I recently had the pleasure of moderating a panel of technology and Investor relations professionals for the event “Mobile IR Communications: Today and Tomorrow.” It was an in-depth conversation about why forward-looking public companies have embraced the rapid rise of mobile devices to engage investors.
On the panel were some of the most insightful people to comment on the emerging trends that are changing the way Investor Relations Officers (IROs) think about their mobile communications strategies: Rich Karpinski, the senior analyst at Yankee Group who specializes in mobile; Neil Russell, Vice President of Investor Relations for Sysco Corporation and Richard Repetto, a sell-side analyst at Sandler O’Neill & Partners who covers financial services companies including eTrade, Ameritrade and other online brokerage firms.
I have been in the IR industry for more than 15 years, and, since the advent of the IR section of the corporate website, can’t remember the industry being impacted as much as it has with the proliferation of mobile devices. The dot-com bubble (and its burst) was nearly as interesting and exciting, but pales in comparison to the promise of an evolution that is being sparked by mobile devices. This shift in technology has the ability to change the entire relationship between public companies and the investment community, and what the panel found was that the time is now to embrace mobile.
The event was well attended by some of the world’s largest corporations who are just now beginning to consider their strategies for leveraging a mobile society. The results were informative on what the IR industry should expect in the coming years with regard to mobile and what these companies need to start considering. Mobile has shaken the foundation that is the basis of communicating value with IR: companies knowing what their investment proposition is and telling the story to justify their valuation.
A cornerstone of that, and what the panel’s conversation included, was building relationships with investors – they all agreed that mobile technology presents a significant opportunity to do just that. It only took a few years for so many of us to grow dependent on our mobile devices. The question isn’t will it last, but rather how do we work mobile into our IR strategy and communications platforms?
During his presentation, Rich Karpinski laid out how the new mobile economy will nearly triple in size by 2016. With that he asked the fundamental question: are companies equipped to succeed or will they fall behind as competitors old and new lock in their place in the new mobile ecosystem?
“There is a tremendous opportunity for companies to provide a bounded, branded experience – optimized to the device and to build personal relationships,” Karpinski said. “The challenges are having to build apps for distributing to multiple platforms, finding the best app-building tools or partners, and getting noticed in the app stores.”
Neil Russell, the Vice President, Investor Relations for Sysco Corporation, joined the panel with the unique perspective of being one of fewer than 100 companies that have published an IR-specific app. Russell said that app has become the easiest way to communicate with investors.
“The reality is that the world is going mobile and that includes the investor audience,” Russell said. “What it really boils down to is our app allows us to deliver everything in one central mobile location, which is easy for us and our investors whose time is valuable. Our business is getting information to our investors so that they can make a qualified decision about the company and the more that we can centralize that information makes it easier for them and very attractive for us.”
Richard Repetto, a Principal, Equity Research Sandler O’Neill + Partners, L.P. during the panel said the rise of mobile is similar to how stock trades were early on adapted to the web.
“With required business travel, more and more financial information is available via mobile applications (financial news, charting, stock quotes, video streaming, etc), and we have come to expect IR departments to disseminate information via multiple channels, quickly, with functionality and optimal formatting,” Repetto said. “IR information today is still distributed mostly via websites. Many companies are still considering mobile applications. As functionality improves and creativity increases, we suspect more may opt for IR mobile apps.”
The IR industry is addressing the growing importance of mobile communications and adapting to meet the shifting communications needs of investors. There is a paradigm shift underway in IR communications. The investment community will continue to examine how they use mobile devices in their investment decision making process, as well as offer ideas for best practices on the development of a mobile strategy to engage investors. There can be no doubt, however, that mobile communications is here to stay and whether today or tomorrow, every public company will have to factor this phenomenon into their overall investor relations strategies.