Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sell Side Coverage, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the relationship between Sell Side Coverage and a company’s ability to generate commissions. The long and the short of the article was that the sell side is paid via commissions and therefore, the more trading volume your stock has, the greater the likelihood a sell side analyst will cover your company. This is bad news if you are a small capitalization company, as the volume of commissions generated by your average daily trading volume will not make you a high probability candidate for coverage.

So if you are a small cap company, the question becomes, can you achieve any meaningful sell side coverage? The answer to this is yes, but like so much in life, in order to achieve your goal, you must be willing to spend a good deal of time and effort in order to get where you want to be.

There are a number of approaches to this, but in the end, they all come down to doing things that make you more attractive to the sell side. First, you can institute a marketing campaign to make your company more known to the sell side. This means reviewing who covers your peers and others in your industry and contacting them regarding your company’s investment thesis. While this alone is unlikely to result in sell side coverage, it does get you on the radar screen and raises your profile with the sell side. It also helps if you can present the sell side with a compelling reason to follow your company, such as a unique market niche, product or approach your company has that will enable the sell side analyst to be more knowledgeable about the industry than his competitors.

Second, you can make yourself more known to the sell side’s clients, the buy side. This involves the somewhat labor-intensive task of segmenting, targeting and positioning the company’s message to the buy side community followed by lots and lots of mostly fruitless phone calls. The result of this can be two things that will get the sell side’s interest: more trading in the stock and more questions about the company from the buy side. In this process it is wise not to ignore the IR officer’s anathema, hedge funds, as that is where a significant portion of today’s stock trading volume resides.

Next, you can make your management more accessible to the sell side. This may help sell side analysts fill in gaps in their knowledge about the industry and your company’s position in it, or may give them more product knowledge. As the sell side is expected to be experts in all aspects of the industry they cover, helping them gain more knowledge will put you on their radar screen. Additionally, doing a sell side analyst’s conference or using them to help arrange non-deal road shows allows them to show the buy side that they have management access, something they do get compensated for by the buy side.

One thing to keep in mind about this process is that it takes time and commitment from company management to raise the profile with the sell side. If a company has a dedicated investor relations officer and that person has a good working knowledge of how the Street operates, and the willingness to spend the time, then it can be done in-house. If, however, like many small cap companies, the CFO is filling the role of principle spokesperson to the Street, then it makes a lot of sense to hire an outside IR advisory firm to do the heavy lifting described above.

(Full and fair disclosure: the author is a consultant for Three Part Advisors, an investor relations strategic communications and consulting firm.)

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