SHOW US YOUR MONEY: IR sites should be showcases for diverseaudiences. Robin Londner untangles the web

A Web site sponsored by a German car company showcasing short films

by the likes of Guy Ritchie and Ang Lee might not be the first thing

investor relations officers think of when they consider Web design. But

James Harris, president and CEO of Elemental Interactive, the online IR

specialty practice within GCI Interactive, swears the IR Web site of

tomorrow will look like

"They've got compelling stuff, it's well put together, and it's got a

very distinctive look," says Harris. "Cookie cutter sites for IR are

dead. And in cases where they're not, the site designers are killing the

reputation of their clients."

IR Web sites were first built to save time and paper. Twenty years ago,

corporate and agency IR officers spent a chunk of each day putting

together kits and sending them out to prospective and current investors

who wanted information as fast as the mailman could carry it. Today, IR

Web sites offer easy access to a company's earnings, SEC filings,

announcements and other relevant financial information.

Sites are visited regularly by investors, journalists, analysts and

company employees. A lot of importance rides on the IR section of a

company's Web site, and PR and IR practitioners are eager to make the

most of opportunities presented.

Cecilia Wilkinson, EVP of Pondel/Wilkinson Manning, Selvage & Lee and

deputy managing director of MS&L's IR practice, says Web sites offer

companies an immediate, responsive, conflict-free channel through which

to reach investors.

"I think that investors are cognizant of the conflicts - apparent or

real - that exist in research from the brokerage firms, and have a need

for more independent research," she says. "With so many companies having

few to no analysts covering them, and an increase in online trading

without allegiance to or benefit of a brokerage firm, investors must

rely on the Web and the company for data."

A chance to show off

Sites make finding information a self-service process. But Wilkinson

adds that, in addition to nuts-and-bolts accessibly, an IR site provides

a chance to show off a company's individuality. "The best sites convey a

personality and dynamism that matches the profile of the company," she

says. "Through multimedia technology, we can also make the information

far more dynamic than ever before, introducing video and audio clips

from the CEO, or links to technology backgrounders, or diagrams to

explain a written statement."

Gregory Pettit, SVP of IR for Weber Shandwick Worldwide, says a

feature-rich IR Web site can cost more than dollars 20,000. But he says

he would advise every one of the 50,000 publicly traded US companies

competing for investor dollars to build a full-service IR site. One of

the biggest benefits a site provides, he says, is the opportunity to

temper Wall Street uncertainty by including such extras as five-year

corporate plans, Webcasts and conference calls.

"The best advice I can give any company is to map out long-term goals on

their investor Web site," says Pettit. "Because Wall Street lives

quarter to quarter, the temptation is to cater to those needs. But if

you want an investor to hold on for five years, you'd better tell them

where you want to be in five years."

Avoid unnecessary hype

Pettit says mapping out long-term goals and corporate milestones on IR

Web sites gives companies the chance to put their activities in the

context of a larger plan that is in the process of being executed. This

means a site will need certain customization, but Pettit warns against

making too many additions to the site.

"It's a mistake to put press releases on your investor relations site

that are unnecessary or border on hype," he says. "A Web site can be a

very effective means of communication, but not if you try to give out

non-news or suffer from press release-itis."

While IR Web sites do not satisfy the disclosure rules of Reg FD,

investors may use company Web sites to try to gain unreleased

information. For example, an investor may check to see if company

employees are attending conferences in order to find out how actively

the company is marketing itself. A journalist may check the job listings

section to find out if the company lacks staff in crucial departments or

is having a hard time filling positions. Because of these opportunities

to wander around online, some companies want their IR sites built

in-house by IT staff who know the ins and outs of the company's entire

Web presence.

Donna Iucolano, EVP at Scholastic Internet Group, says the company has

50 IT staffers who work on Web design alone. The dollars 2 billion media

company put up its first Web pages in 1994, and Iucolano says it usually

does everything in-house to keep the pages focused on the Scholastic

look and name.

"Brand is very important," says Iucolano. "We are a creative company,

and it is important to make sure all of the efforts are branded and


However, Iucolano stresses that companies should not discount the

contributions of design companies. When Scholastic does employ outside

vendors for Web pages with animation or other complicated elements,

Iucolano says it brings in a different point of view, which can be good

for a company that knows what it wants.

"We have creative and development guidelines the designers have to

follow if we're going to achieve the look, feel and presentation we

want," she says. "You have to give outside firms the tools they need in

order to deliver. Your inside folks have a core competence and an inside

knowledge base. But the outside folks have a perspective that's new and

fresh. The trick is managing the balance between internal and


Worth the investment

That outside expertise and fresh perspective, along with new

technologies, are precisely why Elemental Interactive's Harris says his

company's services are worth the expense.

"Investors want almost one-on-one access to CEO and management teams,"

says Harris. "In the old days, people would do a great deal of research

on a company before they would buy. Now people go to work, talk to

someone at work, get a stock tip, go home, turn on the computer, do a

search, and then contact their online broker. If you have a weak IR

site, they have very little information to go on. The stock will be

weakly traded, and it will be difficult for them to differentiate you

from competitor."

But while Harris likes to talk about IR Web pages, he's more excited

about IR hand-held devices - an idea Elemental Interactive is looking

into prototyping.

"IR is going everywhere the Internet is going, quickly," Harris


"When bandwidth is really here, people are going to go in and say they

want to hear all the chairman's speeches for the last year, view a video

bio and all the releases from last year. They'll be able to hit a

button, and a blob of media will reside on their machine. All IR, all

the time, on demand. It's coming."



General Electric

Market Cap: dollars 519 billion

IR site URL:

Link from homepage "Corporate Info/Investor Relations"

Information provided: Current stock price (with links to;

FAQs; annual reports; shareholder account information; earnings

releases; SEC reports; financial facts and highlights; proxy statement;

stock plan features; how to buy stock online; board of directors and

major executives; growth initiatives; company values; business

portfolio; CEO's annual meeting speech; social responsibility



Market Cap: dollars 371 billion

IR site URL:

Link from homepage

"About Microsoft/Investor Relations"

Information provided: Product information; support; events; general

newsletters; investor e-newsletters; FAQs; calendar; investor packets;

contact information; site map; downloads; product catalogs; profiles;

training and certification information; free e-mail account information;

tools for new investors; student research information; company and

investor headlines/press releases; buy and hold stock service

information; antitrust trial news


Market Cap: dollars 309 billion

IR site URL:

Link from homepage

"Shareholder Information" Information provided: Shareholder

publications; current stock prices; dividend information; contact

information; shareholder investment program (ability to buy stock



Market Cap: dollars 282 billion

IR site URL:

Link from homepage

"Investing in Pfizer" Information provided: Current stock price (updated

every minute, 20-minute delayed quote); earnings releases; shareholder

information; current quarterly earnings release; instructions and FAQs

for exchanging Warner-Lambert shares for Pfizer shares; direct purchase;

dividend reinvestment; press releases; annual reports; historical

financial statements; mid-year reports; SEC links


Market Cap: dollars 260 billion

IR site URL:

Link from homepage

"Investor Relations"

Information provided: Quarterly earnings releases; annual reports; SEC

Filings; investor presentations; press room; proxy statements; credit

ratings; board of directors and executives; FAQs; stock split history;

dividend history; historical price chart; stockholder information;

current stock price.

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