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 bmwfilms.com.
"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
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
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
"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."
IR SITES OF THE TOP FIVE US COMPANIES RANKED BY MARKET
Market Cap: dollars 519 billion
IR site URL: http://www.ge.com/investor/
Link from homepage "Corporate Info/Investor Relations"
Information provided: Current stock price (with links to CNBC.com);
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: http://www.microsoft.com/msft/
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: http://www.exxonmobil.com/shareholder/index.html
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: http://www.citigroup.com/citigroup/fin/fin_m.htm
Link from homepage
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.