Erik Sherman talks to practitioners and advisers for tips on making your analyst or investor day run smoothly

Jim Buckley, executive vice president and partner at Sharon Merrill, has seen some bad analyst and investor days in his career: a fire across the street with sirens drowning out presentations; construction noise; and water starting to leak from the ceiling mid-session. The worst involved water in a different form. ‘We had one event scheduled to be held on a ship in Boston harbor,’ Buckley says. ‘It was a terrible day and, even though we were in dock, people were getting seasick.’

Who’d have thought to include motion sickness tablets in attendee welcome packs? When it comes to a successful analyst or investor day, however, there’s no such thing as too much preparation.

1. Offer something new

Investors and analysts should walk away feeling they’ve gained new and important knowledge, says Jackson Kelly, vice president of IR at the Coca-Cola Company. ‘The key to a successful investor day is to provide investors and analysts with new information, important updates to strategy and broader access to management than they would normally have in a traditional conference or meeting setting,’ he explains.

Brad Wilks, managing director of Sard Verbinnen & Co, puts it another way: ‘Have something new to say.’ Wilks has seen companies treat analyst and investor events as mandatory periodic rituals. ‘It’s better not to waste everyone’s time,’ he adds.

2. Setting the controls

With so much out of your control, you can’t prevent all problems, but you can minimize what could go wrong by correctly directing what is within your power. Donna Stein, managing partner of IR consulting company Donna Stein & Partners, suggests starting with a perception audit run by a third party that can realistically promise anonymity in return for candor. ‘Sometimes the company perceives its story one way and Wall Street perceives it another,’ she explains.

Coca-Cola also considers what could go wrong in advance. ‘Planning must include scenario planning that anticipates potential issues so that, if one arises, it has been considered and there is already an action plan on how to address it,’ says Kelly. ‘Having hosted events like this for many years, we continue to learn from past experiences.’

Make sure all the details are covered, says securities litigation consultant and former Wall Street denizen Louis Straney. ‘A lot of companies claim their manufacturing processes adhere religiously to strong logistical controls and just-in-time delivery,’ he notes. ‘Then the [event] starts late, someone cancels and there’s no replacement, and some of the presentations last much longer than planned.’

3. Keep it informal

Cole Lannum, vice president and head of IR at Covidien, stresses the importance of informal time between management and attendees. His company, which won four awards at this year’s IR Magazine US Awards, including best investment community meetings, holds two investor days a year: one major and one minor. At the major day, half of the time is set aside for informal conversations. On the minor day, the entire day is set out like this. ‘We try to minimize the amount of prepared presentations and maximize the amount of one-on-one, group or Q&A time with senior management,’ Lannum explains.

4. Location, location, location

Some like holding events at factories or corporate offices. ‘It depends what kind of business you’re in and what you have for show and tell to make people understand the business,’ says Stein. But make sure there’s nothing that could go wrong, like the time a client of Buckley’s received a delivery of empty boxes. ‘One analyst wrote about the boxes in his note and predicted that the company had a backlog of things not shipping,’ Buckley recalls.

For Coca-Cola’s investor days, the company likes to include first-hand experience where possible. ‘Broader activities like market tours or site visits are especially effective as they provide analysts and investors with the ability to experience, first-hand, various aspects of the business,’ says Kelly. ‘For example, last year in Houston, Texas, we hosted analysts and investors for a day of information sessions and presentations, followed by a management-guided market tour of local customer outlets.’

Include a clause in the contract that requires the venue to inform you of any other group booking for the same time, with an option to cancel, advises Straney. ‘If it’s a controversial group, like the National Rifle Association, whether you’re supportive or not, it sends a message when it uses the same venue at the same time as you – which may not be a message you want to send,’ he says.

5. Keep an eye on attendees

Buckley remembers one analyst who stayed in the men’s room for four hours, missing all presentations in the hope of getting ‘management out of earshot’.

You might also hear something telling. ‘I’ve seen presentations where instead of talking about the growth of the company, attendees were saying the meat [at lunch] was raw,’ Straney says. Nothing like giving the impression your company is half-baked.