Investor Relations (IR) uniquely combines finance and communications, strategically influencing various business areas while working closely with C-suite executives. Mark Fasken, COO of Irwin and host of the Winning IR podcast, engages with a diverse group IR professionals and thought leaders to explore IR's distinct role and career development strategies. This article covers:
*Quotations in this article have been edited for length and clarity.
In discussion with our guest experts, key themes emerged about the IRO role. These included skill acquisition, challenges of learning investor relations, common skill gaps for new IROs, balancing the art and science of the role, success metrics, expanding responsibilities, and the differences between in-house and consulting IR roles.
Investor relations stands out in finance as it equally demands technical/analytic abilities, communication or soft skills, and leadership qualities. Rebecca Gardy, Senior Vice President and Chief Investor Relations Officer at Campbell Soup Company, detailed the required skills and strategies for their practical application. On the technical side, she describes:
“There’s the technical, analytical skills set, including things like financial analysis; having a strong understanding of not just the financial metrics that a company will disclose, but the underlying drivers, too. It is super important that you understand what's causing the changes in those metrics so that you can provide and articulate insights into the company's performance.
"That requires constantly probing and asking questions, making intelligent decisions about selecting the right data, and drawing the right conclusions. I often say you have to be an investigative reporter and look at the underlying why’s and how’s, behind the metrics.”
Gardy emphasizes the importance of “looking around corners” and using available data to anticipate what comes next, noting that the interpretation and analysis of technical information is where IROs can contribute strategically to the business. She also considers knowledge of relevant laws and security regulations critical technical skills. Gardy describes several areas where soft communication skills are key:
“Communication skills bring value to the business by relaying peer analysis and analyst perceptions to the leadership team. It’s the ability not just to deliver the results, but also to deliver bad news, right? Or to navigate a crisis by providing clear and timely communication.”
Lastly, Gardy shares the importance of interpersonal and leadership skills among IROs:
“I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about leadership skills, and the ability to influence. IROs are unique in that we are usually sole contributors. We lead not through direct lines of reporting, but rather through influence. And in my opinion, that's a lot harder to get done effectively.
"Influence requires that we build really strong, deep relationships and connections externally and internally. The ability to lead through influence and build tight cross-functional relationships is, I think, probably one of the skills that I see most frequently missing when I meet some IRO candidates.”
Patricia Cruz, Senior Manager, Investor Relations at Etsy, emphasizes the importance of listening as a core skill IROs must possess:
“For some reason, many people struggle with listening skills, and in IR, you need to learn how to listen to the investors. Listen to what their questions are getting at because they can say it in several different ways, and you don't want to say something that you're not supposed to.
"At the same time, you're working with very high executives, you're working with your C suite, you're working with a board. So you want to be able to know exactly what it is that they need from you and be able to deliver. You want to be a person whose opinion they consider when making big decisions. But that will only happen if you learn how to listen. I've seen people struggle with that.”
While the responsibilities of IROs can vary by role or company, many encounter similar challenges and obstacles at the onset of their careers in investor relations. Matt Brusch, President and CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) in the USA, suggests this may be due to a lack of academic support for the field:
“Nobody graduates from college with a degree in investor relations; those degree programs don't exist. So everyone comes to it from an adjacent field, like accounting, finance, communications, marketing, etc. You likely know some elements of investor relations but don't know all of them. Then, in most cases, you’re a very small department, or a department of one.”
Due to the relative obscurity of investor relations in academic settings, many IROs depend on on-the-job learning and professional networking to develop their IR skills. This reliance on practical experience and industry connections is often necessary to navigate the complexities of the IR field.
Listen to Matt Brusch’s episode on Building a Strong Support System and The Power of Community in Investor Relations
While people approach IR from many different areas of business, Rebecca Gardy emphasizes the need for a strong background in finance:
“I would say having a really strong foundation in finance is not something that you can skip over. I think that eventually, you'll do yourself a disservice if you don't have a good grounding in the language and the vocabulary of finance. You're speaking with folks who are financially literate, and you want to be able to demonstrate fluency in their language when you're speaking to them.”
In her analysis, a strong background in finance is a foundational aspect of being an effective communicator when speaking to the investment community.
It’s critical to have a plan for honing your skillset. Rebecca Gardy recommends a 70:20:10 learning ratio: 70% on-the-job learning, 20% from peers, and 10% from independent resources like webinars and podcasts. She values emulating successful executives for soft and leadership skills development.
“On the softer skills and leadership skills, I think a lot comes from emulating people within the company and others. You learn a lot from watching how other folks handle themselves and how they have created influence for themselves.
"I remember being much more junior in my career and watching somebody raise their hand and propose an idea that was shot down, and then someone else presented the same idea, and it was brilliant. You need to learn the difference, and I think those are really important learning moments for us to watch how influence is a key ingredient to success in IR.”
Smooch Repovich Rosenberg, Founder and Chief Talent Innovator at Smooch Unplugged, has worked with investor relations professionals for decades and echoes the extraordinary impact that influential leadership can make on an IRO. We asked Repovich Rosenberg to describe the traits of top-performing investor relations candidates:
“I would say that the most important traits of high performers are organizational influence, intellectual curiosity and a continuous improvement mindset. For organizational influence, an IR executive brings the technical competencies to meet or exceed expectations of doing the role, but they also bring broad business acumen where they can have a viewpoint about all topics across the corporation, whether it's IT, HR operations, and that comes from intellectual curiosity and the desire to really learn a company from the inside out.
"I think that's important if you want to be viewed as part of the C suite, even though technically, you report to the CFO who's part of the C suite, you have to have a command of broad business acumen.”
Sitting at the intersection of communications and finance, investor relations is both an art and a science. We asked Rebecca Gardy how she mastered the balance in her career:
“I think one of the most important ways to balance [art and science] is by understanding your audience. So whether it's understanding that the investor is a high turnover hedge fund, or a long-only growth-oriented investor, or a specialist versus a generalist; you are tailoring your message, using the right vocabulary, the right tone, making sure it's clear and relevant to the audience. Essential to doing this well is having great listening skills.
"Listen to why that analyst is asking you that. What are they really trying to understand? Have they asked the same question 16 different times? That's a big clue that you're not answering what they're looking for. You don't just have to answer the question; you need to listen to what's being said.”
In this way, it is evident that the role of IRO requires both logical reasoning and emotional intelligence. The ability to accurately discern the needs of the investment community and respond strategically, grounded in the financial realities of one's business, is crucial. IROs can typically cultivate this through hands-on, experiential learning and shadowing both leaders within the company and industry peers.
An effective way to measure the success of your investor relations program is by using key performance metrics to benchmark progress against your institutional goals. Not only will this help you demonstrate the value of IR to management, but it can also help you establish yourself as an indispensable asset to your organization.
Kendra Brown, SVP, Senior Director, Banking & Sell-Side Research at FactSet and formerly Chief of Staff and SVP and Head of Investor Relations, is always thinking about KPIs. Brown walked us through the benchmarks and KPIs she uses to evaluate progress and success.
The first KPIs Brown mentioned were stock price and valuation. Ultimately, these goals are a cornerstone of your investor relations program and will inform strategies across the board. Brown says:
“There's so many ways to measure what you're doing. You should try as much as possible to correlate your IR activities with price movement. You must be able to have some level of understanding of how stock price and valuation may be impacted.”
Brown shared multiple ways for IROs to measure the impact of their actions. First, she suggests evaluating the impact of your and your peers’ IR events and press releases.
“I think the number one thing is to look at your price after IR events, after certain press releases. Also, look at your price after press releases or certain events from your competitors so that you can see and understand how your stock moves monthly. This gives you insight for when you’re asked, or when you need a point of view on ‘How does the street think we're doing’ and ‘How does that compare with how we think we will do, or we are doing?’”
In addition to quantitative evidence, Brown also advocates for having a qualitative perspective on what influences an analysts' perception. She explains how understanding their sentiments and needs allows you to guide them towards your intended message.
“Know your analyst estimates and their sentiments, and understand where it is accurate and constructive, and where it can change. Maybe analysts are missing the mark, and maybe there's an opportunity for me to market more with them, or to travel with them, or to be able to have opportunities for them to engage with my management team to give them a better understanding of our company and our drivers.”
Another benchmark of success for Brown is knowing your investor base's composition. She describes her strategy:
“I think change in the investor base is really important, and that's one of the top stories I always like to tell. I want to understand who is in my stock, who is not in my stock, and is that consistent with who I want. So on an annual basis, we developed our target list of investors, and then we'd be able to measure the success of engagement with that firm.”
Brown described several ways to measure the impact of monitoring your shareholders and engaging with targeted firms. The factors that implicate success include:
Shareholder monitoring tells one half of the story: who is already buying your stock. You can use that information to uncover gaps in your business strategy and use investor targeting to find appropriate investors to cover that gap. Brown describes a moment in her career when she used targeting to increase IR’s impact at FactSet;
“This was an area where [FactSet] really grew during my tenure as IR, because we saw that we're pretty well known in the US. Outside the US, there was work to do. So we targeted certain regions we wanted to show up in and ensure our story was understood in that market.”
By having the data available to see gaps in investor ownership and the tools to strategically target key investors, FactSet expanded its international presence. This is a great example of how to leverage your KPIs into actionable insights and use IR as an asset in your company’s growth.
Listen to Kendra Brown’s episode on How IR Can Become a Strategic Partner to the C-Suite
As an investor relations officer, your scope does not have to be limited to earnings calls and reporting. In fact, investor relations is often the most cross-functional office in a business. Jeremy Cohen likens IR to the hub of a wheel connecting all the spokes:
“You're going to pull information from various departments and push it back out sometimes. IR's role is cross-functional because what we communicate 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 can build rapport and consistency across the organization. So being at the center is critical.”
Adam Borgatti, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Investor Relations at Aecon Group, concurs:
“You're naturally in one of the most strategic roles within a corporation, and you get to see every part of the business and be in this unique spot where you're a conduit between the investor community, the analysts, your company, C suite, and your operational executives. It starts to work its way into a natural fit where you can provide strategic advice, all within that ecosystem.”
Borgatti described communications and sustainability as two key areas where IR can make a strategic impact. His recommendation to expand your impact internally is to step up and make your expertise known.
“I think too often, IROs feel that they're a vehicle to convey a company strategy outward to the market, but I think everybody needs to remember that you're uniquely in this position where you're at the nexus of all the information coming in from the markets, you're analyzing your competitors, etc. And so you have a lot to offer that doesn't flow through other company areas.
"And be sure that it's known that you can provide that strategic advice to your council because you're the connection between all these different sources of information. And within that ecosystem, it's a pretty valuable role. So, first and foremost, you've got to be present and make sure you can provide that advice.”
Listen to Adam Borgatti’s episode on How to Expand Your Scope of Responsibility as an IRO
To find a role as unique and differentiated as investor relations, job candidates should be unique and differentiated themselves. This section will discuss how expectations for investor relations professionals have changed over the past five years, what to expect in interviews, which traits separate the top 20% of IROs from their peers, and how to ensure your role aligns with your personal values.
The way businesses and workers operated was flipped upside down in 2020, but now that the dust has settled on the pandemic era, it’s evident that the new age has interesting implications for investor relations professionals.
We asked Smooch Repovich Rosenberg to weigh in on the current job market for IR professionals. According to Repovich Rosenberg, the global pandemic and related business shutdowns in the 2020s were a pivotal time for businesses to witness the impact investor relations has on a company's success in uncertain times.
“In the first few years of the pandemic, we conducted more confidential searches where there was a sitting IRO in place than we have done in the prior 10 years. There were a tremendous number of good IR leaders, but not great IR leaders. And so we saw this up-leveling of expectations of the person leading the function. And I think there has been a very clear validation that the IRO is a key part of the conversation, not just with the investment community, but about all business decisions.”
This sentiment echoes Rebecca Gardy’s above notion that the IRO’s unique understanding of market forces and internal mechanics is strategically important to navigate uncertain times. Jeremy Cohen and Adam Borgatti also share this viewpoint, noting how the IRO is situated to intake information from all business pillars and use that data to provide strategic guidance to leadership.
As with any job opportunity, businesses must vet candidates on their technical competencies; however, with so much at stake, it is also necessary to evaluate investor relations candidates' leadership abilities and ability to fit into the company milieu. Smooch Repovich Rosenberg shared some of the personality and aspirational questions she uses to match qualified IRO candidates with the right fit employers.
Firstly, she likes to ask about the candidate’s career aspirations:
“The answer you give me needs to demonstrate to me that you are invested in your own career journey, and directionally, you know, where you're headed. Otherwise, you fall into a very dated model of IR when IR talent simply went from one IR job to another IR job to another IR job. That doesn't happen anymore.”
She encourages candidates to answer honestly rather than give an answer that sounds impressive but has no meaning. This is to gauge self-awareness and to better align candidates to appropriate positions.
Repovich Rosenberg also wants candidates to relay their ability to be influential within their current organization because it demonstrates whether or not the candidate can be effective in the employer’s company.
“I want people to tell me about successful influencer moments. Because, at the end of the day, my clients know that all my candidates can do the job well. What I have to be confident about is whether you can be an influencer in an appropriate or neutral way. And there's an art to that. And a lot of people don't understand the art.”
Lastly, Repovich Rosenberg expects IRO candidates to bring their own questions about the prospective employer to the interview. Not only does it create an opportunity for candidates to self-determine if the role will be a good fit, she also notes that it demonstrates the intellectual curiosity and forward-thinking skills that IROs need to be strategic partners to the C-Suite.
When asked to define the traits of the top 20% of IROs she places, Repovich Rosenberg narrowed it down to organizational influence and thought leadership. On organizational influence:
“Whether it's influencing or observationally, being keenly and astutely dialed into the ethos of the organization is a direct result of positioning yourself to be respected and sought out by others.”
Regarding thought leadership, Repovich Rosenberg sees this skill as a mix of forward-thinking and tact. She describes the skill as having the data back up a point of view, but the self-awareness and humility to let the leaders lead.
“All of our clients asked me to bring them talent that has enough self-confidence where they have a viewpoint they're going to express even if it's different or conflicting with the CFO and CEO. But they're going to do it with humility. And there's an art to that.
“Can that IRO be an intellectual sparring partner with a CEO and CFO? And if those two executives land on a strategy that's different than the IRO’s, can the IRO walk away being on the same page? You can't have that if you lead with hubris. And sometimes people's lack of self-awareness doesn't allow them to see that maybe they're on the side of the line of hubris versus humility.”
To be effective in a role, you must ensure it’s the right fit for your skillset and your values. Repovich Rosenberg also recommends evaluating candidates based on values because it pays off during periods of turbulence.
“It’s easy to be brilliant when the financial markets are great, the economy's good, and your company is doing well. Right, that said, look at where we are; companies are stubbing their toes left and right. And in those moments, the CEO and CFO turn to the IROs to dig them out of the economic ditch. And they don't have time to learn about that person's values. You have to be able to trust this individual.”
For job seekers, Repovich Rosenberg encourages prospective candidates to ignore “shiny object syndrome” and consider what aspects of a role actually spark joy.
“We all like being sought after, we all want to be wanted, right? So when a recruiter calls, and there's this great opportunity, there's the shiny object. And suddenly, your critical thinking skills go right out the front door. You have to gain some objectivity and neutrality.
"Go into the process knowing who you are, what your values are, and calibrating that to every question you ask an executive at that company. Do your own stealth research about the board of directors and their backgrounds, because if they have been involved at companies that have values contrary to yours, that’s a constituency you have to reckon with.
"For round one of interviews, you can do a certain amount of research. But round two, I call it setting the table when you meet the CFO a second time, that's when you really start peeling back the layers with very specific questions, not just about values and the ethos of the organization, but expectations of the IROs performance.”
She also advocates knowing where your strengths and interests lie when considering roles. She notes that it can be tempting to pursue a role at a large-cap organization or transition to a more prestigious title, but candidates should know themselves and follow their desires instead of what might look better on paper.
Patricia Cruz has her own insights from personal experience and advises IROs contemplating new roles to consider not just industry or market-cap but their ability to make an impact as part of a team or as the sole steward of IR:
“It was important for me to find a team that felt right in terms of culture as well, because I was thinking about this long term. It's not like I wanted to change for the heck of it. So I started looking into the industries that I like. What size of team will be the most appropriate for me?
"If it's a big team, like a team of four or five, do I want that because I probably will have a smaller role, right? Or do I want a smaller team where I will have to wear multiple hats?”
Knowing where your wants, needs, and values lie is important when considering any major career moves.
Starting a new investor relations role presents challenges like forming new relationships and learning about the company. Experts recommend using the first 90 days to grasp and communicate the company's story, foster strong organizational ties, and effectively set up the investor relations function. These strategies help new IROs thrive from the outset.
Luke Wyse, Senior Vice President of Finance & Investor Relations at Triumph Financial, shares strategies for quickly becoming proficient in a new IR role, emphasizing the importance of developing relationships, gaining familiarity with processes and procedures, and getting comfortable with company history and current projections. He stresses the importance of a solid understanding of history:
“Read every transcript you can going back at least the last three years, or whatever is relevant for your firm. What has the CEO and CFO, and any other executive communicated to the street that you need to be aware of? At any time, you could sit down with an investor, and they're going to pull out a yellow pad, and they're going to say, okay, on X date, you said Y and you've got to be able to have a response to that and understand it.
"So familiarize yourself with what's been said. Know the wins, know the pain points. What have been the misses? What's been the missteps that management has had? What have they done well?”
Kendra Brown echoes the importance of learning a company’s position in its industry:
“It's really important that you understand the space you compete in and why you're a better long-term investment than your peers. That is valuable for management, and you're the only one in the organization that's looking at it in a holistic way.“
Lastly, you should be bold and ask questions or clarify expectations. Adam Borgatti reminds us that asking questions is the fastest way to learn and that people in your organization want to help you succeed.
“You've got to be in that ‘no such thing as a dumb question’ phase for a while early on, and make sure you're understanding things and approaching it from a new person's perspective. I always find people will take the time to help you early on to get up to speed because the more you do, the faster you’ll start to take more responsibility away from those traditionally who you've had to lean on.”
A major part of your role in investor relations will be communicating your company story to the street. We compiled several storytelling tips from experts and noted tips particularly relevant for IROs in new roles.
Luke Wyse highlights the importance of using your story to add value to investors:
“If you're just standing there, parroting back the financials, the investor is not going to get any value added from what you're bringing to the table.”
To channel all the relevant information back to the community and add value to the message, Wyse recommends getting to know leaders in many departments and functions throughout your company.
“You're going to want to spend a lot of time understanding the people who run the business. The revenue generators, particularly, are going to be the focus of a lot of investor questions. These people will have areas of control in the company that you need to know how revenue is generated, how pricing works, and 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.”
Brooks Rennie, Vice President and Head of Investor Relations at Byline Bank, notes that different executives may provide nuances to the story and that you should take in as much information as possible.
“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, listening, and taking notes.”
Listen to Brooks Rennie's episode on Creating an In-House Investor Relations Department from the Ground Up
To validate your mastery of the company story, Wyse recommends creating a report you can refer to. He shared his strategy for creating a document that was valuable for learning and for reference:
“As you're getting up to speed on the business, create a write up. After meeting with executives, you'll have a pile of notes and they'll be disjointed.
"If you're like me, with ideas scribbled here and there, organize those thoughts into talking points, then organize those thoughts into a story and an essay.
"If you hand somebody this document, does it accurately communicate what's occurring in that business? You can give it back to those executives and say, ‘Hey, would you please take a look at this and make sure that I've understood what you've presented to me as the correct way to understand your business.’”
Several of our guest experts suggest IROs plan a “listening tour” with leaders across the organization to build strong internal relationships and create a solid company context. Jeremy Cohen notes:
“It's not just finance and communications, but it's also legal, it's also marketing, it's also operations, its strategy, sometimes it's customer service. If you have engineering, I'd say talk to people on your engineering team and understand what they're doing daily; if you have R&D, talk to them. You don't need to become an expert in those fields, but having a working knowledge and a full understanding of what goes on at the company is important.”
Kendra Brown advises IROs to make time to be curious:
“The first hour of my day was always about consumption. So this can help us understand what is happening in the larger market and how that affects our performance. This can be listening to a town hall recording or figuring out a way to engage with someone externally or internally. Making the time to be curious is important so that you can arm yourself with information.”
There is also value in “doing your homework” on your company's existing resources, filings, and publications. Rennie recounts his learning curve from a recent role:
“You need to roll up your sleeves and do the homework on your own. The first thing I did was look on the company's IR website, where I read the 10 Q, the annual report, the investor presentations, and the earnings releases. Then I interviewed the executives to get their interpretation of the business and events.”
You can learn about your company in many ways, but the key takeaway is that you must give yourself time and keep your knowledge up-to-date.
Internal influence is necessary to be an effective liaison to the financial community. Our experts discussed how to get buy-in from internal stakeholders, maintaining strong working relationships with management, and strategies for broadening your influence within an organization.
IROs often encounter the challenge of encouraging internal stakeholders to prioritize investor relations. These stakeholders typically concentrate on their own operational areas, but as Jeremy Cohen points out, fostering cooperation can be mutually beneficial.
“Other stakeholders within the company may not have a seat at the table for communications, but you’re making sure that their voice is accounted for.”
Listen to Jeremy Cohen's episode on Involving Multiple Stakeholders in Investor Relations
Rebecca Gardy suggests that the role has to give and take; sometimes, you will seek information from internal experts, and other times, you relay feedback from the investment community to internal stakeholders.
“I don't think you can swoop in 3 weeks before the quarter, 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.”
Gardy shares this idea and encourages IROs to view internal relationships as a two-way street where they can provide value to internal stakeholders. Gardy advises IROs to be creative about the way that they curate relationships. She shares the strategies she uses to build new relationships and position herself as a pillar of her organization:
“I raise my hand for all sorts of things internally. I lead the women of the finance team to elevate younger female talent. I sponsor two Employee Resource Groups. I help with internal communications, I'm part of the HR team on some of the major initiatives around leadership development, I run our finance curriculum. So, there are lots of ways where I like to step up. And that gets me relationships throughout the nooks and crannies of the organization.”
This proactive leadership style can benefit IROs looking to deepen their influence within the organization and those looking to get a holistic view of the day-to-day of different departments. Smooch Repovich Rosenberg agrees that there is value in extending your internal relationships beyond the investor relations function:
“I think organizational influence sprouts directly from your interest in the overall well-being of the enterprise. And how do you develop that? You build relationships across the enterprise. And while you can do that in a limited way, just about IR topics, I think you have to do it beyond that. It's a little bit of that “one for all, all for one” mindset, that you're going to become that individual whom other people look to with respect.”
The key takeaway is that the IRO functions best when they can use their leadership abilities to uplift all corners of the company.
Establishing a solid working relationship with the executive team is crucial for an IRO, and it hinges on building trust. Relationship dynamics differ based on personalities and needs, but a solid professional reputation can significantly improve these relationships. Our guest experts suggest ways for IROs to foster trust and become more effective C-Suite partners.
Smooch Repovich Rosenberg suggests that the IRO can build their credibility by getting to know and availing themselves to other direct reports to the CEO:
“If I was an IRO, I would find a way to spend time with each of the direct reports to the CEO, and convey to that person my interest in that subject matter and volunteer on a project at some point. It's a great way to establish your own credibility internally and build your brand across every direct report to a CEO.”
This approach is excellent for building influence across the organization with key stakeholders and gathering information to enhance your advisory role to the CEO.
Kendra Brown’s transition from Chief of Staff to Investor Relations emphasized the importance of staying up-to-date with the needs of executives. She conducted her own internal perception study to fulfill her new role better.
“You need to understand what's important for your senior leadership team. What makes them tick? One thing I did when I started in this role, because I did this as chief of staff, but I never worked with our executive leadership team in that way. I scheduled one-on-ones with all of them to understand what's top of mind for them? What's working? What's not working? And how can we be better partners? It was just four questions that allowed me to do my own internal perception study of sorts, but it allowed me to be a better partner, and then I used that to understand how do I work with them, and who do I need to collaborate with going further.”
Lastly, our experts recommend considering how your working relationship might progress while interviewing for a new role. Brooks Rennie uses the airplane test as a litmus for how easy it is to connect with an executive.
“Through your interview process with the key executives, I think you can quickly form insight into how easily you can talk and connect with them. Are you able to travel with them? Because, in IR you'll be traveling with them a lot. Are you able to have challenging conversations with them? Are you able to give feedback? Those could be red flags when it comes to culture fit.”
When deciding where to pursue your career, there are typically two options: employment with the stock issuer or consulting at an investor relations firm. While many key responsibilities are similar, our guests note several differences between in-house and consultant roles. Patricia Cruz summarizes what an IR consultant role looks like:
“Advisory teams work as an extension of the IR teams in-house. They help design effective investor relations programs based on the company's goals, needs, and budget. They support the company in capturing the market's attention, and maintain visibility amongst the sector they belong to, their region and global competition.”
Jeremy Cohen, who previously worked as an in-house IRO and presently consults for Edelman Smithfield, describes the practical differences between consulting vs in-house as breadth versus depth.
“In consulting we work with different companies at stages of the lifecycle and see different strategic situations, whether it's M&A, activism, or executive transitions, but often at arm's length because we're not in-house.”
The primary challenge of consultant roles is building key strategic relationships and embedding oneself in the organization. Cohen mentions that every company is unique and takes a different approach to how they want consultants to work with and advise them.
Patricia Cruz recommends IR consulting as a first step for individuals looking to start their investor relations career due to the breadth of learning opportunities.
“IR advisories are where I started my career, and I recommend everybody to start there because you have access to various industries, geographies, market caps, IR team sizes, etc. So it's a really great school. You get to learn about everything holistically, you have access to all sorts of IR challenges. Often, because budget, is less of a restriction, you have better access to research and other tools.”
Due to the strategic importance of the investor relations officer, many IROs wish to improve their internal influence on decision-making, or “get a seat at the table." Our guests shared their thoughts on why IR needs a seat at the table, how IROs can use their influence to earn a place, and how to provide value to decision-makers.
In Jeremy Cohen’s view, the IRO should act like a Chief Intelligence Officer and help guide decision-making based on their unique point-of-view that serves Wall Street.
“IROs have a pulse on Wall Street. They understand perceptions and what it takes to evolve them. So every day we're in the trenches, we hear the good, often the bad, sometimes the ugly. It's our job to synthesize the information we're taking in from different analysts. And because we have such deep institutional knowledge, we can take that information and prepare and arm executives with the right information so that when they make decisions, they are accounting for what Wall Street is thinking.”
Using your unique insights to contribute to strategic discussions will ensure that your actions or communications are well-aligned with your strategic goals. Luke Wyse points out:
“If strategic discussions take place and at the end of that process, they come to you and say, ‘Hey, we need help messaging this,’ you're already in a bad spot. You need to be on the front end of those discussions, which means you need to demonstrate to the executive team that you add value to what they're doing, so that they include you in those processes and don't just add you at the end.”
Getting a seat at the table will depend strongly on the IRO’s ability to provide value to management. Kendra Brown stresses the importance of using your insights in IR to proactively provide value to management:
“Investor relations is one of the few roles where you actually get to be out and travel with senior members of management. So, how are you using that to your advantage to show the value of your program? Have a few things in your pocket that you can share when you're between meetings or having a meal so that you can have a conversation that promotes the value of your program.
“One really important thing is to anticipate what's needed, and then offer that proactively. We would create Q&A documents every single quarter that go through what we expect to be asked on our earnings call. We did a monthly newsletter. That was the best thing we did because it gave people a new understanding. Even though the IR position was already very strategic at FactSet, it became more strategic when we started proactively pushing information.”
It is not just important to impress your executive team, as Adam Borgatti points out, it is also important to impress the board.
“Any IR function should be presenting in regular cadence, whether annually, quarterly, or as required, but, make sure that you're part of the flow of information to the board.”
Borgatti suggests the following prompts to help you synthesize your information and demonstrate the value IR provides the board:
Lastly, if you don’t have a seat at the table and it’s inhibiting your effectiveness, do not be afraid to ask for what you need. Patricia Cruz advises IROs to be a proactive self-advocate:
“This is a world where people have strong opinions. So don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Nobody will come and ask you, ‘Oh, do you want this? Do you need this?’ No one will. So don't be afraid to just ask for a seat at the table.”
By taking a proactive approach and demonstrating your ability to create value and influence across the organization, you become an obvious invite to strategic discussions.
Earning a strategic role involves not just offering unique insights but also influencing others effectively. Rebecca Gardy outlines her approach to leading through influence, highlighting the importance of demonstrating value to gain influence.
“I think the most important thing for me, as I have worked in different companies in the lead IR seat, is to demonstrate value back to the organization. The more you prove that you're adding value, the more influence you have.
"When we give it back to the organization, it’s quite additive to the business units to have all of our information distilled, synthesized, and mapped against our corporate strategy. Having the IR team decipher and interpret disparate data is added value. And so I think you create this influence by being valuable to internal stakeholders and your leadership team or board.”
Listen to Rebecca Gardy’s episode on The IRO Blueprint For Leading Through Influence.
Your ability to add value to the board might depend on your board’s individual needs. Luke Wyse recommends a direct approach to ensuring that your efforts are well aligned with what your board needs:
“If you want to be sure you're adding value, know the yardsticks by which they're measuring you. What do your chairman and board of directors like about what they're getting from IR? What aren't they getting from IR they would like to see? What do they see at other companies they're on boards of that they would like you to start doing? Figure out their communication preferences.
"But to add value, you need to understand what those people look for from you, which takes communication, relationships, and time.”
Taking a direct approach to understanding the needs of key decision-makers allows you to be a better resource to them. Also, it exposes ways to go above and beyond as a trusted advisor. Try combining proactive engagement with the board with direct questioning to ensure you continually go above and beyond.
The investor relations department typically consists of a small team or even just one person, making it difficult to find peers for learning and perspective sharing. Despite these challenges, forming connections with other IR professionals is highly beneficial for career growth. Our guests emphasized the advantages of interacting with counterparts in the field, how professional associations provide access to mentorship and learning, and the various networking events, opportunities, and resources available for IR professionals.
Investor relations can be lonely if you're siloed in your business and have no one to bounce ideas off of. Matt Brusch shares how associations were invaluable to him in his early career:
“I did investor relations for three public companies. They were all small-cap companies, which is not unique. I was a department of one, right? So I had to know the answer or figure out a way to get the answer. The CEO could ask you a question, and you can’t just look left or right to a team of people that can help you. So it's critical that you have a network of folks you can rely on to get the answers, because, undoubtedly, someone else has been through what you're experiencing.”
Many IROs share this sentiment because they often have deep knowledge in their particular domain but still need some breadth on other challenges. Andrea Daley, Vice President of Investor Relations at Dentsply Sirona, shares how the IR community helped her tackle unexpected executive departures.
“One of the things that's been tremendously helpful to me, not just in my first year but overall in my time at IR, is the network of other IR professionals and the importance of being able to see other examples of how a company did something like introduce a new CEO or CFO. And, now that we have that experience, I've shared that with other IROs who are going through a transition, and they'll call and say, ‘Hey, we're getting ready to plan, and we're thinking about onboarding our new CFO. What tactics and things did you use to introduce a new C-suite member to the investment community.’ It’s so helpful to think about these scenarios and then share ideas about what worked and what didn't.”
Listen to Andrea Daley’s episode on Navigating IR Amidst Executive Transitions
Professional associations offer IROs numerous learning and networking opportunities. They create online content like webinars and white papers and organize local and national conferences and events. Matt Brusch advocates for the strength and community available in local NIRI chapters and recommends that IROs find local chapters for their national professional association.
“Chapters are the lifeblood of NIRI. Chapters give you the opportunity at the local level to network, and that's where many folks start to build their networks. I still have friends and colleagues from when I first joined my local chapter in the North Carolina area. Chapters deliver a ton of value through education and through networking. They do a lot of the programming. They do a lot of the heavy lifting.”
Additionally, these associations often have special programs for nurturing young talent and facilitating mentorship. Brusch points out NIRI's Compass Mentor Program, and Patricia Cruz shares her beneficial experience with NIRI Next Gen, aimed at connecting junior professionals with experienced IROs for mentorship and learning.
“About seven years ago, I would go to networking events and see a lot more senior people there. And so often, people my age and other younger professionals felt slightly out of place at that time. The NIRI New York chapter decided to develop this program to create courses and events where this new up-and-coming generation could connect and introduce those young professionals to senior ones and have a mentorship program.”
Lastly, most investor relations associations will hold conferences once per year to unite all their chapters and create an environment where IROs from across the country can gather to learn from each other and expand their professional network.
Notable Investor Relations Associations include:
Commonly, IROs often work solo, making networking and learning from peers in the same industry invaluable. Connecting with IROs facing similar sector-specific challenges is particularly beneficial. For instance, IROs in oil and gas encounter different issues than those in biotech/pharma. Matt Brusch notes:
“In IR it's common that among fierce business competitors, the IR people from those companies will be colleagues. Typically, NIRI’s most highly rated sessions are what we call the industry breakouts. This is where we put the IR people from the same industry in a room and let them chat in an unstructured way. There's no agenda; we just put them in the room, and they talk to each other. That session generates rave reviews every year, and it's because we need each other to be successful.”
In addition to networking and on-the-job learnings, our experts recommend investing in your education and pursuing any relevant degrees or certificates that can help you. Adam Borgatti encourages IROs to pursue certifications and stay up-to-date on new information.
“Setting yourself up for success and taking the time to invest in your own career and your own education along the way never hurts. Be current on your accreditations and your education opportunities. Most people in IR have some degree they bring, such as a CA, a CFA or a graduate degree in communications. But, if you're in the role and you want to get more depth within it, CIRI within Canada has a CPIR designation. In the US, NIRI has their IRC designation.
"You can get many opportunities within your field that position you for success. So take the odd sustainability course or financial reporting things that help you with valuation or studies of the markets, even AI and all those things. Setting yourself up to be present and current in these new dimensions, in these markets, helps you. No doubt.”
IR constantly evolves, and best practices can shift with new demands, regulations, or technological advancements. Not only is it helpful to tackle these paradigm shifts as they come, but staying current in your profession can also support your career progression long-term.
Investor relations stands out as a profession unlike any other. It is uniquely positioned within a business to act as a bridge between internal and external stakeholders and as a strategic advisor to top executives. Insights from our diverse panel offer an insider’s view into the IRO’s responsibilities, strategies for finding the right role, methods for quickly acquiring knowledge to become an effective and influential team member, and ways to advance in your investor relations career.