Community, Learning, Networking, and Career-Building Come Together at NIRI Annual 2023
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- By Mark Fasken, Co-Founder and COO of Irwin and Co-Chair for 2023 NIRI Annual Conference

The investor relations industry is constantly evolving. Because it tends to change rapidly, IROs must stay ahead of emerging trends and developments and make new connections to thrive in an ever-changing and complex landscape.

No matter the sector, company size, or market cap, individuals from every corner of the IR field will tell you there is incredible value in having a network of like-minded professionals you can lean on for valuable perspective and advice. 

And what better place to build a solid network and leverage a community than the 2023 NIRI Annual Conference?

NIRI’s Annual Conference is the premier professional development and networking event of the year. This year was no exception. From Tuesday, June 6 through Thursday, June 8, hundreds of IR professionals from across the U.S. and around the world came together in Chicago to connect with their peers and advance their IR programs and careers.

As Committee Vice Chair of this year’s conference, I’m incredibly proud of the program we were able to put together. Whether it was the incredible keynote presentations, the educational sessions, or the IR showcase, NIRI 2023 had countless learning opportunities for every attendee to build their expertise within the industry. 

Throughout the three-day event, our team connected with the IR community in person and heard varying perspectives on important IR issues. Continue reading for our top highlights and takeaways of NIRI Annual 2023. 

Building Relationships with the IR Community

To kick off this year’s conference, Irwin hosted a get-together on day one for the IR community to network and socialize. With an open-air terrace and panoramic views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan, we started our conference week with clients, partners, and the IR community—enjoying the best rooftop Chicago has to offer.

With over 60 attendees, including IR experts such as Lisa Williams of CITI, Scott Einberger of JLL, Kimberly Esterkin of ASGN Incorporated, Quentin Weber of WSP Global , and many more, we were able to make new connections and strengthen existing ones with peers in the IR community. 


New Strategies for Starting (or Transforming) an IR Playbook

IROS must be open to change and take on new challenges. Whether it be joining a newly public company and starting from square one, inheriting an IR program that requires new creative shifts in thinking, or simply re-energizing current initiatives, there is significant value in evaluating your strategy.

On the second day of NIRI Annual 2023, Irwin hosted an educational session: Realize, Refresh, Rebuild: Strategies for Starting or Transforming Your IR Playbook. 

The goal of this panel was to help IR professionals learn more about creating modern, high-performing programs.

With myself as the moderator, the discussion featured industry experts such as Tiffany Kanaga of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Megan McGrath of Cushman Wakefield, and Ryan Fiedler of Caterpillar. Together, they shared their insights with a packed room on:

  • Dos and don’ts for an IR function throughout various company life cycles
  • Tips on how to navigate inheriting an established department 
  • Learning to manage up so you can be more progressive in your program
  • The role of emerging trends and technology

Their insights included advice such as:

  • As a small or mid-sized company, implementing a new IR program or revamping an existing plan can be challenging. Pulling together a list of priorities to present to management can be an effective way to assess what is working and what may need a change. Check which resources are available to you in terms of internal team members and external vendors and assess the key components that exist and what may need filling. 
  • Coming into an IR role and implementing changes to an existing program can be a delicate process to navigate. To effectively create change, it’s important to understand the landscape and IR function as it currently stands. Spend time speaking to internal stakeholders to learn what is working and what isn’t. The natural tendency may be that you don’t want to rock the boat, but having the courage to ask questions and invoke debate across teams can be incredibly useful. 
  • Adding value to your current IR program is of utmost importance. Start by building credibility with your audience. An example of this may be an email list rounding up reports or key metrics of interest. Once you create credibility, you can start to make larger changes which offer more transparency. 
  • Don’t be afraid to speak to management and let them know what they must do and why. Benchmarking this will help inform them of your decision-making and allow them to easily understand what it is you are trying to achieve. 

For more insights on starting an in-house IR program, listen to my recent Winning IR episode featuring Brooks Rennie—Vice President, Head of Investor Relations at Byline Bank. 

Soft Skills for to Success in IR

It’s no secret that an IRO will wear various hats throughout their careers. But how can IR professionals drive value in every aspect of their role, and ensure they refine their soft skills that are imperative to success?

To help answer this question,  we partnered with NIRI ACC member Jordyn Eskijian of H&R Block to plan and host an educational session called IR Marketing & Comms: Soft Skills for Success and Strategies to Elevate Your Game.

In a panel discussion with Fabiane Goldstein of Grayling, Hunter Wells of the Hanover Insurance Group, and Meredith Versen of Ingevity, we shared new ideas and practical experiences about driving value in all aspects of IR while exuding confidence.

Throughout the session, Goldstein, Wells, and Versen provided their expert perspective to help the audience develop a deeper understanding of the soft skills needed to succeed in an IR role, including:

  • Resilience. Success and growth take time, and you must be resilient when building the shareholder base.
  • Active listening. Ensure your full focus is on what is being said in a meeting, rather than on what your response will be.
  • Building internal knowledge. Be aware of what is happening within your company and across the organization so you can effectively craft your external messaging.
  • Know your audience. Ensure your tailoring your messaging toward your desired audience.
  • Solid conflict resolution. Every now and then IR professionals will need to gather leadership together and find the middle ground in situations where there isn’t a clear decision. Having the ability to solve conflict is imperative to success.

Welcoming Various IR Experts to the Stage

Aside from moderating various educational sessions, I was fortunate to introduce two general sessions at this year’s conference, including:

Demystifying Hedge Funds and the Increasingly Confusing Buy Side 

As those in the industry know, buy-side asset managers rapidly evolve their complexity and sophistication to generate investment performance in all market environments. Increasingly, traditional labels used by IROs are challenging to apply as more firms implement multi-strategy approaches to investing. 

While the “hedge fund” label is often used as a catch-all in the IR community to refer to “an institution that can short my stock,” hedge funds can take on many different shapes and approaches to investing.  Understanding all these complexities has many implications for IROs, from who you meet with (and why), to how you think about shareholder targeting. 

To help attendees make sense of it all, the session heard from some of the most forward-thinking asset managers in the industry: Mark Pellegrino, Liz Librizzi, Ed Young, and Bill Wappler. Together, they shared how their firms have evolved, how they manage their different strategies, and explained why understanding the nuances of the buy-side can help find the real buyers of a stock. 

I also had the opportunity to introduce the final session of the event:

Creating Systematic Change – Being the Change You Wish to See in the World

The closing panel of NIRI Annual 2023 put a spotlight on people that have broken barriers and created systematic change in the world of finance, asset management, and investor relations.  

Meredith Sumpter, Lisa Dyson, and Peggy Foran came together to discuss how attendees can create systematic change in their environment, whether in IR, finance, or asset management. Through their passion, leadership, and sheer will, these women actively choose to be the change they wish to see in the world, and their session was an inspiring way to close out the event.

Save the Date for San Francisco 2024

For those of you who could attend this year’s event, I hope you enjoyed the conference and found it rewarding—both personally and professionally. Thanks to Matt Brusch and NIRI for the opportunity to act as Committee Vice-Chair alongside Patrick Davidson and Chair Hala Elsherbini, and the rest of the committee for the vital role everyone played in developing an impactful content program. 

NIRI 2023 ACC Chair, Hala Elsherbini, plus Co-Chairs, Patrick Davidson and Mark Fasken

Be sure to save the date—the 2024 NIRI Annual Conference will be held June 9th through June 11th at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco.  

I look forward to next year’s event and hope to meet you all in person next Spring. If you would like to connect with the Irwin team before then, keep an eye on our LinkedIn page for updates on what events we’ll be attending next.

Hear From The Experts

Missed NIRI but want to hear more from practicing IR experts? Listen to the Winning IR Podcast

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