One IR firm, The Financial Relations Board/BSMG Worldwide, assumed the lead and offered solutions to the investor communications challenges soon to be faced by publicly held corporations as a result of an historical government ruling intended to level the playing field for both professional as well as individual investors.
Arthur Levitt’s landmark SEC ruling, “Regulation Fair Disclosure” (Reg FD), was to become effective October 23rd 2000. It also was wreaking havoc on Wall Street and Corporate Boardrooms. Typical of most new rulings, Reg FD stirred controversy among its proponents and adversaries. The media highlighted the conflict.
It was clear to us that uncertainty was looming large with investor relations professionals who were left with little time before the rule’s enactment to decipher the letter and spirit of the ruling, and worst of all, ponder the question: “What do we do from here?” We accepted the challenge to set the record straight via a webcast and took the position that Reg FD was a done deal. We didn’t offer more pros and cons or doubts that the ruling would not pass legislation. In a 90-minute webcast we shared downright practical steps and tactics that IR professionals needed to adapt and move forward in a new era of financial communications.
A byproduct of our earnest goal to educate, especially our clients, was that our own reputation was heightened by the media and we became the dominant resource of expert comment on Reg FD related issues.
Thousands of companies across America were perplexed about how to handle their financial communications in a new, fast-approaching Reg FD environment. From discussions with our clients we saw two camps emerge: Some teetered about making a decision to clam up altogether vs. those few bold enough that considered taking advantage of the new climate by more broadly disseminating material information but did not really know how to do it. In other words, the profession of investor relations was at a crossroad.
Large as the challenge seemed, we saw the opportunity to create an action-oriented roadmap for CEOs, CFOs, and Investor professionals that would help mitigate their uncertainty. Our concept was to address the salient issues and outline Reg FD acceptable steps that would help public companies manage and proactively operate under the new SEC guidelines.
The perception surrounding Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) in Corporate America was fear of the unknown and expectations of major changes in the way CEOs, CFOs, and Investor Relations Professionals interacted with the Wall Street analysts and, for the first time, individual investors. Many lawyers, IR professionals and pundits were stuck in inertia, taking a wait-and-see approach toward the new SEC guidelines. We, however, maintained that no drastic legal change emerged as a result of Reg FD. It was always illegal to disclose material news selectively.
Our objective was to quell uncertainty and give our publicly held clients guidance. We toyed with a number of tactics to get our message across. In the end, a webcast seemed most appropriate and cost effective to reach our objective. So, we built a panel of specialists to address the key components of the new regulation: The law, The IR effect, The News and The Street. Speakers were allotted ten minutes each to discuss key aspects of their assigned topic. They also answered e-mailed questions from viewers after the prepared remarks.
Essential to our strategy was the Reg FD-endorsed, new-age vehicle to distribute our message: webcasting. With a webcast we could simultaneously reach the universe of IR pros in one fell swoop. An added benefit, it gave viewers unfamiliar with the technology important experience in its use.
We developed a theme for the webcast and selected speakers. Speaker integrity and expertise was important. We interviewed expert speaker candidates outside our agency to assess their views and knowledge regarding Reg FD and then finalized the lineup. We selected pros from the legal profession, a major news organization, and a high profile financial website portal dedicated to professional investors to compliment our in-house talent.
Each panel member was required to submit a few slides highlighting bullet points they were going to discuss during their time segment. We organized a speaker rehearsal after the slides were forwarded to the vendors where the webcast was going to be aired --PR Newswire and StreetFusion.
We created an invitation to the event and e-mailed it to our clients and National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) members. We issued a national press release announcing the webcast. We selected October 4th for the event to give viewers ample time to incorporate the ideas discussed during the webcast into their financial communications. That way, viewers also were prepared for the upcoming earnings season that tied in with the October 22 law enactment date.
On the day of the event, the audio-conference provider connected the speakers who were based in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The event was flawless and took approximately 90 minutes, including the question and answer session. Indexed replays, divided by speaker and topic, were available for 90 days on panel member Web sites. We also created a printed transcript of the webcast into an attractive reference booklet.
Some 1,200 viewers watched our live webcast, including the management teams of our clients plus non-clients (many from the ranks of the Fortune 500), attorneys as well as competitor investor relations firms. We also distributed 500 copies of the printed transcript booklet.
We took the bull-by-the-horns and taught corporations across the nation how to deal with Reg FD. The webcast was extremely successful in its goal: We diminished the mystique and anxiety associated with Reg FD. We took the issue of Reg FD and provided clarity. We advanced the practice of investor relations and set it back on a clear path at a time when it was stuck at a crossroad.
We made no money. We offered our expertise as a public service and absorbed the cost. As the nation’s oldest and largest IR firm, it was aggressive yet appropriate for us to lead. Our payback: We enhanced our own stature and reputation by serving as a role model and resource on new-era IR issues using a new-age venue.