By Dominic Jones
IT TAKES less than 30 seconds for anyone with a browser to set up a website and start publishing and building an audience.
They have immediate access to a vast array of free tools to incorporate into their websites, from free email alerts to free video, even free stock charts and market data.
These easy-to-use tools offer unprecedented publishing speed and flexibility. Anyone is just moments away from publishing opinion, news, photographs, audio and video online.
What’s more, they can almost immediately alert networks of readers to new information and get their web posts quickly listed on search engines that offer a potential audience of millions.
It’s powerful stuff. And anyone has access to it. All free.
Under pressure, IR departments burdened by inflexible sites
How does the average public company IR department compete with that? They can’t, not unless they have access to the same types of tools.
Companies and IR departments are under growing pressure to gain greater proficiency in their online communications. Regulators are continuing to push a technology agenda, analysts and investors are demanding and expecting more, and the mainstreaming of online publishing is disrupting competition for attention.
Yet most IR departments today are unable to rise to the challenge or take advantage of the opportunities before them. They are either burdened with inflexible cookie-cutter IR websites hosted by big vendors like Thomson Financial, or they have underutilized or outdated content management systems and a lack of resources to manage them.
To compete — and, dare I say, remain relevant — IR departments require greater flexibility from their technology providers and increased internal expertise to manage the online communications process.
Increased resources is something companies have to figure out for themselves, but getting access to better tools is where vendors can step up.
Vendors limit IROs’ effectiveness by discouraging choice
Vendors should offer choice to companies and help facilitate interoperability between competing service providers’ products. IR departments need the ability to pick just the services they want. They should not be forced to use one-size-fits-all platforms.
If IR departments want to use Shareholder.com’s stock chart, Thomson financial’s buyback summary, Investis’ email alert utility, Vcall’s MP3 conversion, YouTube‘s embedded video and SeekingAlpha‘s transcripts, then they should be able to do it — online and within minutes.
Unfortunately, big vendors like Thomson Financial and Shareholder.com want to control companies’ IR websites. IR departments are being held back because it’s not in vendors’ interests to help them.
Instead of having access to the best, most flexible and effective tools to do their jobs, IR departments have to settle for mediocrity. They have to take the good with the bad and pay for it all, even if they don’t want it.
Many companies are beginning to realize the importance of having an effective Web-based communications capability. They are dedicating resources to manage their sites and looking for better ways to differentiate themselves online and build stronger relationships with their stakeholders.
Vendors who support this trend will be the winners in the long run.