By Simon Willcocks
One of the most frequently asked questions by new clients to ICR is – how can we be most impactful, to the largest audience, in the shortest time? Our answer is almost always your investor presentation – a core document in the IR world, vital to the appropriate delivery and comprehension of both your story and performance, and a vehicle through which to capture the minds, emotions, and hopefully portfolios, of your investors.
Too often, we meet companies whose investor presentation is pulled from the shelf in a last-minute panic the week before earnings, dust is blown off, revenue updates are scattered across ageing charts, and someone haphazardly auto-replaces “Q2” with “Q3”. We’re not saying you need a fresh update daily, gift wrapped and hand-delivered to your investors’ doorsteps, but with a disciplined approach and regular update, the latest version should always be close at hand – especially if your company is new to the arena, you never know when you’re going to need that ‘hot off the press’ copy.
As an essential document in every IRO’s toolkit, your presentation should be dynamic in its delivery, constantly evolving to best match the audience, updated regularly from stakeholders across the company, and crucially, if drafted correctly, able to stand alone without a supporting speaker. It’s a living, breathing, snapshot in time of your company: asset details need to be up to date, financials must be precise and auditable, your position in the macro needs to align with the latest fundamentals, but most importantly, the story within, the key element that makes your company both differentiated and investable, must be clearly demonstrable though a clear, relevant and attractive narrative. Very simply, your company’s presentation should be the most accessible (yet formalized and regulatory compliant) means you have of enhancing the outreach of your company’s message.
Before diving in, it should be noted that everything in this article is to be read in the context of the investor presentation “Gold Standard.” Does this information stand alone? If an investor came across a copy of your presentation, is there sufficient, up-to-date information in the presentation for them to not only understand your story, the surrounding macro, and investment strategy, but also to actively consider investment in your company? You can’t rely on always being there to brief an investor, but if your presentation can meet the Gold Standard, sometimes, you won’t have to be.
Here is our Top 10 list of ways to ensure your presentation is truly impactful (with a bonus list of 3 things to exclude):
1. Know Your Audience & Purpose
An essential piece of homework, too often missed. To whom is the presentation being delivered and for what purpose? An audience is a valuable thing – investors, analysts and the opportunity to share your company story with the world – but are the materials pitched at the right level? Are these new investors? Retail or institutional? What about the sell-side? Is this guidance or an operational update? The underlying message you offer to an audience may need to vary each time. Where industry-specialized investors will want to dive right into your latest facts and figures or thoughts on the surrounding fundamentals, a technical and sector-focused presentation risks alienating generalists not yet up to speed and in desperate need of education. Likewise, providing an industry 101 at a sell-side, sector-specific, conference is not going to engage the audience and simply, may just waste everyone’s time. Different groups can and will invest on different sides of your story, so cater your material appropriately to each discrete situation and audience. That said, always be sure to include a few core slides that ensure the delivery of your central narrative, linking back to your investment thesis – during any use of any variant of the presentation, never lose sight of the underlying goal of simply telling the company story.
2. Headline Your Investment Thesis
Even the most industry-savvy investor will find themselves at a loss if they can’t pin down the details that make your company worth their time and money. Never make the reader work for it, right up front at page one needs to be the tear sheet, the cheat sheet, the investment thesis. You’d want to see this slide of 4-5 bullets on your analyst’s desktops and every FA’s office wall. Collate the key items onto one page, a simple summary of why your company represents the best investment in the space. Most often this will include reference to headline assets and underlying company financials such as balance sheet strength, but don’t be shy to include those aspects that set you apart, your differentiators. Is your leadership bench predominantly strong in the right area? Do you have the license to a particularly profitable technological solution? If it forms part of the story that will attract investment, build it into the thesis and celebrate the fact right up front.
3. Financial Performance Summary
Not to be confused with financial structure and detailed financials, your performance summary is another one page cheat sheet for your investors, including the key information at your fingertips that ensures the sell-side has the right detail to build their models. Establish the right metrics for your sector and stick to them, adhere to the same method of reporting each quarter and develop your own style of charts – do pies work to display your revenues as a percentage of business sectors, or simple bar charts indicating how an important valuation metric has changed over the last year? This slide should be a historical review, updated quarterly to provide context to your current position and future growth – clean, simple, charts that summarize the latest quarter’s data alongside those prior make it easy for investors to track quarter on quarter performance. Then, next quarter, replicate and update the same charts with the latest data, your reader will recognize the slide and be ready to interpret your latest summary. This becomes a particularly useful tool when reviewing progress against our next essential, guidance tracking.
4. Guidance Tracking
A logical segue from the past performance summary is how you guide forward, for the future – how do you report guidance? Whether your company announces their expectations annually on a specific conference call, or quarterly with earnings reporting, it’s essential that your preferred metrics and latest guidance expectations are clearly and consistently displayed. Again, a single slide that is easily referable and trackable, updated periodically with latest performance metrics and run rates as appropriate, will build trust and respect from both the sell-side and buy-side communities – transparency and accountability around guidance is a significant contributor to your company being recognized as a credible communicator. The pertinence of additional commentary explaining any beat or miss will depend on the surrounding performance or industry messaging, but it’s often worth considering ‘getting out in front’ of any fundamentals that may drive your performance away from published guidance.
5. Financial Structure & Commitments
Often buried in the detail at the back of a presentation, somewhere between a copy of last quarter’s balance sheet and an appendix of GAAP reconciliations, you find a swiftly thrown together collection of some of the most important financial information – especially to your fixed income investors. This is crucial information that informs the market of precisely how your company is capitalized and its ability to fund future projects, invest in R&D, and maintain a good credit to customers. Be sure to lay out your corporate financial commitments, known upcoming expenditures, and any bond offering maturities in an accessible manner. And don’t shy away from discussing debt, regardless of how well levered the company may be, keep it simple, again, with a clear overlay to explain any recent activity such as refinancing. Especially if your CFO is presenting this slide, you need it to be clean cut and precise, think less emotion and promotion, more precision reporting. You may feel that a strong cash story is eroded by any reference to significant debt, but attempts to hide your future obligations from surface-skimmers or lay investors will earn you a swift slap on the wrist from the market.
6. Comprehensive Asset Map
You’re likely starting to notice a theme in our commentary here – simplification and familiar presentation of your company’s information is key. This is especially the case with multi-asset corporations – whether your company is an energy E&P with a global portfolio, a retail chain with outlets across the U.S., or a regional trucking distributor, many companies lose sight of the complexity of their asset base and focus too much on the latest product line addition or highest margin facility. What do you have where? What is your company’s footprint, visually? Ensure those analyzing your company know, to the relevant level of detail, what assets you have, and where they are located. Yes, your key and most profitable assets should always be highlighted to ensure that the audience recognizes their importance, but always be prepared to receive questions on the full range of your company’s positions and locations. A comprehensive visual display of your asset base is useful for your investors, but vital for the sell-side analyst trying to build models for the 25 or more peer companies under their coverage.
7. CSR & ESG
Your company’s role in society, its environmental impact and its corporate governance have always been important to the regulators, but since Larry Fink of BlackRock penned an open letter on the subject last year, the world (particularly index funds) has started to take a closer look at exactly how your company operates before making an investment. The perception of transparency has since become essential. For energy and industrial companies, the inclusion of slides in your presentation that cover your Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) performance go a long way in demonstrating your commitment to the world around you. Similarly, for financial institutions, detailing your governance plans, due process, and commitment to wider society through Corporate Social Responsibility programs (CSR) can provide investors with the surety that they are making an investment into a company that shares the same values as them. For more on the growing importance of ESG, CSR and how best to address, we’d encourage you to review our prior blog post: The Business Case for Embracing ESG & Communicating the Results
8. Leadership & Executive
This one is highly dependent on your current positioning – do your investors need to be introduced to or reminded of who makes up your team? If you’re a large cap with a globally known C-suite, regularly in the public eye, you may feel that this isn’t of high value to you. However, if there has been a recent change at the top, introducing a new team member whose experience and history bring something valuable to the team can be a key flag for investors to take note. If you’re a smaller, recently public company, or undergoing significant corporate change, a reminder of who sits on your bench can be exceptionally useful to highlight where your leadership are value-additive to the whole enterprise. Details and bios should clearly lay out who is calling the shots, what experience and skill sets they bring, and importantly, provide a sense of reliability and security.
9. Technological Advantages and Differentiation
Effective discussion of any technical advantage vs. your peers is particularly important where your company operates in a tight market. Any way that you can demonstrate differentiation through technological solutions that either enhance efficiency or positively impact margins will be key to catching your investors’ attention. Be sure to educate your audience on why your solution is value-additive, leading-edge, and sets you apart from the competition.
It’s amazing how often this is omitted, leaving an audience of potential investors unclear on how to actually engage with your company, without running a separate contact search in a multi-layered website. Yes, the sell-side analysts you chat with several times every quarter know how to get a hold of your IR team and C-suite, but what about investors, retail players and those new to your company? Closing a presentation, particularly a physical copy, with a slide of investor relations contact details is a sure way for investors to be able to reach out when they have questions. If your company is inundated with waves of inbounds each day, consider the use of an IR email and voicemail inbox, monitored, filtered and triaged by IR. This provides the opportunity to catch every enquiry, record the key themes in question, and crucially, reach out and respond to everyone who has an interest in your company.
What to Exclude?
With the above elements in mind, your investor presentation should be well on the way to a fit for purpose Gold Standard, but what about items to leave out? Perhaps counter to logic, bad news and poor performance details should always be addressed and never left out – provided your presenter can talk to them strategically and effectively. There are, however, a few common slides worth cutting from your latest presentation.
1. Details on Your IPO and Too Much Corporate History
Unless you took your company public in the last twelve months, or are comparing some well-timed, favorable industry macro, don’t include specifics on your IPO, especially if you’ve changed leadership since then. A grinning photo of your since-departed COO ringing the NYSE opening bell alongside pricing day metrics does not make for a helpful image. Likewise, unless there is a justifiable reason (e.g. your historic M&A activity to demonstrate execution successes), keep things current – historic details highlight past performance and capabilities, future projections exhibit growth potential. Lean forward on the demonstration of your successes and guide to your path of future progress.
2. Too Many Stock Pictures
A picture tells 1,000 words, but only if it anchors a memory. We all love visuals, they tie a presentation together beautifully and provide education into your company’s operations. But don’t just drop in generic shots to fill a gap. After the third picture of a zoomed in hand, whether holding a wrench, a spatula or a slide-rule, readers may be left with a sense of corporate identity, but little impactful memory of the real operations behind the company name. Be sure to include photos of facilities, showcase your products, associate your brands with their advertising placement, and show equipment in-field, doing its job.
3. Excessive Technical Information
In hand with the above section on including your technological differentiators, be cautious around how you tell the story of your specializations. Don’t fall into the trap of including multiple slides that deep dive into the technical story behind your operations. Educating your audience is important to ensure they appreciate the advantages of your solutions, but proven results from the deployment of that technology are more important than multiple slides and excessive process detail that risks alienating lay investors.
As with all things in the IR world, keeping things clear, simple and accessible are key to keeping your investors engaged with your materials. There is no replacement for a charismatic and knowledgeable presenter, but by taking the time to ensure you include the elements above, our experience suggests that you will end up with audiences that take interest in your materials, have an understanding of your company operations and differentiations, and importantly, have sufficient information and opportunity to reach out to you and your leadership with questions and access to investment