxury of time, trust will be the new currency of our times, whether in news sources, economic systems, political figures, even spiritual leaders. As change accelerates, it will remain one true constant.

We should add investment information to the spheres of life where we’re in need of trust. In a time when credibility in the markets has been bruised, we might ponder the question, How can investor relations professionals enhance the quality of disclosure and news flow to create and sustain trust in our companies?

PR does matter

July 8, 2009

Media-and-manI know, I know. “It’s all about the numbers.” Investor relations people (and some CEOs and CFOs), steeped in accounting fundamentals and valuation formulas, are skeptical of public relations. We scoff at press interviews, photo ops … the “spin” stuff PR people do. Of course, no respectable fund manager or analyst would admit to being swayed by a press release, or getting an idea from a newspaper. “It’s all about the numbers,” they say.

Trouble is, influencing the market is not all about the numbers. It’s all about the numbers – plus getting the right people to pay attention.

Two recent studies from respected business schools analyze extensive data on the relationship between press coverage and the market for individual stocks – and conclude that broader dissemination of news has benefits in the capital markets.

The more comprehensive study, a doctoral paper by Eugene Soltes at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, looks at all US nonfinancial companies traded on NYSE, NASDAQ or AMEX, excluding the 100 largest by market cap. Soltes and his computer programs count and analyze all articles on these firms, 9.3 million bits of news in total, from the Factiva database for 2001 through January 2007. Then he crosses that information with annual trading data on the stocks, looking for long-term effects rather than a daily “pop” in market activity. Soltes concludes:

The press provides an important and highly visible system of communication between firms and investors. … Specifically, greater dissemination of firm news is found to lower bid-ask spreads, increase trading volume, and lower idiosyncratic volatility. …

By increasing the visibility of firms, greater dissemination may also reduce a firm’s cost of capital.

In this paper, “dissemination” has to do with putting news out and getting it covered in the business press. Soltes says the average firm sent out 21 press releases a year, one every 12 trading days, covering deals, earnings and other news. (His tables give a median of 14 releases a year, just over one a month, a figure I like better as the midpoint in a range of small to large companies). For each release, business publications wrote an average of 1.5 articles – obviously, many releases get no coverage, while some get a lot. Soltes did not investigate why some releases get more coverage – being newsworthy probably is the key, although making connections with reporters also helps.

Soltes’ point is that more is better – more frequent issuance of news and broader coverage of it. Consider the impact of news dissemination on bid-ask spreads:

Based on an average sized trade, a 20% increase in press coverage reduces the average cost of a trade by $1.07. With the average firm having nearly 25,000 trades a month, this translates into a significant reduction in trading costs.

Soltes also finds more dissemination of news increases monthly trading volumes and decreases the volatility of individual stocks. Most companies – and institutional investors – value reduced trading costs, increased liquidity and lower volatility.

The other recent study, by Brian Bushee and three accounting colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, focuses on quarterly earnings news. This one looks at the three-day window around earnings (earnings release date, plus or minus one trading day) and yields more detail on immediate trading effects.

The Wharton study looks at quarterly announcements by 1,182 medium-sized NASDAQ firms from 1993 to 2004, excluding large cap companies based on an assumption that differences in coverage are more marked among lesser-known names. The authors analyze 608,296 articles on those quarterly results:

Our results indicate that, ceteris paribus, press coverage has a significant effect on firms’ information environments around earnings announcements. We find that greater press coverage during the earnings announcement window is associated with reductions in bid-ask spreads and improvements in depth.

The impact of media attention extends to retail and institutional investors:

We find that greater press coverage is associated with a larger increase in the number of both small and large trades. … For small trades, these results are consistent with the press providing information to a broader set of investors and triggering more trades. For large trades, these results are consistent with press coverage reducing spreads and increasing depth enough to reduce adverse selection costs and encourage more block traders to execute trades.

Both papers take a mechanistic view of corporate processes for disseminating news and how the media respond. These are data mining studies by accounting scholars – focusing on numbers of releases and press stories, word counts and similar measures of dissemination.

No attention is given to the qualitative nature of the news – positive, negative or nuanced. The authors also do not explore why reporters decide to write more, less or not at all. (The Soltes study does analyze “busy news days,” when a flood of business or nonbusiness news overwhelms XYX Company’s little press release, and confirms that issuing news on busy days has little benefit – although companies obviously can’t control when Michael Jackson dies or GM goes bankrupt.)

Neither of these studies venture outside of traditional “news” databases to analyze the impact of using social media, blogs and so on, to disseminate news. My guess is future studies will prove that the impact on markets comes from getting the word out, by any means, as long as you are reaching the investing audience.

Bottom line: Issuing news has a measurable benefit for public companies in the capital markets – increasing volume, reducing trading costs and reducing volatility. More frequent news is better. Getting more reporters or news outlets to write about the company amplifies the benefit. That’s what the quantitative evidence says.

So when PR people speak of “creating visibility,” it does matter in the market.

Best April Fool’s story

April 1, 2009

The UK’s Guardian carries the best story I’ve seen for April Fool’s Day:

Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology,the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication.

The move, described as “epochal” by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter’s brief text messages, known as “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters each. …

A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper’s archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets.

The story offers examples of new-media stories such as: “OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see tinyurl.com/b5x6e for more”

Come to think of it, this isn’t all that far-fetched. Have you seen an annual report yet in 140 characters or less? “Notice & Access” may evolve there.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed a good chuckle today.