Friday, March 25, 2011

One Generation’s “Nice to Have” is the Next Generation’s Essential

In our mind’s eye, we never age. We remain slim, dark haired and up to the moment in developments. However, every now and then something happens that reminds us that our view of the world is different than those younger than ourselves.

Just such a moment happened to me the other day when I was teaching my class in investor relations. We were discussing a case in class that revolved around how to improve a company’s visibility with investors. One of my students suggested that one thing the company could do was to improve its web site. As the case occurs in 1993, I said that most companies did not have web sites back then. My student looked at me as if I were from Mars. The concept of a company not having a web site was utterly foreign to her.

The reason I find this interesting is that it points out how quickly something can go from being almost non-existent to becoming an essential part of the information mix of a company. For those of us with a little (or in my case a lot) gray hair, we tend to think of web sites as a secondary means of transmitting information, following real information, which is imparted via pieces of paper and speaking to people. However, if you have grown up in the Internet age, information is first gleaned from the web, and then secondarily refined through other means. For example, if I want to find a good quote for use in writing, I am likely to turn to my trusty volume of Bartlett’s Quotations. My children, on the other hand, would not dream of pulling down a book, but would immediately do an Internet search.

One of the ways this intersects with investor relations is in the way companies treat their IR web sites. Older investor relations officers tend to think of IR sites as “adjunct” or “supplementary” information backing up the annual report, press releases, conference presentations and one-on-one meetings that are the grist of the daily IR mill. Yet with each passing day, more and more analysts are coming out of graduate school with the viewpoint that the Internet is the primary source of information. Just as another data point, it is not unusual for me to see papers from MBA students where all citations are to internet sources, with not a single book cited.

What this means for IR practitioners is that the content of their investor relations web site is increasingly important. The design, information content and logic of the IR site are things that should be given considerable thought. Further, given the pace of change for web sites, the IR site should be thoroughly reviewed at least once a year. This means that delegating maintenance of the IR site to the junior member of the IR department and forgetting about it isn’t an option any longer. Just as the senior member of the IR department wouldn’t dream of letting the junior member of the department do one-on-one meetings with the company’s most important investors, they shouldn’t delegate or outsource the web site. Investor relations sites are rapidly becoming the primary source of information about companies and they need to be accorded a high level of attention.

Otherwise, the likely scenario going forward is that investors, rather than contacting the company, will go elsewhere on the web to get their primary information.

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