S1E10 - Building a Strong Support System: The Power of Community in Investor Relations with Matt Brusch, NIRI

This episode of Winning IR explores the value and necessity in building a network of fellow investor relations professionals. Matt Brusch, President and and CEO at NIRI (National Investor Relations Institute in the USA) joins Mark Fasken to share his perspective on the uniqueness of the investor relations function and the importance of being able to connect with and learn from your peers.

Listen to the episode or read the transcript to learn more about:

  • What are the challenges of learning investor relations?
  • What characteristics and talents do IR professionals have in common?
  • How do professional associations help IROs access mentorship and learning opportunities?
  • What kind of events, opportunities, and social/professional networks are available to investor relations professionals?
  • Why meeting your counterparts at business competitors is vital to your career.
  • Is in-person networking still common post-pandemic?

About Our Guest

Matt Brusch is President and CEO of NIRI: The Association for Investor Relations. He was previously COO, led professional development programs, credentialing, publications and communications for NIRI. He has over 25 years of experience leading the investor relations and corporate communications functions for several public companies, and he served in regulatory and marketing roles with the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Episode Transcript

Fasken  

Matt, how are you doing today?

Brusch  

I'm doing well, Mark, how are you?

Fasken  

I'm good. Thanks. I'm good. So I wanted to start it off with a little bit of maybe a history lesson. As we were just talking about you've you've been with NIRI now, for about 15 years. I thought it'd be good to start with a little bit of background on what drew you to NIRI? How did you end up in the position you're in?

Brusch  

Well, thank you for asking. Thanks for inviting me onto your webcast. 

So, you know, it's two things really, it's sort of this passion for Investor Relations and professional growth, to be quite frank. So I started out in capital markets about 30 years ago, at NASDAQ, I saw when I was at NASDAQ, and regulatory and, you know, some marketing things and some relationship management and I saw people leaving to go do this thing called investor relations. And it looked interesting, right? And so I pitched myself to a CEO and a CFO of a public company as an IRO. And quickly learned that I really didn't know investor relations. I knew a little bit but I didn't know enough. And so I joined NIRI. I did what most people within the profession do; I joined NIRI for the education for the resources for the you know, all the information and for the networking, so NIRI turned out to be sort of my lifeline. And, and so, you know, developed early, great affinity for the organization throughout my career in investor relations. 

When the opportunity came about 15 years ago, to jump to the staff, I really, you know, I thought that that would be a great way to sort of stay connected to investor relations, which I really developed a passion for. And then also, you know, learn about association management. So it's really those two things. It's this idea that, you know, came to learn to love investor relations. And, you know, had the opportunity to learn something new called association management. And so, fast forward to today, and here I am talking to you.

Fasken  

Yeah. Well, it's great. And I mean, for anybody who's listening, I'm personally very involved in in NIRI, sponsor a lot of events and part of the conference planning committee and Service Provider Council, and it is a great community, it's a great group of people. What is it that interests you about, Sort of that you mentioned, community building, and I mean, facilitation, everything? Like, what keeps you coming back? What is it that gets you excited every day?

Brusch  

Well, it goes back to, again, this passion for the profession. So of the thing that's really kept me interested interested in investor relations is just that really very unique body of knowledge. So probably, like, again, many of the folks that are in the profession, I'm a kind of an English major, wasn't an English major, but always very interested in did well, you know, with words, right, so kind of the English major that's sort of always also enjoyed numbers, right, andfound my way to business and enjoyed financial statement analysis and capital markets. And, and so you can kind of move those around from individuals with individuals, you know, someone that's started on Wall Street, you know, but also enjoys the, the, you know, the, the words part of it, the English, someone that, you know, that has come to the profession from perhaps accounting or finance, but it's an incredibly unique profession, you know, I mean, that when you, you find the, sort of the, the crossroads between those, those three unique, distinct bodies of knowledge, which is English, it's accounting and finance and it’s capital markets, you know, that's very unique. 

And so, I guess, through experience in the staff, I also, like I mentioned, learned to really appreciate and come to enjoy association management, which a lot of which involves leading volunteers, and leading groups of volunteers. So, you know, I found that it's been really interesting and fulfilling to lead volunteers, these folks, folks like you, you know, you're participating on the annual conference committee, you know, we couldn't produce that, or you know, most of our events without volunteers like you that donate your time and your talent, to making our events and making the events good for the profession for new members. So, you know, to the extent that we're all sort of together here to advance the mission of proving the profession and helping people do their jobs better. It's all good. And I find that really intriguing and keeps me coming back.

Fasken  

And I think to your point on this, it's funny, every once in a while, I find myself talking to a friend or family member and they're saying, you know, what exactly is it that you do? And they say, Well, I work in the investor relations field. And some of them are like what what exactly is that? I mean, you think public companies, it's a huge part of our economy a huge part of our daily lives. Yet  it is interesting how few people really understand the profession. Which sort of leads me to my next question. I mean, we speak to so many investor relations professionals, CFOs, CEOs, etc. Many of them know what NIRI is. Many of them are members, but many of them I'm surprised don't exactly know what NIRI does, and maybe haven't been a member or currently a member. And there is power in the community in the learning and mentorship and the network. What would you say to somebody who is maybe new to the profession, and maybe doesn't know about the IR community? And whether it's NIRI or there's, you know, other international bodies that that you interact with as well? Like, what what would your recommendation be to them?

Brusch  

You know, so having come from the profession, I can tell you that there is incredible power in the network that you develop. And it's really central to your success. So if you want to be successful in investor relations, you absolutely need to develop a network. And as you say, I mean, NIRI is the opportunity to do that. There are other organizations that facilitate that kind of thing. The point is, you, you need to have a group of investor relations professionals that you can lean on and rely on for information. 

So I draw from my own experience, right, 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 figured out a way to get the answer. You know, when the CEO comes in and asks you why this or that you're not part of a 40 person accounting team that you can just sort of look to your left or right and ask somebody, you know, what, what's the answer, right? You've got to, you've got to either know it or figure out quickly how to find out that answer. And so that's what's really unique about this profession. You know, 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, you know, accounting, like I mentioned, accounting, finance, communications, marketing, what have you, you likely know, some element of investor relations, but you don't know all of it. Right. So then, and in most cases, you're a department of one or very small department. So it's really critical that you have, you know, a network of folks that you can rely on to get the answers, because undoubtedly, someone else has been through what you're experiencing. Right. So yeah. 

So that network is what's really going to get you through, you know, and there's lots of ways: there's chapters, there's events, you know, if you're just looking at NIRI we've got, you know, I'll give a quick pitch for an area we've got the  eGroups which is an online communications tool that people you know, post questions and get answers quickly, you know, you can develop your network through volunteering, you can develop networks through working through folks like Irwin or you know, service providers in the community. So we're, you know, sort of you're NIRI I'm NIRI we're all part of NIRI, we're all part of the profession, and we all help each other.

Fasken  

Yeah, it's, it's, it's interesting. You talk about people coming in and having questions, maybe not having a degree in investor relations, that I was thinking about one of the the also the interesting things about the investor relations profession in the and the function within most companies is it's very small. So it's not like you're joining a team where there's going to be 25 people, and they've all done it before, like, often you're coming into the role and you're like, the only person or one of two people that are doing investor relations. And I've always been really impressed by the willingness amongst the NIRI membership. And, I mean, we're in Canada, the CIRI membership. To answer any question that anybody has about what how are you doing this? What what platforms are using for that? There seems to be a real willingness to share, which I think is super valuable.

Brusch  

Let me let me just jump in and say, here's an interesting factoid. So, you know, and this is something unique to the investor relations profession. Right, in IR , it's common that, you know fierce business competitors, the IR people from those companies will be colleagues, right. They'll, you know, meet at the NIRI annual conference. Typically, our most highly rated sessions are what we call the industry breakouts. This is where we, we basically put, you know, the people from the IR people from the same industry in a room. Let them chat in an unstructured way we, there's no, there's no agenda there. You know, it's just you put them in the room and they talk to each other. That session, you know, just generates rave reviews. Every year, and it's because this idea that, you know, we need each other to be successful. And so again, it's really unique to this profession.

Fasken  

Yeah. It's kind of like a rising tide lifts all boats in many of these cases, especially in capital markets, right. If your peer is doing well, you may also do well, not always, of course, it's not that easy, but it seems like there's a benefit there. 

And, you know, last year was the first year in a while that everybody's got back together for NIRI annual. You know, you mentioned chapters, you know, I think a great tip for anybody who's listening if you're a member of NIRI. And if you're not a member of NIRI, my tip would be join NIRI or whatever investor relations association is in your country. But I think that the chapter participation and sort of getting involved with a group in your hometown and within the city that you're in is super valuable. But there seems to be a big appetite for in-person networking, and we did a lot of online Zoom calls and the like. So are you seeing a huge demand for these sort of in person networking events? Are you still seeing a big split between virtual and in person?

Brusch  

You know, that's a great question. I did investor relations, and so when there's not an easy answer you come back immediately with that's a great question. So…

Fasken  

Answer with another question.

Brusch  

And it's a great question. You know, it's one we're asking at NIRI. It's, it's an I listen, I'm an Association Executive at this point. So I'm part of that broader Association community, this is a discussion that's happening. Within, you know, the Association world, it really, you know, varies at this point, at least from my perspective, it varies to a great degree by industry and profession. So the best data that we have for NIRI is that at the '22 annual conference we just had in June, which we just talked about, we had more than 900 people there. And that's on par with pre-pandemic times, you know, plus or minus a handful. So, you know, we're back in person, and it looks like people want to get back together, I can tell you, they were incredibly happy to be there. I mean, you know, we, it got rave reviews, I think we could have just brought them together, not even had sessions, people would have been delighted that there was a huge appetite. Right. I guess the question really is, does that appetite carry forward? You know, in '23 and beyond? But, you know, we think it will, you know, we're seeing we're seeing, you know, to the extent that we have in person events, we're seeing strong turnouts, you know, and I think again, it goes back to this idea of networking. The NIRI events are as much about professional development and education as they are about professional network building, and network maintenance. Right. So, you know, people, people will do virtual networking, but they really prefer it in person is my experience.

Fasken  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And so I think there's a kind of a couple tips that we've, we've taken out of out of the conversation so far, I feel like one big one that jumps out to me is what you were just talking about, of getting together with your peers, and even some of your competitive companies. I sort of wonder how many IROs are doing that, right, reaching out to the head of IR, at at one of their competitors and saying, hey, we'd love to get together for a coffee. I feel like there's a big opportunity there. We also talked a little bit about mentorship in another conversation. And you mentioned that  NIRI is sort of launching and testing out a mentorship program. Can you chat a little bit about that?

Brusch  

Yeah, we've got a pilot program in place called the Compass Mentor Program. And, you know, it's a way for, you know, members have told us that they want the opportunity, the ability to network, or I'm sorry, to build networks through mentoring. And so we have launched that. So we've got a handful of folks that are connecting now, through our mentor program, and we'll see how that goes. I know several other chapters have also begun working with mentor programs. It's something that people want. It's just a question of whether or not you know, when you deliver it, they'll participate in it. And we're testing that out now. So I'll let you know once we have some better data.

Fasken  

Yeah. Yeah, I think that the other big thing here is taking that opportunity to reach out to say competitors, or maybe colleagues or peers that you wouldn't normally think to speak to. I also see examples in the community where people have just sort of un-structured groups where they get together once in a while, for lunch or a beer or whichever it's it's not always within the association I'm talking about in the US and Canada and other places. I feel like that's super valuable too, like, it doesn't need to be too structured. But having an approach of, you know, I want to contribute. And if I contribute, you know, you mentioned you're NIRI I'm NIRI we're all NIRI, I think like, if the attitude is I want to contribute to the community and you know, if I can get something back out of that, that's great, you know, not going in with an ego and being willing to talk about the challenges that you're having. I feel like you can get a lot of benefit from these things. 

Sort of one other question I have for you is sort of a bit of a wrap up question is, if you could say one thing to someone who hasn't interacted with their local NIRI chapter or maybe isn't a part of an International Association, what would it be?

Brusch  

Listen, you know, you're leaving value on the table is my opinion, you know, that chapters are the lifeblood of NIRI. So we, we, you know, they're an integral part they're a significant part there are fundamental element of the NIRI experience. So, you know, chapters give you the opportunity at the local level to, you know, to network and that's where a lot of folks begin their NIRI journey. That's where they start to build their networks. I did the same when I joined NIRI. You know, I still got friends and colleagues and colleagues that, you know, have become friends. And that's often what happens, you know, from the time that I was in a chapter in North Carolina, and here in the DC area, you know, they deliver a ton of value through education and through the networking. They do they do a lot of the programming do a lot of the heavy lifting, and they're, you know, they're a big part of the community, I would encourage you to be a NIRI chapter member, if you're, if you're not, you know, again, I feel like you're leaving value on the table. And, you know, they're an important part in developing and developing yourself into a successful investor relations professional.

Fasken  

Awesome. I think that covers everything for today, Matt, and really appreciate you coming on the podcast. And I really appreciate all the time and effort that you put into the IR profession and the NIRI community as a whole. It's awesome to see and the dedication is, is great. And so thank you for your time. And I'm sure we'll be chatting again soon.

Brusch  

Thanks, Mark. Thank you for inviting me and thank you as well for you know, your contributions to the community. We're all NIRI right.

Fasken  

Yeah, that's right. All right. Have a good day. You too. Thanks. Thanks.

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About Winning IR

Winning IR is a podcast exploring the diverse insights within the investor relations community. Join host Mark Fasken as he discusses the winning strategies, tactics, and shifts in thinking with innovative investor relations professionals who are redefining the profession.

Each episode features a different challenge, innovation, or perspective on the ever-evolving role of IR, giving you real, actionable insight you’ll be able to use to build a better investor relations program. 

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