Have you been looking to give your investor days a refresh? After all, there’s no better opportunity to shine in front of top management than to plan a perfect event that involves plenty of facetime with the CEO and other key management.
Also known as an “analyst day,” an investor day is a public meeting, where presentations are made by the CEO and other VIPs of a company in front of a live audience, for the purpose of updating the public on the health and direction of the company. Investors and analyst are present to ask questions and a global audience listens (through simultaneous live streaming). Companies use investor days to weave a compelling narrative about corporate health, culture, and vision, but with a live Q&A—also a standard part of investor day—it can be a challenging performance for your top brass.
As anyone who has participated in an investor day knows, these are high-stakes events that are not always full of good news. Which is why events in this environment merit the best execution.
Here’s how to make your investor days even better. Using best practices and case studies, this step-by-step guide will demonstrate:
- What makes investor days different from other events
- Comparing different types of investor days
- Matching the right venue to the projected investor day ambiance
- To what degree technology plays a part in today’s investor day
- How rehearsing the message is the key to a successful event
Let’s get to work!
Step #1: What Kind of a “Day” Are You Having?
Investors are the lifeblood of all public companies and many private ones. For the most part, investors share the vision of the company and look forward to basking in a success story at the end of the rainbow.
Still, there are times when, like old friends, corporations and their investors need to either to affirm their relationship or start a new one.
It may surprise you to learn that not every corporation hosts an investor day, nor is every company planning to have one in the near future. Unlike annual meetings and board elections, investor days are not required. They are more like earnings calls that, while not mandatory, have become common practice for certain publicly traded companies.
If you’re going to have an investor day, be prepared to answer lots of questions.
If companies that hold investor days were to be profiled, the major characteristics would be an active pursuit of growth through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and of more investor interest for new products in research and development (R&D).
Investor days are part of the means for making their case. For example, of the 2,190 investor days listed by Bloomberg Events from 2004 to 2011, a survey of the 1,116 hosting firms discovered that 75% of those companies “operate more segments and engage in more R&D and M&A activities than firms that only make conference presentations, consistent with analyst/investor days offering unique disclosure benefits.”
An example of this type of event was one held by General Motors in November 2017. The purpose of GM’s investor day, held at the autonomous vehicle division in Burlingame, California, was to showcase the company’s progress in this forward-looking field. Following the presentations and Q&A, audience members were offered rides in the company’s prototypes.
In the case of Dunkin’ Donuts’ investor day held in February 2018, the company announced that 75% of all new restaurants would have a drive-thru lane, as research had revealed that restaurants with drive-thrus had 40% higher sales volume than non-drive-thru locations.
When Times Are Good, Here’s What an Investor Day Can Look Like…
- Management wants to convey
- Financial surplus, based on
- Well-received new products
- Good management decisions and strategy
- Management reading the signs correctly
- Good management decisions
- Financial surplus, based on
When Times Are Bad…
When a company has had a disappointing year or scandal, it may choose to get out ahead of the bad news, or at least hope to spin the narrative to its advantage. Many of these types of investor days center around a “change of direction” message that is often delivered by the outgoing or incoming CEO. And in November 2017, when General Electric held its investor day, new CEO John Flannery sought to prepare investors for a course correction.
The bottom line has always been that investors see red if they don’t see their green. If the company is performing poorly or is the subject of bad publicity or a gossip campaign, then getting through an investor day without a challenge will seem like navigating a minefield.
Here what a reactive investor day can look like:
- Addressing some of the challenges management may be facing:
- Disappointing dividends
- Turnarounds in the market
- Bad management decisions
- Investor revolts and board takeovers
- Selling a bold new strategy as the solution
- Accepting a poison pill (new members on board, downgrading expectations, disappointing results)
While both scenarios require the same amount of tech prep and rehearsal time, bear in mind that the reactive scenario will influence:
- Scheduling: There is less time, as the corporation is attempting to correct or explain a wrong impression and will want to get its case out to the public as soon as possible. To make sure they can get the right venue and vendors, the team might have to make multiple reservations and hold them until the last minute. Set aside money for cancellation fees in case plans need to change at short notice (more on this later in the post).
- Investor and analyst invitations: Limit the live audience to the need-to-haves and choose the venue accordingly.
- Choice of venue: Depending on the challenge the company is facing (profit shortfall, etc.), investors will judge the corporation on the venue ostentation. Consider holding presentations in the headquarters auditorium or other modest settings.
- Presentations: If there is bad news, don’t try to bury it in details. Make sure that the CEO and others presenters receive special coaching for the Q&A section.
- Branding: Nothing over the top!
- Food and beverage, entertainment, and premiums: Again, nothing over the top. Limit premiums to informational items (USB drives,etc.).
One Last Thing: First-Time Investor Days
As an event planner, you know how previous history can inform the planning of an event. First-time events, on the other hand, are an open book, with no indication of how they will go.
Best practice? Play it safe and treat first-time events as you would a reactive scenario.
Step #2: Get to Know the Investment Relations Officer
A company planning an investor day without the input of Investor Relations (IR) personnel would be very unusual, indeed. Companies have been adding these experts to their staffs since 2000 when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began mandating Fair Disclosure (FD) regulations. While an IR Manager may work under the CFO as part of the Finance Department, it’s not unusual to have separate Investor Relation Departments under an IR Officer (IRO).
Get to know your IRO.
Since the IROs are responsible for developing and maintaining the company’s investor relations plan, it should not be surprising that they also convene investor days; in fact, the hire of an IRO is often the first step in the intention to launch an investor day. According to the National Investors Relations Institute (NIRI), 73% of 431 members hold investor days; and 84% say they do so to “provide a better opportunity to showcase management.”
A recent survey of Fortune 500 Investor Relations Officers by Korn Ferry, conducted early in 2018 revealed that IROs regard their biggest challenges as:
- Expectations around growth
- Communications (24/7 news cycle and social media)
- Shareholder activism
- Regulation reform
- Socially responsible investing
Start the Ball Rolling
You can be sure that these challenges will be top-of-mind as the investor day program is crafted and reviewed. When working with IR managers or officers, here’s how to break the ice:
- Ask them to set clear objectives for the prospective event
- Understand that those objectives may change should new information come to light
- Ask which key C-suiters, analysts, and other individuals will be expected to participate
- Pencil into the timeline when Regulation FD training and legal and disclosure reviews (see #6) happen
Next, work together to nail down the timeline. Explain your process carefully to the IRO. Sketch out various scenarios and see which ones strike a chord within the corporate and/or investor culture (with which the IRO is familiar) to agree on a preliminary program.
Outline key areas you might want to measure and how—e.g. key data, comparisons to previous events, personal action points, goal setting and reflection of attendees, etc. Try not to sweat the event details at this stage (although “details” are what IROs eat for breakfast, so expect some pushback)—just try to get a general impression.
Pros and Cons of Working with IR and Finance Departments:
PRO: They appreciate how long approvals can take. They are used to working within a system of checks and balances and executing due diligence.
CON: Because they spend a lot of time executing their very important, very detail-oriented jobs, they may not know which things are vital to the meeting, such as vendors’ lead times.
PRO: They hold the purse strings of the company and have the responsibility of negotiating the rates for everything down to the last bean. This means that you will go into the budget process with negotiated rates for travel, accommodations, meeting room rentals, and F&B. In a pinch, your colleagues may also be able to find money for last-minute budget items.
CON: Since negotiating rates is what they do, they may question every line item.
Step #3: How to Get Finance to “Bank on You”
Getting the IR manager on your side is the first step to getting noticed. While proactive Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) attempt to learn the business of the organization, too often, the financial arm of a corporation exists in its own silo, answering only to senior management’s requests for money.
As a meeting planner, you interact with many different areas of the company—even if you are assigned to a single department. You know (and can provide) valuable insights into the way divisions interact (or don’t).
Don’t think this can make a difference? Think again. According to the Korn Ferry survey mentioned above, IROs regard the following skills as most important in doing their job:
- Business Insight: knowledge of business and the marketplace to advance the organization’s goals.
- Managing Complexity: making sense of complex, high quantity, and sometimes contradictory information to effectively solve problems.
- Decision Quality: making good and timely decisions that keep the organization moving forward
- Instilling Trust: gaining confidence and trust of others through honesty, integrity, and authenticity
- Driving Results: consistently achieving results, even under tough circumstances.
As an event planner, aren’t these your skills? If you can impress the IROs with your grasp of strategy, logistics, and attention to detail, then you are on your way to hosting a successful investor day.
Step #4: Find the Best Location and Venue
Start scouting for locations as soon as possible. Initial research will tell you that the investment bank-rich environments of New York, Boston, and Chicago are the preferred destinations for investor day events. In fact, since Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. are convenient to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, it makes these perfect for single-day conferences. If you’re planning on siting the investor day in another city, accommodations and additional travel and meals must be factored in.
But while these may be the most popular destinations, they are not the only places to host investor days. Depending on the size and interest in the corporation, analysts and investors will often travel to attend the event. GM’s investor day was held at its autonomous vehicle division in Burlingame and Coca-Cola held its November 16, 2017, investor day at its company headquarters in Atlanta.
In reality, more people will tune into the live stream or webcast than will be present, though. In fact, since virtual attendees are likely to be the majority of participants, the destination in which the investor day is held has become less important than the bandwidth allocated to the presentations, panels, and Q&A.
Not so the venue. The physical location of the investor day should offer an advantage to the company while making a statement to the audience in the room. Dunkin’ Donuts’ investor day, for example, took place at Fenway Park; meanwhile, Wilmington, DE-based chemistry company Chemours Company held its first investor day in New York City at Siebert Hall, within the New York Stock Exchange.
Feeling lucky? If there are no clouds are on the corporate horizon, consider co-locating the investor day to an industry event, such as a forum sponsored by a partner or an association.
PRO: As part of a larger forum, many of the logistical issues, such as readymade targeted attendance, room rental, and live-streaming bandwidth are already addressed.
CON: If for some reason the presentations fail to wow, even a small group of underwhelmed attendees are likely to spread their disappointment into the larger meeting audience.
To recap, before you start a venue search for the investor day:
Determine the venue size and tech needs:
- How many key players are expected to attend in person?
- How many persons are expected to attend virtually?
In selecting the venue, reflect on its implicit message:
- Home grown: indicates the corporation’s importance to the region
- Home ground: indicates the economic prominence of the corporation
- Historical: indicates permanence
- Future-looking: indicates future-looking technologies
Three other important considerations when choosing the venue will be:
- Full space buyout over a period of days, as investor days should be set up and rehearsed in privacy
- AV/tech rehearsals: test lighting, camera angles, bandwidth, equipment, etc. before the day arrives
- Be ready to cancel: Sometimes the whims of the market make what seemed like the perfect venue suddenly unsatisfactory. Canceling to avoid a negative perception is not unheard of. Having another venue under contract might be a good backup. In fact, if the timeline is being adversely affected by a reactive scenario (see above) make a budget line item for cancellation fees.
Step #5: Make an Appointment with the Chief Information Officer (CIO)
The Chief Information Officer is the senior manager in charge not only of tech but the tech “message.” Bringing CIOs in early helps determine the resources available and the lines of communication that will guide the tech side of the event.
Here are some items to consider:
- Website: If the company has an investor day history, then the company website probably has a specific page for the event, and the information will just need to be uploaded by the marketing or IR team. Even so, it is always worth the event planner checking everything is on track and correct. Also: investor day information is public information, so avoid firewalls, proprietary software, logins, and other impediments to access (Pay specific attention to videos, which tend to be proprietary).
- Bandwidth: Check how much you’ll need and start getting RFPs (Check with the CIO about preferred vendors).
- Investor Day App: Some of the larger companies like Coca-Cola and Credit-Suisse have their own apps for investor day. Since several software developers now offer “turn-key” investor day apps, chances are that the more forward investors and analysts will expect one.
- Social Media: Have the company social media personnel and “ambassadors” prepped for the meeting. In fact, it would be a good idea to have them at the rehearsals so that they can earmark shareable content.
Like venue scouting, it’s never too early to organize technology. The earlier in the planning, the more options you’ll have on the day.
Step #6: Get Schooled on Non-disclosure and Fair Disclosure
Gathering insights about the company is very important—and dangerous. Few companies—or individuals—want to see their day-to-day business aired in public; even more so, if they are anticipating a challenge.
In the days ahead of the investor day, it’s important for all staff and the event planning team to sign non-disclosure statements regarding the information they will be handling; as well as attend Regulation Fair Disclosure (Regulation FD) training. While it may sound forbidding, Regulation FD is a mandate that requires “public disclosure of all material information that is disclosed by the issuer or its agents to someone within the enumerated categories of recipients.” (It’s the SEC equivalent of, “Did you bring enough pizza for everyone?”) Training can take as little as 30 minutes, but it needs to be scheduled and accounted for in the timeline.
Fair disclosure training doesn’t take long, and it’s a vital element of preparing your team for an investor day.
The HR, legal, and investor relations departments are expected to be on top of this documentation and training, but be sure to notify them if anyone (like an intern or an office temp) comes within the sphere of information. Also, in the interests of vigilance,
- Require everyone to use a VPN when handling sensitive information.
- When working at home, use an encrypted router.
- Do not communicate through insecure devices.
- Do not talk about the information in public places.
- Do not use public Wi-Fi to communicate.
Step #7: Performance Audits and Company Chatter 101
Performance audits are conducted by almost all public corporations, and not just for investor days. They are both important and time-consuming. They are conducted to determine the emotions and concerns of key players prior to investor days, which can help inform management about which parts of the company message are getting out there, and which parts still need to be addressed. This information can directly inform the planning, content, and key messaging of the day.
In addition to audits, there is a wealth of information, generally known as Big Data, that is out there right now just waiting to be sifted. In fact, data-mining in social media has become a standard key to determining the perception of a company and its stock market value, as much as standard media monitoring.
Among the data streams to review is employee social media chatter. While many corporations now log employee emails, IM chats, and texts, they may overlook this data when gathering information about an upcoming investor day event. That would be a mistake, as employee media chatter indicates how assets on the frontlines perceive the organization.
Thankfully, you should not have to do this yourself. All of these are very specialized areas of knowledge, for which outside contractors are required. Build in enough time for an RFP and review process. The more confidence the company has in these contractors, the more they can concentrate on what they’re being told—particularly if it’s something they don’t want to hear.
After all, if you were going into a room filled with investors, analysts, and senior management, wouldn’t you like to know all the answers and be fully prepared?
Step #8: Frame the Program, Prep the Talent
The audits are back. Legal and investor relations have conducted the disclosure review and the disclosable financial information is out of committee. Once the goals have been set, it’s time to firm up and shape the program.
Presentations at investor days are made by key C-suiters such as the CEO and CFO. Other interested parties—like scientists, analysts, investors, and even celebrities—may also be called upon to illuminate an aspect of the company’s intentions. Every step of planning the event contains sensitive information about the company that is hosting it. Any misinterpretation or information breach can adversely affect the entire organization.
Rehearse everything—speakers, slides, audio, tech.
Event planners can sometimes be dismissed as “party planners,” but here’s an idea: Give your investor day as much attention as you would a wedding. Treating it like a unique day that people will remember forever may help you frame it better.
Here are some things to look for as the day draws near:
- Invitations: Send out invitations to analysts, investors, and other interested parties. Follow up by phone and, if necessary, make arrangements for their travel, accommodations, and meals. You might also consider arranging a meal or entertainment.
- Time the press release as close to the event as possible, especially if you’re offering tickets to the live event.
- Rehearsal: With the CEO presenting and analysts and investors soon to be in attendance, the most important elements are a tech run-through and rehearsal for senior leadership (did you book the venue for several days? Now’s when that pays off).
- Try to limit the slides and the keep the speeches to a minimum. It’s unlikely that the CEO will want to stay within the limits of a TED presentation (18 minutes), but other speakers might welcome the opportunity for brevity. Consider a speaker timer and an experienced chair of the proceedings.
- Presentations: Time everything, and by everything, we mean:
- Lighting, special effects
- Walk-up music
Speaking of slides,
- Have they been submitted to the marketing department for standardization?
- How many are there? Remember: You’re telling a story, not writing a history.
- AV/Tech: Pick a tech-savvy location and make sure everything works. After which, keep it simple—although any engagement opportunities, like live polling, will please investors.
- Entertainment: Will there be celebrities? Sports stars? If times are good, investors will want to share in the fruits; if times are bad, investors will not want to waste time or see money wasted on frivolities.
It would be great if everything was finalized and signed off beforehand; however, expect a lot of last-minute changes and jitters.
Remind everyone that the goal is to demonstrate confidence in the company.
- Troubleshooting: Last points to consider
- Deviate at your peril: Did you switch the venue at the last moment? Did you time the presentations?
- Pay special attention to outgoing or incoming CEOs: These tend to go off-topic, for a number of reasons.
- Ask the social media team for input, if for no other reason than they tend to be the youngest people in the room and an under-utilized demographic.
- Depending on the temperature of the last investor interaction, consider bringing in more—discreet—security if necessary. Activists sometimes use corporate investor presentations as a platform for protests, and you’ll want to quickly address disruptions in a professional manner.
Step #9 Just Be a Good Planner
While the parameters set for an investor day event are frequently beyond the control of the planner, here are the things that are within a planner’s remit:
- Is the company branding cohesive and evident throughout the event?
- Are there gifts that reinforce the message?
- Do the investors have the information they need?
- Did the analysts/investors/reporters get to ask all their questions?
- Is someone retrieving unanswered questions?
- Are attendees being thanked for participating?
- Have accommodations been made for their travel?
- Are they receiving exit surveys?
Step #10: Never Stop Measuring
Following an investor day, audits and analytics should be keeping their ears to the ground. As previously mentioned, IROs are concerned with stock dips and signs of activist investors whose purposes run counter to senior management. These are the worst-case scenarios.
Even when presented with forward-looking agendas like GM’s autonomous vehicle display or Coca-Cola’s beverage segmentation, analysts and investors still have to mull over the information they’ve been given, which may result in a quiet period as they weigh pros and cons.
The health of the company affects the lives and incomes of thousands of investors, employees, and consumers. Corporations now know that it’s not only how the business is run, but how the business is perceived to run. If corporations ever thought they could be complacent, or even indifferent, to investor concerns, those days are over. Thanks to the public nature of investor days, their outcomes are almost immediate, and sometimes newsmaking. When, for example, the CEO of GE announced that the company would be cutting its dividend, GE shares dropped 7.2%—the worst single-day decline since April 2009.
Here some thoughts for the future:
- With the #metoo phenomenon, the types of perception problems that businesses face have spilled over from financial statements into depositions. Will companies be having investor days to allay fears of encouraging an inappropriate workplace culture?
- With extreme weather causing fluctuations in the market, investors may be asking questions that corporations are in no position to do anything about.
Investor days offer some very specific challenges and elements to think about to ensure you produce an event that delivers on all of the objectives. With communication directly from management, to shareholders and the media, the event can have a significant impact on the perception, and therefore the fortunes, of the company. The gravitas of an investor day means that you should take every opportunity to review and refine your event execution as this will go a long way towards producing a flawless event.