Behind every successful investor relations program is a carefully tailored company story. The company story is essential to every IR program because it helps contextualize a company's financial performance into a long-term investment thesis.
Mark Fasken, COO of Irwin and host of the Winning IR podcast, recently sat down with 16 investor relations professionals and discovered how much goes into crafting an effective company story. This article will share expert’s lessons on the key facets of IR storytelling including:
*Responses in this article have been edited for length and clarity.
Storytelling for a business goes well beyond simple marketing. For the investment community, it’s a way to contextualize your business on its growth trajectory. It is not reasonable to assume that investors will get all the relevant information for their investment decisions by looking at quantitative metrics alone. A compelling company story will guide investors toward the bigger picture and help them see the impact of investment beyond the current quarter.
Failure to communicate the growth story effectively creates a vacuum where the investment community gets to dictate your company story. Scott Einberger, Investor Relations Officer at JLL, explains:
“Radio silence is a red flag for the investment community. If you're not saying something, then they create their own narrative or their own story. And sometimes those assumptions that they're making aren't accurate or really what you want to be out there in the investment community.”
Listen to Scott Einberger’s episode on Investor Targeting in the Real World.
Telling the company story requires more than just being able to finesse the narrative on earnings. Being an effective storyteller requires investor relations professionals to understand the whole company on the micro level. This could mean working closely with R&D to understand the impact of development, sitting down with the marketing team to dive deeper into consumer patterns, or anything in between. We’ll explore the most effective ways to learn the company story as a new hire, and the essential internal relationships IROs should prioritize.
Kendra Brown, SVP, Senior Director, Banking & Sell-Side Research at FactSet, summarizes the IRO’s role here beautifully:
“It's really important that you understand the space you compete in and why you're a better long term investment than your peers. And that is something that is valuable for management, and you're really the only one in the organization that's looking at it in a holistic way.“
Listen to Kendra Brown's episode on How IR Can Become a Strategic Partner to the C-Suite
A good starting point for an IRO in a new role is to “do [your] homework” and consume all the available information on your company’s websites. Brooks Rennie, Vice President, Head of Investor Relations at Byline Bank, recounts his process for learning the story in a new role:
“The first thing I did was look on the company's IR websites. I read the 10Q, the annual report, the investor presentations, and the earnings releases. In addition to that, I interviewed and got to know all the executives.“
In addition to reading up on the company’s history and internal processes, Rennie highlights the importance of listening to internal experts and executives:
“The best way to understand and hear the story is just to sit and listen in on investor meetings, and listen to your CEO, CFO and President tell the story their way because they're all going to have different unique ways of telling the story. So I would recommend doing your homework and just being a sponge and listening and taking notes.”
Understanding how other business leaders interpret the story is critical because it allows you to see the different perspectives and nuances that pertain to the business. Being able to synthesize these hidden perspectives and nuances into a cohesive story gives you more control over the business narrative and allows you to craft a story that accurately reflects your company’s value.
Listen to Brooks Rennie's episode on Creating an In-House Investor Relations Department from the Ground Up
In addition to the perspective of your key executives, it’s important to see the business from as many functional facets as possible. Inevitably, investors will have questions about specific revenue generators within your company, and as an IRO, it’s your responsibility to weave that information into the story. Luke Wyse, Senior Vice President, Finance & Investor Relations at Triumph Financial, explains:
“These people are going to have areas of control in the company that you need to know about; how revenue is generated, how pricing works, what the products are. You don't need to be a product expert, but you need to have enough of an understanding of it that you can be intelligent in your conversations with investors, and make sure people are modeling things correctly and communicating that correctly.”
Listen to Luke Wyse's episode on The First 90 Days in a New IR Role
For Rebecca Gardy, Senior Vice President and Chief Investor Relations Officer at Campbell Soup Company, the key to creating valuable internal relationships is to balance the “give and get.” For example, she may need to receive updates from R&D she can share with investors, and she would also be in the best position to relay investor feedback back to R&D. She explains her thought process:
“I don't think that you can swoop in 3 weeks before the quarter to ask for all this analysis and then disappear back into your cave until the next earnings call. So, I give a lot back to my constituents whether they're internal or external. I keep the dialogue going throughout the quarter and ask, ‘What should I make sure I include in our next quarter's report with internal stakeholders? How can I provide value?’”
She elaborates that part of creating and maintaining these internal relationships is the emotional intelligence to understand your stakeholder’s concerns and priorities. Communication style, tone, reciprocity, and proximity are all elements of honing effective internal relationships.
Listen to Rebecca Gardy on The IRO Blueprint For Leading Through Influence
Jeremy Cohen, SVP of Investor Relations at Edelman, envisions IR as “the hub of a wheel” because of its responsibility to connect potentially disparate “spokes” of information into a focal point.
“You're going to pull information from various departments and push it back out at times. The role of IR is so cross-functional in nature because what we're communicating can layer down to other parts of the company. We want Sales, HR, Public Relations and Investor Relations aligned and telling the same story. By having those internal relationships, you're able to build rapport and build consistency across the organization. So being at the center is really critical.“
Listen to Jeremy Cohen's episode on Involving Multiple Stakeholders in Investor Relations
The nature of storytelling for investor relations is that it will inherently overlap with the storytelling for your other public audiences, such as customers, prospective employees, and your local community. This overlap can be beneficial, but only if there’s a functional partnership and alignment between IR and external comms. Fabiane Goldstein, Investor Relations Senior Director at Grayling, explains:
“Normally the investor relations team is a small one, and it’s sometimes very hard for them to keep up with everything that is going on on social media. And at the same time, for the communications team, investor relations is not always top of their minds. In terms of messaging, they don't have the investors as one of the stakeholders that would be receiving the message.“
That said, Goldstein sees mutual benefits to partnering with comms. IR can help comms teams see investors as one of their stakeholders, and comms can help IR teams amplify their outreach beyond the usual channels.
“Have the communications team super engaged in everything that you do as investor relations, and treat them as a real partner in everything, because that's the best way for them to understand that everything they produce will also be seen by investors, even when they are preparing something that is focused on clients or prospects.
Building that understanding is really important, and I would say it's also a great way to enable the investor relations team to increase their outreach because they will have the communications team helping them write messages.”
Listen to Fabiane Goldstein's episode on Bridging the Gap Between IR & PR
If consolidating all the relevant company knowledge is step one, then composing and refining the story itself is step two. Our expert guests told us all about their most effective storytelling techniques, their use of media training, and their secrets for capturing investor’s limited time and attention.
A compelling story is not only one that helps your company stand out, but it's also one that’s easy to understand and communicates a clear message to your desired audience. We’ll explore differentiation, storytelling structures, controlled takeaway messaging, aspirational imitation, and audience tailoring as some of the most effective corporate storytelling techniques for investor relations.
Your company is one of dozens or even hundreds of businesses competing for capital investment and recognition in any given sector. How you differentiate your company is key to earning the interest of analysts and investors, but according to Alex Jorgensen, Managing Director and Head of IR at Prosek Partners, many teams have difficulty knowing when and where to emphasize their uniqueness. He explains:
“You're going to have meetings that are back to back where someone says, “yeah, just walk me through your presentation.” You're also going to have meetings where someone walks in with a legal pad and takes you to task on everything that your public peers have done for the last five years. And so what you need to do is know your differentiators. You need to know how to tell your own story.”
He emphasizes that different audiences can respond differently to your story, so it’s important to know your audience and tailor your story accordingly. How you differentiate your story to generalist investors could differ from what you want to emphasize with investors who know your sector inside and out. To communicate your value effectively, you have to know who you’re dealing with and what will interest your audience.
Listen to Alex Jorgensen on Ensuring You Have The Right Team to Go Public
Another way to stand out amongst peers is to keep your story succinct and simple. In an ideal scenario, every investor will want to examine every facet of your business to arrive at the optimal data-driven decision, but the reality is that time and resources are precious. Alyssa Barry, Principal and co-founder of irlabs encourages IR teams to make it easy for investors to capture the story:
“Show who you are, how you're different and how you're going to make investors money. Show the pathway to growth and profitability.”
By keeping your story to these key points, you’re helping investors cut through the noise. Ensuring that your communication of these basics is sound makes it easy for investors to understand your story.
Caroline Sawamoto, the other Principal and co-founder of irlabs, recommends using a timeline as a foundational structure for your company story, particularly when it comes to growth milestones and other achievements.
“It’s important to foreshadow the milestones ahead and show investors that you're working towards these goals. Lay out those goals in advance, and then, execute as you go along and announce those achievements.”
This technique is particularly effective when communicating your growth story, especially for younger companies. By consistently setting and achieving goals, you demonstrate to investors that your company actively orients its actions toward value creation, establishing reliability and trustworthiness.
Listen to Alyssa Barry and Caroline Sawamoto's episode on Creative Tactics for Standing Out and Engaging Investors.
Another technique that can help IROs tell the company story more effectively is reverse engineering the takeaway they want investors to leave with. Megan McGrath, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Cushman & Wakefield, recommends planning earning calls with the intention of leaving analysts and investors with a specific headline.
“In an earnings prep session, I ask our CEO and CFO, ‘What do we want the headline that the analysts write to be?’ And we talk about it, and we actually work those words into our earnings script. We prepare some key takeaways, let's say the top three takeaways. Inevitably, one of the analysts will say, ‘What did I miss?’ So have them written down in advance and distill that information for them. It’s a really great way to get your messaging points along.”
Listen to Megan McGrath on How To Build Better Relationships With the Sell-Side
This strategy is effective because it leads analysts toward what you want them to remember instead of assuming they will infer anything not explicitly stated. Moira Conlon, Founder, and CEO of Financial Profiles, echoes this sentiment:
“One of the holy grails is when you see the sell-side actually using your words, republishing slides from your earnings deck that help tell the story. That's when the light bulb goes off and you realize they're getting it, they're engaged.”
One way to portray your company story in the precise manner you want is to emulate companies that are already doing this effectively. Conlon suggests studying direct peers with a similar market cap and businesses excelling in any industry at any market cap.
“We always advise our clients to follow the leader and mimic the best-in-class communications of big companies. Being able to communicate like this is a competitive advantage that I believe leads to better capital access. And so we look at the direct peers, which would be relevant in market cap to the company we're helping. Then, we also look at some standout companies that are not in the peer group. So the large-cap leaders in any space, and see what they're doing, because that's usually where you find best practices you can emulate.”
Listen to Moira Conlon's episode on Balancing Long-Term Value with Short-Term Success When Communicating With Investors
It’s important to refine your communications strategy as your company changes. Whether your company is outgrowing its market cap or facing challenges, you should continuously adapt and refine your story to match your company’s current trajectory. Conlon explains various ways to strategically adapt your communications strategy no matter the circumstances.
“It's important to articulate your story in the context of the long term. And if changes need to be made to the expectations, get that out there so that you're effectively managing expectations. And sometimes, turbulent markets create dislocations where companies have opportunities to leverage the disruption to build market share and things like that. So, it takes a little bit of work and thought, but it's really reiterating your core value drivers, the intangibles that drive value for your company.”
After your company story is crafted, your next focus should be on the delivery of the story and working with executives to master their presentation skills. Our experts share why media training is important and the best time to pursue it.
Media training is an excellent way to get unbiased and objective feedback on the strength of your story and your communication skills. Jason Fooks, SVP of Investor Relations & Marketing at Brookfield, notes that all kinds of nuances in communication can alter how your story is perceived.
“People listen to tone and subtle cues. I can't tell you how many times investors have called me after the earnings call and said, "The message sounds really good, but your CEO sounded kind of negative on the call." It could’ve just been that he was tired, but that is communicated. And so you can absolutely provide that feedback, and just say, “Look, investors are paying attention to this. If you convey a positive tone, it will come through.”"
Media training is also an effective way for IROs to deploy constructive criticism to the executive team without compromising the trust in your relationship. Alex Jorgensen notes:
“Having a third party that doesn't work at the organization can be effective and can be deployed for media coaching. It's not to put any CEO or CFO in a situation where they feel like they're lesser than. It's more to say, “Hey, as a third party from an objective standpoint, I think this can be stronger, and I think these are the ways to do it.”"
That said, convincing your executive teams of the value of media training may take work. Jorgensen shares how he frames media training for executives who are confident in their ability but aren’t quite nailing their pitch:
“The CEO and CFO might say, “I’ve done this before. I've raised private capital before. I don't need to practice my pitch, I don't need to practice my dry run for an investor meeting, I don't need to go over the dos and don'ts of investors. I’m not in grad school.” That kind of disposition can be a really tough dynamic.
"This is where the IRO could say, “We actually think you have ninety percent of your pitch down, but this ten percent that you need to work on is going to be contingent on potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to this equity race, and so let's get this right even if it means two hours in a room with media training.”"
The necessity of media training is contingent on the ability of executives to deliver the story accurately and in a way that makes investors feel confident. Alex Jorgensen advises teams to assess whether or not media training would be beneficial by testing the waters by booking a first meeting with a friendly investor.
“An effective way to navigate management teams who may not see the importance of press training is to schedule a meeting with a friendly investor. Try to ensure that the testing-the-waters meetings that your banking partners are setting up start with a friendly investor that you know, followed by an hour-long break after it, so that the CEO and CFO can see some of the limitations in their pitch. And if you can set up those friendly meetings, you can find a way to say, “Hey, you were there. You experienced this. I think this needs to be tighter.”
Jason Fooks recommends organizing media training for your entire executive team rather than singling any one person out.
“We'll do media training for the whole management team. And even though there are people that are better at this, and there are people that could use more practice and more feedback, it allows a third party to give feedback without singling anyone out.”
Fooks recommends this approach because it allows the people who need the practice and feedback to get it, but it also allows strong public speakers to hone their craft further. He recalls a specific example:
“One time, we were doing an investor day, so we said, look, this is important, we're just going to have media training come in, and everyone participates in it. And even people who are good at public speaking felt it was useful and got good feedback.”
That said, he doesn’t think you need to go overboard and bring in media training every earnings call. Rather, every few years it’s a good opportunity for executives to get a refresher and sharpen their skills.
“You can’t do it all that often, but every few years, it's a good idea to practice and watch yourself present and get the feedback.”
Listen to Jason Fooks' episode on Best Practices for Earnings Calls
A well-crafted and skillfully told story may go unnoticed if it doesn't leave an impact. Fabiane Goldstein summarizes the issue:
“The challenge right now is time and attention. So we need to stand out in the crowd, on the platforms these investors are watching.”
Our experts share several insightful tactics they use to ensure that their company story gets the spotlight it deserves. These tactics encompass everything from digital to physical mediums to win investor and analyst attention.
To get in front of investors, investor relations professionals find success on social media channels, namely Reddit and X (better known as Twitter). Goldstein notes that these platforms naturally foster better engagement, especially if trying to win the attention of journalists.
“Normally, the main tool for you to reach out to journalists and investors is email, but I've found that I receive more feedback and quicker answers from journalists if I reach out to them on Twitter.”
In addition to using social media to keep in touch with journalists, Goldstein also sees potential in using multimedia strategies to help disseminate the company story. In particular, she sees video hosting platforms like YouTube as a growing channel for investor relations teams.
“In terms of format, we have been seeing more and more video being used. Some companies are bringing conference calls and investor days to YouTube. We prefer to post finished recordings to YouTube, but some companies will do it live on the platform.”
Social media can also be extremely useful for communicating with and understanding the retail investor community. While it would be unfeasible to connect with every retail investor individually, Leah Gibson, Vice President, Investor Relations & Strategic Communications at Cybin Inc., finds success using social media platforms to communicate with them collectively.
“On the retail side, you have to get really creative. Leverage social media interactions, like Reddit and Wall Street Bets, or at least have your ear to the pulse of what's going on and understand the questions, needs, and concerns of that audience.“
Listen to Leah Gibson's episode on Navigating Investor Relations in Emerging Industries
One of the best ways to differentiate your company and get attention from your target audience is to put something tangible in front of them. Alyssa Barry shares how she does this for clients:
“Some of our clients have products or services that are tangible, or that we would really like to put in front of the retail or the broker community. For example, we took a company public that had a particular product, and we put it in goodie bags with a nice little postcard and a QR code about the company. And we dropped it off at all the brokerage houses. And all of a sudden overnight, you've got 1000 investment advisors who know who the company is.”
By putting something memorable into the hands of investors, you can cultivate physical and intellectual curiosity about your business. Barry believes that following the hands-off and digital years at the start of 2020, we are now cycling back to an era where there’s a demand to learn a company’s story in ways we can see, hear, and touch in person.
“I think we're going to see a lot more of the fundamental investors come back, who actually want to know and understand and touch and feel the product or company they're investing in. So that's just one example of us trying to think outside the box and find new ways to get in front of that community specifically.”
Finding the right balance between style and sticking to the facts is important. For Jason Fooks there are risks and rewards for straying too far outside the box when it comes to storytelling for IR.
“Many people are exploring new techniques—whether it's interesting formats, like the fireside chat, or bringing in other members of management to talk about a specific part of the business. To me, those are interesting to watch. But I'm always cognizant that those can carry additional risks. And so, I think each IRO is going to have to find the right balance for themselves and their companies. But I think being thoughtful and purposeful in how you approach these opportunities will make you much more effective in the role and help the decision-making process."
Before departing from your tried-and-tested formats, you should ask:
Investor relations communications makes its way to so many different audiences that it becomes necessary to cater your story and its delivery to specific stakeholders. Our guests break down their strategies to communicate more persuasively with the sell-side, mainstream media, and retail investors.
For most businesses, the majority of time and effort from the IR department is dedicated toward the sell-side, so it is important to make sure you’re able to get your story into the right hands. Presently it is harder than ever to get coverage from sell-side analysts, so it’s important to be strategic in building effective sell-side relationships.
Our guests share insights on how to appeal to analysts, stand out in non-traditional ways, optimize coverage, essential relationship-building tricks, and tips for differentiation.
Megan McGrath suggests that earnings season is a highly competitive time to get analyst’s attention, and that it goes a long way toward gaining favor if you can make it easy for them during a period of overwhelm. She recommends focusing on analyst follow-ups after the earnings period ends to avoid having a rushed conversation.
“I think a lot of times folks talk with the analyst right away after earnings because they want to make sure they're okay when they put the note out. But I always offer to spend some time with them in the two weeks or so after earnings. Let's put 30 minutes on the calendar once their earnings period is over, it’s better than the 10 minutes we might get with each other right after the earnings call.
We’ll use that time to go over the model and the call. Were there any misconceptions about what was said? What kind of feedback have they been getting? And I think that's very much appreciated by the sell-side folks that I deal with because they don't really have a breath during earnings season. So once it's over, I think they appreciate a little bit of feedback, and a little bit of interaction. If you think there are some important modeling things to go over, you could get your CFO to join that call.”
McGrath also recommends going above and beyond the post-earnings check-in to differentiate yourself and improve your relationship with analysts. She suggests inviting analysts to spend more time with your company to become more familiar with your story.
“You have a group of sell-side analysts. You don't want them just to be publishing four times a year. So, what are the interesting ways that you can give them an excuse to write something and hopefully something good?
I think we all think about NDRs as the only interaction, or maybe coming to a conference, but are there any non-traditional ways to give them access to you? Maybe it's a lunch, maybe it's a midday conference call that they can invite 20 of their best clients to. Maybe you can have them come to the office for a day, and they can meet someone they don't normally interact with if you're okay giving that person access to the sell side.”
While it can be tempting to only aim for the big names in sell-side coverage, McGrath advises IROs to prioritize good coverage from a smaller firm over middling coverage from a bigger firm. She reasons the time and attention available from smaller analysts can result in more favorable and ultimately more valuable coverage:
“Don't get too obsessed with a name brand in sell-side research. If you're smaller, you can get really good coverage from a smaller firm. And that's better than middling coverage from a big firm that might not understand your business model. So cast your net widely in terms of potential coverage and don't just go for the most famous big Wall Street names. It's important to get coverage that cares and that can provide value.”
One of the most effective ways to increase your sell-side coverage is to actively seek out relationships with analysts. Megan McGrath recalls her time as a sell-side analyst:
“A lot of times when I was a sell-side analyst, there were a couple of conferences that I went to each year. I would bring investors to those conferences and meet with some of the bigger companies.”
She recommends reaching out to analysts and letting them know that you’ll be at the conference and inviting them and their investors to meet with you. Providing this up-front value to investors is a valuable strategy for creating long-term sell-side relationships.
Download the ebook - Creating and Optimizing Relationships on the Sell-Side
One of the most effective ways to disseminate your investor relations story is through the mainstream media. While large and mega-cap companies have an advantage in getting coverage from mainstream media sources, Fabiane Goldstein notes that a strong PR strategy will supplement your IR strategy. She notes that it can be very challenging to get your story picked up by the media:
“Of course journalists are receiving the press releases, and sometimes they react directly to it, but you need to do much more and be much more proactive to get attention.“
Goldstein notes many similarities between journalists and sell-side analysts, and IROs must understand that they must work within a framework that serves their audience. Because of this, she encourages IROs to think about the angle the journalist would need for the story to be impactful for their audience.
“Journalists are similar to sell-side analysts; they cover a huge number of companies. A company that is only writing a press release and then putting it out on the wire sometimes doesn't get what it would take for a journalist to pick it up, interview the CEO or CFO, and turn it into a story.”
To increase the likelihood journalists pick up your story, Goldstein recommends building stakeholder relationships with journalists:
“We need to look at journalists as stakeholders, not only as a way for us to be on the cover of The Wall Street Journal, but as a two-way relationship. Sometimes, we will have to be sources and give information, even if that doesn’t result in us getting an article. But we need to be there for them, and they will be there for us in other important moments.
It's just as challenging as getting coverage from a new sell-side analyst. But it pays off eventually. Once the journalists understand and establish a relationship with you, your company starts to show up more in the news cycles. And hopefully, you'll get more interviews for top management.”
It can be challenging to sell your story to retail investors, especially if your business strategy requires focusing more on institutional investors. However, it’s important not to neglect this group. While retail investors might not make an impact individually, as a collective, they are responsible for over 50% of global assets under management.
The usual best practice for getting your story out to the retail community is making your filings and earnings call recordings available on your IR website. You can also use social media such as X or Reddit to get in front of retail investors.
If you don’t wish to go down that path, Mary Turnbull, Managing Director, Corporate Access, Institutional Equity Sales at Raymond James, assures that institutional events will trickle down into the retail sphere.
“One of my pieces of advice is to do an institutional event, be it a non-deal roadshow or a conference because after that event, the analyst will write a report. Financial advisors will read those reports, and they follow the analyst recommendations pretty closely. So doing an institutional event, you'll also see a lot of retail; you won't see it directly, but it will be happening behind the scenes."
Listen to Mary Turnbull on Successful Corporate Access as an IRO
Ultimately, the best company story is refined over time with the feedback you get from investors and other stakeholders. Our experts share how to use perception studies to garner feedback and options for responding when the investment community doesn’t see your long-term vision.
At its core, perception studies are like a customer satisfaction survey for your investor base. We spoke to Gene Rubin, President of Rivel, to understand why and how IROs should use perception studies to refine their storytelling.
Perception studies are the most direct way to measure the impact of your storytelling, Rubin explains:
“A perception study measures the effectiveness of a company's communications with the investment community. You've got a message and the message usually is a combination of two things—facts about the business and assumptions about the future. "
Rubin cautions against using perception studies to uncover issues; he argues that you should already have a good idea of what those issues are. Instead, he advises IROs to look at perception studies to evaluate the impact those issues have on your investors, and what the implications are.
“I don't think perception studies should be done to uncover issues. I think that they should be about measuring the depth and then finding out whether or not those issues are noise or real problems. Which issues do we need to address? Which do we not need to address? Where do they reside? Are these issues amongst the vocal minority or a shallow majority?”
This information helps IROs identify what aspects of the story may not resonate with investors, and helps them craft responses that directly address investor concerns.
Listen to Gene Rubin's episode on Everything You Need To Know About Perception Studies
If you do find that your story is not resonating with the investment community, there are ways you can mitigate the problem. Moira Conlon recommends framing your short-term results alongside your long-term goals:
“Investors are looking at the long term and expecting some inevitable bumps in the road. And so, that long-term story needs to be balanced with the short-term. The way I like to look at it is that the long run is really made up of many quarterly short runs. So, the idea is to address the short-term results in the context of your long-term plans. Maybe you made investments this quarter and your balance sheet reflects that. You need to be able to frame what that means for your company long-term.”
By framing short-term results alongside the bigger picture, you’re helping investors see how each quarter represents progress in your path to growth.
Crafting your company story is a key part of investor relations that every IRO should pay attention to. Your company story should draw on every part of the business, and IROs should be able to leverage internal relationships to convey the relevant growth areas of the business. By mastering effective storytelling techniques, seeking appropriate training, and deeply knowing your audience, you can take your investor relations storytelling to the next level.