S2E3 - Gene Rubin from Rivel on Everything You Need To Know About Perception Studies

In this episode of Winning IR, Mark Fasken sits down with Gene Rubin, President of Rivel—the largest global perception study provider—to discuss how companies can gain competitive advantages by utilizing research, insight, and distinctive communications. 

Gene talks about the insights and value a perception study can provide, what point IRO’s should consider conducting one, the value of hiring an outside firm, and more insights from his 20-plus year tenure at Rivel.

In this episode, we cover:

  • What a perception study is
  • The events that may trigger a need for a perception study 
  • Some of the best practices to prepare for a perception study and ensure that it’s successful 
  • Conducting a perception study one yourself vs hiring an outside firm
  • Common misconceptions about perception studies
  • The time commitment a perception study requires 
  • The steps to take after a perception study has been conducted

About Our Guest

Gene Rubin is the President of Rivel, and has been with the company since 2000. He manages the overall growth of revenue and profitability of the firm while overseeing custom investor perception study projects for several dozen clients. Since joining the Rivel team, he has led 600+ investor perception study projects, advising senior management teams and boards in areas of strategic investor communications across all industries, with a heavier concentration in energy, materials, financials and industrials. Gene helped to create Rivel’s Executive Intelligence Council (now GuideLign) program and is also heavily involved in its research and programming processes. In addition, he has served as a mentor supporting the growth of Rivel’s consulting team since 2006.

Episode Transcript

Mark Fasken: This is Winning IR, a podcast exploring the diverse insights within the IR community. Join me, Mark Fasken, as I sit down with IROs and other IR stakeholders to discuss the winning strategies, tactics, and shifts in thinking that are redefining the profession. 

My guest this week has been advising management teams and boards on how aligning attitudes and behaviors of key stakeholders can make the difference between success and failure in their business since 2000. Gene Rubin is the President of Rivel, and has led over 600 investor perception study projects, advising senior management teams and boards in areas of strategic investor communications across all industries. 

He is a frequent presenter and panelist at NIRI local chapter meetings, regional conferences and national events. Prior to joining Rivel, Gene spent eight years working as a stockbroker for various brokerage firms on Wall Street. I’m incredibly excited to share his expert perspective on the value of investor perception studies with you—let’s begin.

What is a perception study?

Mark Fasken: I want to kick it off with a sort of foundational question, if you will. Can you provide us with a brief overview of what a perception study is, and what are some of the insights that come out of them?

Gene Rubin: At its core, Perception Studies are just a customer satisfaction survey. That's it. But it's done amongst the investment community. Specifically, those investment professionals that follow your company closely and are really responsible for deciding what your market valuation is. And there's really three components. It's very simple—like making lemonade. You've got good questions, a good list of respondents, and a professional interviewer.

I would say probably the last thing is it needs to be objective. So you probably want to have a third party do it. You want it to be anonymous, but really that's what it is. The customer satisfaction survey done amongst the investment community. Period.

The most common insights or common questions companies are trying to get out of perception studies:

Mark Fasken: What are some of the most common insights or maybe common questions that you find companies are trying to get out of them? Is it just that? Are investors happy or not happy? I would think there's probably some more, some deeper questions that they're trying to get answered.

Gene Rubin: Well, the reality is the investor is almost never happy. They're always looking for something to poke at. But as far as insights are concerned, if what a perception study is, is a customer satisfaction survey amongst investors, then what the main insights are, for the most part, companies are looking for certainty. 

Right, what is an investor perception study, why do people do it? They do it because they want certainty. People think they know what investors think and then they cross a rubric on it so you know I want to make sure I know I know and That's where the investor perception study all of a sudden becomes a thing that you use. 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. 

What you're trying to do is figure out whether to them, one, are the facts appealing? Are your assumptions appealing? Do they have confidence in the fact that your assumptions are correct? And if they're not confident, well, then why? So you're trying to figure out, did they hear it? Did the right people hear it? Do they like it? Do they believe it? They don't believe it. Is it something I said, something we did? Or is it the big bad world outside that is somehow, some way, weighing in on this belief. And that's really what you're trying to get at. You know, I know that that's kind of consultant speed, but if you get into more specifics, all right, they want a benchmark and the understanding of the story. Great. They want to gauge to what degree the investment community supports management. Do they support the strategy? Do they support how you're deploying capital? Do they support governance? Even more specifically though, with a perception study, typically what clients want to do is pinpoint any valuation draining gaps in the understanding of the story. Then they want to pinpoint if you will have a precise roadmap to close them.

Then we'll make sure that there's alignment between the investment community and the management team. We are going to achieve this. What we wanna know is make sure the investment community says, yeah, I like that and I believe it. And I would say probably one of the last things is, the idea is to be able to identify any potential risk from activists. Because if the story's not straight, if there's lack of support for management, if there are questions about how capital is being deployed, if the story's complex,

It's usually a good recipe for an activist to come, especially if you've got an underutilized balance sheet and a lot of cash flow. So those are some of the, I have found some of the big reasons why, some of the findings if you will and insights coming out of a perception like there's others, but those I think are some of the pillars.

Mark Fasken: I think that's great. You know, it's funny, I think about sort of this saying of like when you have a message and then your customers or in this case investors start to repeat it back to you, that's when you've successfully communicated it. I think the interesting thing about what you just said though is, yeah, they might be able to communicate it back, but do they believe it? Are they supportive of it? You know, do the investors see gaps in it? Right?

Mark Fasken: I think investors are born inherently, not negative, but they question everything. So I think they may say, oh yeah, we totally understand the strategy. It's like, yeah, but do you agree with it? I think it's the big part that you guys are helping companies answer.

Gene Rubin:  I think that's a big part of it. You know, look, a company doesn't necessarily want to change its strategy based on what a perception study says. But what you might find is that the communications function works. We said it, they heard it. We said ABC, we asked them, what do we say? Everybody comes back and says, you said A, you said B, you said C. Check the box, the communications function is working like a well-oiled machine. Then the question is, all right, as you mentioned, is it appealing to you? 

Well, if I say no, I might, it's not that I'm wrong, but I might be the wrong audience. So that's the second part of the equation. The function works, but did we point the gun in the right direction? And that's where the company decides, are we going to change who we are? Or do we perhaps change who we're trying to communicate the message to so that we can now, not only have people say, I've heard it, but now they can say, but this is in line with what I think is attractive.

Mark Fasken:  I think it's especially important in an environment like now where you've got tons of volatility, you've got companies who were on this huge growth path and maybe that's changed or very profitable and maybe now or not. And they're probably looking forward and their investors who they have now are maybe going, we're not so aligned with the story anymore. And to your point, you need to be aware of that and thinking about, okay, well, how do I need to fill those gaps?

At what point should IROs be thinking about conducting a perception study?

Mark Fasken:  My next question is, at what point then should IROs be thinking about conducting a perception study? Are there certain events that you find trigger that or times of the year where it's the best time?

Gene Rubin: Look, time of the year, it's tricky. Probably everybody knows you don't start one during Christmas time. And perhaps if you're in Europe, you don't touch the third rail, which is called August. But I mean, other than that, why or what's the right time? 

It's always a function of valuation, event and argument. If you want to send a message or if you want to show progress. Somebody comes downstairs from upstairs and says, I am not happy with the valuation and I'm trying to figure out why, okay? We're undervalued. Investor perception studies help you figure out with some certainty why. You might have an event, new management team, new strategy, we have an event coming in investor day around the corner, just in an acquisition six months ago. The idea is to put a benchmark in the ground with respect to what's what. The argument for me is my favorite way forward. 

We want to buy back stock. No, we want to drive the dividend. No, we want to reinvest organically. Or somebody at the board says, actually, we have earned the right to do M&A. All of a sudden, you know what? Why don't we do an investor perception study to see to what degree there's support for A or B or C or D? Now, again, we won't necessarily change what we do off of that, but we will at least know where everybody all stands in a way that everybody can at least agree upon. And I would say the other one is to obviously show progress. 

It's very difficult when you're communicating to the investment community because you're not selling stuff. They don't buy more things because you've done a great job communicating. The idea is, again, we said it. Did they hear it? And perhaps we've changed the message. Did they hear that? How are you able to benchmark that perhaps in the future measure it again? Because remember, if I start, and I do a survey, and it comes back and says, you know something? Management was great. And then a year later, two years later, I interviewed people, I met with people saying, management is great. Did we move the needle from great to great? And the way that you do that is with an investor perception study.

Mark Fasken: And when you say that you do that with investor perception study is you're saying that high level, great to great, is not really at the end of the day that useful. And so it's more so about getting into the details of like, well, what are we doing great? Because maybe there are areas where we're doing great. Maybe there's areas where we're just OK. But we don't know that if we're not doing this detailed analysis.

Gene Rubin: At least that's what I believe. I've seen it in action. I've done 700 plus of these. So what I've seen is this. Companies that are in a pretty good standing with the investment community, if you conduct a survey, what you might find out is when investors speak about management, they say management of great operators.

You do one two years later and they're saying management of visionary, highly strategic and shoulder friendly. Both cases, they're saying management is wonderful. I'll tell you, the first one does not get you a very high valuation. The second one is where the valuations is garnered. Now, you can't have a strong valuation based on vision and strategy and being shoulder friendly without strong operations. But strong operations alone as a perception from the investment community does not set you free.

What should IROs do to ensure their perception study is successful, and what are some things they should avoid?

Mark Fasken: Love the analogies. OK, that's great. And so the next question is more around best practices. So I've decided that I'm going to do a perception study. So let's say I'm in one of these examples where we're sitting in a board meeting. We've got a couple of different things that we're thinking about doing. We want to get some feedback from our investors. So we're going to do a perception study. 

What are some of the best practices that an IRO or a management team in general should be thinking about that that perception study is successful because it's a decent investment of time. So what should they do to ensure it's successful is part one. And then what are some things that you say people should really avoid?

Gene Rubin:  These are the most fun questions. All right, because the best practice is you've got to make sure you nail down the purpose. The purpose can't be to get some feedback. Purpose can't get some candid feedback. Purpose has to be we're trying to figure out why our valuation is what it is. We're trying to figure out capital deployment. What will happen if we go a little to the left, a little to the right?

I want to make sure we understand whether or not they're credible so that when we, I don't know, speak to investors or provide guidance, they're actually leaning on us as opposed to going somewhere externally to pressure test a message, et cetera. So you have to make sure you really nail down the purpose. Second of all, you have to get buy-in. And I mean, you got to get buy-in internally. You have to have people say, yes, I am buying into the fact that we're doing this, whether the CEO, the CFO, sometimes head of Corpcom, the entire IR team, you might have a vocal board member. 

Everyone's got to say, yeah, you know what, we're doing this. And then the last thing you really have to make sure, two more, the second to last, is who's going to be presented to? Because that's going to affect the question that you ask sometimes. Is it going to be for IR? Is it going to be presented to management? Is it going to go in front of the entire ELT? And then what about the board?

Because you have to make sure that you ask your management team about what are going to be some of the warts that come out of the serve.

If you don't ask the C-suite, hey boss, I want to ask you, what are we going to run into in your opinion? Where are the warts? You have to make sure that moment happens and you've got somebody in the C-suite that says, I think we're going to see a problem here, here and here. This way, it's not a surprise when it gets there. This way they're willing to accept the results. This way they've probably already spoken about it to the board. This way now you have carte blanche to deliver anything next.

With that afterwards being, you know, the messenger that gets shot. Those are really best practices. You know, what to avoid, I can get into that as well, if you want me to. But unless you have something else on the tip of your tongue as far as the best practice.

What is the main reason for management teams not buying in?

Mark Fasken: What is the main reason for management teams not buying in? Because you said you need everybody to have buy in. I mean, I think that's, you know, obviously a big piece of it. But what would be the common pushback that you see?

Gene Rubin:  A common pushback is if a company's been having a lot of difficulty and everyone is very, very well aware of the fact that it's been in a lot of pain, the last thing you need is another perception study, another measurement that comes in and hits everybody over the head one more time. That's not helpful.

 Sometimes what you have is you have something uncomfortable happening again, some kind of a dynamic happening between the CEO and the CFO. Perhaps CEO on the board.

Mark Fasken: Right. It's like kicking a dog once down. You're just like, enough already. Yeah. Yeah.

Gene Rubin:  Where again, it would not be helpful to bring something in that can perhaps be, let's just say divisive. And then the other part, you know, why would management say no, although I would disagree with this, is they will come back and say, well, what are we going to learn that we don't already know? What are we going to learn that we do not already know?

And that is sometimes where, you know, management team and boards say, maybe we don't do this. But other than that, it's all about, Hey, do we need another pain point brought into our discussion to add to the pain that we're already feeling? That's usually the time that they don't want to do a survey. And I agree with that.

Mark Fasken: I think that's a really good insight. So it's, your feeling is like the times when there's gonna be pushback or there's actually times where it's not really appropriate. All right, so it's almost like the perception studies being more inflammatory than anything. And then you're going to spend this time, this money, you're going to get this feedback, but then nobody's really going to want to hear it or it's not gonna be put to work because people are already frustrated and not really in the right headspace for it.

Gene Rubin: Yeah, so you asked me the question of why would the management team or the board be against it, but there's also the topic of perhaps why it would be a bad idea to do it, even if the board and management team haven't thought about that. 

And I'll tell you, coming off of something hot, so for instance, let's just say you announced a merger. Last thing you want to do is do a perception study around that, because what if the study comes back and they say, bad idea? Okay, so now you just open up Pandora's box for 30, 40, 50 interviews with the investment community, which will just pour salt on some kind of a wound. 

The other thing you don't want to do is if you just had some kind of, I don't know, like a big beat or a big miss on earnings. The last thing you put, think of it this way. This is a blood test that you do at the doctor's office. You don't want to do it after a night of partying. And you don't want to do a blood test if you just played three hours with a basketball because both readings are gonna be wrong.

So you want to be able to have some space in between some kind of a hot event and then laying down a benchmark. Does that make sense?

Mark Fasken: Yeah, once people have had a chance to actually digest everything and everything's kind of come and everybody's got a level head, it seems to be the right time.

Gene Rubin:  Without a doubt, on any side. Things going great, things going poorly, either way. You know, what I'll tell you, on the avoidance part, for me that, you know, what to avoid if you're an IRL. This might be the most surprising, maybe, thing I say and that is that, I would say that every investor relations officer that's going to do a perception study should know beforehand what it's gonna say. 

The biggest question is, I'm going to go to the management, I'm going to say, I think it's a good time for us to do a perception study. Okay? So what the management is going to say, or what's it going to say that we don't already know? The answer is actually nothing. We already know what they're going to say. So then why do one? Is the next question.

And I would say that you really need to ask yourself beforehand, what is it going to say so that there are no surprises? Cause you never want to surprise anybody. So the reason to do a perception study is you want to measure the depth of these perceptions. You want to be able to see the difference between what's noise versus what's real. You want to be able to take a difference between the buy side and the sell side. You always speak to the top 10 or top 15 shareholders and your top five sell set analysts. Well, what about the silent majority? What about investor number 32, 78 or potential investor number 17. 

The idea is to be able to measure the depth and then compare the different subgroups so that you see where the noise is coming from and then how loud the noise is, as opposed to uncovering an issue that you're somehow shocked that you overlooked. So that's something to avoid. I also say to avoid, don't make it too narrow. Making a survey or perceptions that are too narrow, usually leads to a problem. 

And I'll tell you for an example, let's say what you want to do is you want to do a perception study on how capital should be deployed. You do the survey. And what happens is you're tipping your hand. You're letting the investment community know that you're thinking about that specifically. Another example is if you make a survey to narrow just about management. And if you do so, you're going to have to go deeper. What do you like? But don't you like their strengths, their weaknesses? Before you know it, what you're doing is you're bringing out a lot of things that would not have actually come up top of mind, but because you keep digging and digging and digging and digging at some point, you're going to hit an electrical pole a lot.

Mark Fasken: You could undermine basically the CEO or CFO by just forcing people to think about negative feedback. Yeah. Yeah.

Gene Rubin:  Oh, forcing. Yeah, the last thing you want to do is a survey just on IR. Because if you're doing a survey just on IR, what happens? Well, IR is great, IR stinks. Well, what is IR? A lot of times it's access disclosure transparency, but that's not really the IRO's control. You facilitate. So if you don't have enough transparency, you don't have enough access to management and your disclosure for all you end up with is a report that says IR is not good. Now here you are catching all the heat for that, even though perhaps you're just the poor facilitator of something that somebody grants you. That's something to keep in mind.

Mark Fasken: Well, I think that I think we all know this isn't a knock on investors, but I think we all know that like they're wired to if you ask for feedback, you're you're going to get it, right? Like their job is to be critical. And so to your point, I think you got to be careful about where you want to point that criticism at the end of the day.

Gene Rubin: Without a doubt and do not ever, ever, ever ask questions that compare one manager to another. So give me a rating for the CEO, give me a rating for the CFO, how about a COO and go down the line because I can guarantee you 99 out of 100 times the results from that survey are going to be swept right under the rug. Nobody wants to sit there and realize that that horse is running faster than that horse and try to explain that in the room to other people.

Mark Fasken: That seems uncomfortable.

Gene Rubin:  It is. I have a couple of others if you want.

Mark Fasken: These are good. These are good. If you have another good one, I'd love to hear it though.

Gene Rubin: You know what, I would, we can come back to him if we have any others, but maybe one last one I'll tell you is this. And that is that, I wouldn't exclude groups. They will find out. So I'm going to do the buy side. Sell side is going to find out you're doing this. I'm going to exclude the hedge funds. You know, that pesky hedge fund is going to find out you're doing this. And they're going to come back and say, why didn't you ask me? So I would be mindful of that.

Why can’t IROs conduct a perception study themselves?

Mark Fasken: Just invite everybody to the party. So we sort of actually touched on this a little bit, but I imagine you may hear this often, which is an IRO or a CFO or CEO, management team in general, who say, well, can't we just do this ourselves? We talk to our investors all the time. Don't we know how they feel about us? What's your answer to that?

Gene Rubin:  So the quick answer is, of course you can, and you probably know where my next answer is gonna be, you probably shouldn't, but the real question is why? And there's some basic facts that we probably can all agree on. You wanna make sure that it's not biased. Obviously, if I am conducting the surveys and the interviews are, okay, they're about management, they're about strategy, they're about our capital deployment, but they're also about the way in which we communicate. It's difficult for me then to deliver those results to someone and say, we're doing a good job communicating, we're not doing a good job communicating, etc. 

There's other biases that get involved in that as well. It's very difficult sometimes to get some kind of a critique. And if you're very close to the story, not to try to somehow rebut that critique. And then of course, there's some questions about candor. To what degree can I ask you to talk to me about, let's just say, about the quality of the work that I do, without you perhaps thinking that you might hurt my feelings. So there's all of that that flows into it. You know that context is important. I think the problem with doing a survey yourself is that oftentimes let's just say I don't know you get a high frequency of comments about how something is an issue. Well what you don't know is whether or not that's always an issue. Is it a unique issue to you or is it always an issue? So that context probably is missing.

I'll tell you, another one that's kind of maybe not thought of, there's some weird questions you don't want to ask. You don't want to ask. You don't own our stock. Why not? Maybe they come back and say, because you're not doing a good job communicating, or because they said, you know what, I don't think your management team is credible. Sometimes it's awkward. 

And then I said, the last thing is, delivering the results afterwards. Somewhere somehow you have to deliver the results. Let's say you did it yourself. I don't know, let's say the results aren't, are great. It's awkward to bring actually great results back to the house and to the board and say, hey, I just took a math test and I wanted to let you know I got an A plus. It's awkward. And of course it's awkward if it's an F, but in either way, it's awkward to deliver those results  if you actually did the survey.

 So can you, yes you can. But I think those are some of the reasons that you want to avoid it.

Mark Fasken: Right. Well, I think that the thing it seems as though I'm looking at this from the outside and, and you know, I'm coming into this conversation having known what, what a perception study is, but frankly, not appreciating the depth that is required to make them effective. And I can see how some people would think, well, I'm just going to go talk to my investors and say, are you happy? Are you not happy? Do you understand the story? Do you like the fact that we did this or did we do that? I'm going to do 15 questions that I'm going to move on.

That's probably not enough and even that is hugely time consuming, right? I mean, I was just at an event yesterday talking to a bunch of IROs. They were talking about just a sheer amount of time they spend scheduling meetings between their management team and investors. I'm thinking, imagine adding on then scheduling perception interviews with all these investors, it just seems like a huge lift to do it well.

Gene Rubin: Well, look, I think that goes without saying. With that being said, ultimately, when you do it, you're bringing something internally that everyone has to huddle around and say, yes. This is something that we can act on. That all you need is one person. One person in the room, white milk, you put in a little bit of blue, all of a sudden change the color. You just need one person to say, you know, do you think that they were candid?

And all of a sudden the entire project begins to fall apart because of that. Even though the intent was to be candid, the respondents were candid. Everything was done perfectly. Someone on the receiving end has to agree that that mechanism was adequate. And if they don't, even if the results are perfect, all you need is one person to doubt.

What are common misconceptions about perception studies?

Mark Fasken: I think we may have touched on this, but it could be wrong. What would you say is a misconception about perception studies?

Gene Rubin: Two things.

I think one, and it's a lesser misconception, and that is that investors don't want to do them. Now, investors do not wake up in the morning saying, well, I can't wait to do a survey. However, what happens is oftentimes they will engage because they feel like they can actually tell you exactly how they feel about management, knowing full well that the message is going to be delivered without the name on it.

So what I find is that if we conduct, I don't know, 40, maybe 50 interviews, you'll get 200 pages worth of qualitative feedback. So they're definitely willing to engage as soon as they do. But they don't wake up in the morning and want to do it. 

But the biggest misconception, I think, is that a perception study is going to uncover issues that you aren't aware of. That, to me, in my 22 years, is somehow thinking, you know, I'm doing this perception study, tell me it's gonna uncover issues that we didn't know about. It has never happened. So the misconception is that 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 are they 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? Sallow majority. Is it the hedge funds yelling and screaming this? or is it the low-molies? The misconceptions that I'm going to find out, things that I didn't know existed as issues. I think that's really the biggest one for me.

I think the other misconception is that if I keep hearing the same issues pop up over and over again, I don't need to continue to conduct interviews because I have figured out what the issues are. Anything else is going to be repetitive. To me, it's the repetition that matters.

And I think the other one is I kind of touched on it and that is the misconception is that what investors say to you and the feedback that they give, they expect you to automatically act on. They don't, they just give you feedback.

My wife will tell me that she doesn't like the fact that I snore. It doesn't mean that she expects me to stop. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart, because there's a difference between when investors give feedback and provide criticisms and they expect you to change. And those that are simply comments that they give because you asked them the question. Exactly. Anyway, those are some of the ones that I think are the biggest ones. 

Mark Fasken: Because you asked, right? Right. Those are great.

I think that is the second point and that's why I was saying I think we kind of touched on it. You should already know or you should already have an idea of what the responses are going to be. It shouldn't be a surprise. It's not a silver bullet or it's gonna be like oh my gosh all the investors knew the solution to this problem that we have right there. Yeah, right like I just somehow didn't think about it should be validation and to your point it should be that depth that is really the most important part of it.

Gene Rubin: Listen, it's like getting physical done at the doctor's office. Mark, you and I run up five flights of steps. One of us is gonna be gasping for air more than the other. So if I go to the doctor's office, I know I'm out of shape. What I'm trying to figure out is whether or not I should eat less cheese, take Lipitor, whether or not I need to get on a diet, and run a few laps. 

But I'm not going to be surprised that somebody says to me, you know, Gene, you're 53 years old, you're 220, and you could probably lose 10 or 15 pounds. That's not a surprise to me. What I want to find out is how do I prioritize and make it more effective? That's what it's going to tell me. That's why I'd say a perception study is like a blood test.

What is the time commitment a perception study requires?

Mark Fasken: We've sort of touched on this briefly, but I want to dig in on it a little bit, which is the time commitment. How should companies think about time commitment as it relates to a perception study?

Gene Rubin: Where's only three components, right? Questionnaire, list of respondents, and then the field work. What I found is that usually to get something that's meaningful response-rate-wise from the investment community, you need four weeks. If you do it in three weeks, it's really fast. Five weeks, it's kind of slow. Usually it's about four weeks to get the necessary number of interviews. You give it a week beforehand to figure out the questionnaire and the list of people to call, maybe two weeks afterwards to, I don't know, run analytics or somehow somebody makes sense of the findings, put a report together. So I think if you're past eight weeks, you've probably gone too long. But if you did it in three, I'd love to ask you how you did it. Cause I'd like to be able to figure that out for myself. 

Mark Fasken: Oh yeah, I mean scheduling alone right is gotta be a whole thing of just being able to get some of these investors. 

Gene Rubin: It's the field work that takes all that time because yes, they're all busy, but it's like herding cats. It takes time.

Mark Fasken: But you need like that week and that engagement up front from the company to just do that digging on to your point. What is the purpose? Like, why are we doing this? What do you want to get out of it and then building out that questionnaire and then the follow up?

Gene Rubin: You want to take a week or so, well, could be more, but if everyone's heads down on that, in the course of a week, you can do it. 

You know, on the interview side, it's also a little bit tricky because you certainly want to send them some kind of, everybody that's on your quote, list of people to call, want to alert them to the fact you're doing it, certainly ask them to participate or at least be amenable when you call. 

But the other thing is you often set up appointments as opposed to just cold interview. And the reason is because while you don't want them to cheat and be overly prepared, you want them to know it's going to take 10, 15 minutes. Otherwise, if you just call, they pick up the phone and all of a sudden you're asking them for 15 minutes of their time or 10 minutes of their time. No matter what happens, they're going to be frustrated.

What are the next steps that a company should take once they've got those responses?

Mark Fasken: Yeah, understood. Okay, the last piece of that process, the final two weeks of taking all the results and calling them leads me to my final question, which is you've done the perception study, you've got the results, what are the next steps that a company should take once they've got those responses?

Gene Rubin: Well, obviously, before you even start the survey, you ask yourself, are we going to buy into the results? And then are we going to be able to act? And then the question is, how many do we have enough horses to act? But I'm going to come back to that in a second. You're going to have typically three audiences when you're done. You're going to have your IR team, whether it's a team of one or a team of a handful. You're going to take a look at results. You're going to need a report for that. We all know that. A smaller one goes to the management team. And yet a third one, a smaller one, again, goes to the board. to have three deliverables. That's just tactics. I will say that you probably need to anticipate the questions that you're going to get beforehand. Now you have to decide, do I send the report before I speak to people about it? Or do I deliver the report along with my presentation at the same time? You have to figure that out. 

Usually it's understanding your audience, obviously, and then what the results are. For instance, if I have a sensitive management team and the results are not great, I want to be able to perhaps pick them apart one at a time. First, I sit with the CFO and say, what do you think? The CFO is going to say, okay, we want to make sure this is what's at house handle. Here's how we deliver it to the CFO and so on and so on. 

Whereas sometimes you've got a management team that's very open to feedback and critique and say, hey, listen, I'll be more than happy to get grilled in front of everybody because I think it's great for all of us to be able to have this type. 

Anyway, so I think you get the idea. So you have these three audiences. I would say that obviously you have to prepare for what the questions are going to be. The other thing is that you're gonna have to be ready to make recommendations. This is where less is more. You do not want to come out of a perception study with 73 recommendations or 12. You want to keep it at a high level. I think we need to do A. I think we need to do B. I think we need to do C. Okay, maybe D and E. And then the priority. This is the one that's simplest for us to do. This is the one that we should do first. This is the one that's going to be the biggest lift. And we need to think kess is more. Do not try to fill a long list of recommendations from a perception study based on 300 pages of feedback. It's not going to work for you.

Lastly, probably divide and conquer. You need to, when you come in to make the recommendations, obviously you're going to have to figure out with those recommendations, not only how to prioritize, but who's going to do what? What's the best way to do it?

Mark Fasken: I think that's great feedback.

Gene Rubin: If the recommendation is, I don't know, the CEO is overly promotional and the CFO is considered level-headed. And you have a management team that is open to critique. You can either suggest that the CEO become less overly optimistic or the recommendations might be don't change who you are. Let's just give them more of the CFO. Let's just say the overly optimistic, if you will, CEO who sees this commentary and knows to tone it back, but maybe the way forward so that investors do not say, wow, what an about face from this guy? Instead, we give him more of the CFO. So it's a softer approach.  

Mark Fasken: It's great feedback. I mean, I think that there are a lot of useful points here, Gene, really appreciate the time. I guess after doing this, how many perception studies did you do then? Like 600? Yeah, so I think by then you've seen it all. And so this is super useful. Thank you so much for the time, and hopefully we'll get a chance to do it again. I think we'll get a chance to do it again. I think we'll get a chance to do it again.

Gene Rubin: I'm pretty sure it's over 700 now. Absolutely. Thank you for including me. Great questions. And let me know if you have any more. All right. Take care.

Mark Fasken: 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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