NIRI boosts external efforts as field expands

As strategic comms and IR overlap, NIRI works to adapt to changing financial landscape

As strategic comms and IR overlap, NIRI works to adapt to changing financial landscape

For Linda Kelleher, interim CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI), one of the major highlights of this year's NIRI Annual Conference was June 5, when she helped NASDAQ open the markets remotely from Orlando, FL.

"It's something that we wouldn't have expected in years past," says Kelleher.

NIRI is a professional organization composed of 33 chapters nationwide and more than 4,400 members who are all responsible for the communications efforts among a company's management team, its investors, and members of the financial community. Members represent 2,260 companies from across the country; half of those companies are valued at $1.5 billion or more.

The organization is a resource for information about the profession, a networking channel for IR officers (IROs), and a conduit to other organizations, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and stock exchanges. The NIRI maintains relationships with government bodies in order to keep pace with the corporate world and, if possible, influence policy.

And as the significance of the IR function has spiked in recent years with the availability of investor information online, increased government regulation (like the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act), and growing hedge fund investment, the organization realized it was going to need to increase its own external communications function. As a result, the NIRI says it is evolving with the profession.

One of the changes it has made is increasing the level of electronic communications it has with its members. The NIRI discovered that its members highly value the efficiency of electronic communications and updates focusing on relevant issues.

One such form of communication is its Executive Alert, an electronic newsletter that updates members on various issues. One of the latest newsletters was titled, "Hedge Fund Activism: What You Need to Know and What You Can Do About It." Kelleher estimates that half of the NIRI's members have hedge fund investors.

"I think we're evolving from an organization that was doing a lot of meetings in person," Kelleher says, "[into one] that is now looking at all types of [communications] options."
Another change was the addition of a VP of communications in 2005. Matt Brusch took over the position this past May and brings 15 years of both IR and PR experience to the job.

"I can provide real-world experience [to our members] when we're considering the effect of regulations and legislation that impact the IR profession," says Brusch. "I think we have an opportunity to broaden the awareness of the organization in general and the value of IR professionals [because] the public is not aware of what the IR professional does every day."

Aside from the traditional PR role (issuing press releases to alert the membership and the press about NIRI happenings, building relationships with key financial press, and voicing the organization's advocacy of both the IR profession and the professional), Brusch will also be doing some recruiting. This year, he will begin reaching out to other corporate communications professionals, including CFOs at small-cap companies who are also juggling IR responsibilities, with the hope of bringing them aboard.

"We can talk about the benefits of NIRI and the benefit that membership brings," says Brusch.

Taking part in high-profile events, such as the remote opening of the NASDAQ, is also helping the organization spread the word beyond the IR community.

"NASDAQ focuses on a number of audiences, like the CEO and CFO," Kelleher says. "This is an opportunity to focus on the IR community in a very powerful way."

Today's financial landscape is also causing the role of the IRO to evolve. Investors with just a handful of shares and others with a bucketful are contacting the IRO directly for information. With all of these added stakeholders, the IR job has overlapped in many ways with strategic communications work.

"IR and PR have to work hand-in-hand in my opinion," says Matthew Stroud, current NIRI chairman and VP of IR for Darden Restaurants. "If you're a new practitioner, NIRI should be your first stop [for] research and tools. For the old guard, you clearly have to stay up-to-speed in today's information age. You need to stay in touch with what's going on in the markets and with constituents."

But with the amount of information that an IRO needs to absorb, one hat might be all that a person could handle. The NIRI's most recent press kit alone includes details about two roundtables, brochures for seminars, The IR Mentor magazine, Investor Relations Update, and a publication titled "Best Practice Guidelines Governing Analyst/ Corporate Issuer Relations."

At a glance

Organization: National Investor Relations Institute
Interim CEO: Linda Kelleher
Headquarters: Vienna, VA
Key Trade Titles: Investor Relations Update, The IR Mentor (These are the publications the NIRI produces)
Marketing/PR Budget: Undisclosed
Matt Brusch, VP, communications
Mike McGough, VP, marketing and membership
Melissa Jones, manager, marketing communications and Web site
Marketing Services Agencies:
Marketing General (advertising sales support)

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