ABOUT eight months ago, I let my membership of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) expire. I wasn’t happy with the direction of the organization, and I felt that being a member would restrict me from speaking my mind about it on this blog if I wanted to.
Since then, however, I’ve kept my mouth mostly shut about my disillusionment, basically thinking that I was probably alone in my concerns. Well, imagine my surprise to learn today that I am not alone and that others have very similar concerns to me.
Around the same time that I was making my decision to leave NIRI, Judy Cushman, outgoing VP Sponsorship for the NIRI Seattle Chapter, took it upon herself to ask other chapter officers to share their thoughts about improving the organization’s National Conference, among other changes.
She got a lot of feedback from other members, which she posted on her blog. She is still getting feedback from members and former members, the latest being just a couple of weeks ago.
Under the heading, NIRI National and the opportunity to strengthen the organization through chapter participation, a national discussion, she writes:
There are moments in the life of an organization where the leadership transitions and in the vacuum created by that loss, organizations step forward to reinvigorate themselves and reaffirm their mission. Others falter and the loss of leadership, focus/vision and lack of energy eventually leave the organization a shell of its former self.
I am a member of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) and believe with the departure of the long time executive director, the unsuccessful 6-month term of his successor and a cautious search committee looking for a replacement, that this is a critical moment for NIRI.
That was written before the appointment of Jeffrey Morgan as new President and CEO of NIRI National, who I see will be hitting the road next month to share his vision for the organization with the chapters. Nonetheless, some of the comments that Judy got back from her discussions resonated with me, and I still believe they are issues NIRI must address.
Here are some of the comments I found myself agreeing with:
Interesting situation with “IR” that I’d like to share, and it may not come as a surprise. Except for the few top companies, IR’s stature at companies here has fallen to a utility position occupied by more junior people and is not viewed as an important strategic position by management. On the other hand, executive’s have complained to me that the investment community doesn’t understand “their story” and doesn’t attach the appropriate “value to their stock.” Go figure….
I know that NIRI is trying to encourage its members to “learn” corporate communications so they can build their portfolio and “become more valuable” within their companies. It’s not going to happen, in my opinion. The exact opposite is happening here. Hugo Quackenbush once told me that he could teach people to interpret balance sheets, but he couldn’t teach them to be good communicators. He was right! Rest his soul.
I dropped my NIRI membership because I just didn’t get any value from it. Hopefully the next leader will improve things. — Anonymous, Feb. 13, 2008.
If you can’t teach people how to be good communicators (not sure I agree with that), then you should at least teach them about the importance of good communication. Lou Thompson, the former CEO, seemed to understand that very well. He was incredibly good at highlighting the membership’s shortcomings on the communication side without alienating people.
The problem I see is that NIRI’s definition of good communication is whatever the big vendors like Thomson Financial or Shareholder.com say it is, and this is becoming increasingly so as the Web moves to the forefront of IR communications efforts. Frankly, the outsource-and-forget model for online communications is broken and NIRI needs to start breaking the news to its members.
Which brings me to this comment from someone else:
NIRI should be taking a stand on what happens within the vendor community. For NIRI to go quiet on the Thomson-Reuters merger does a disservice to its members. This is a merger that could significantly constrain IROs access to valuable content (earnings & research) for which there was already a very limited set of providers. For NIRI to avoid polling its members or taking a position on this industry event for fear of alienating these two vendors sends a very negative message to members. – Massachusetts Chapter
Other comments that jumped out at me include this one, made all the more relevant by yesterday’s “executive alert,” which I have to buy if I want to write about it (don’t they want publicity, or is it just that blogs like ours don’t count?):
We have the collective wisdom of the group to tackle issues. NIRI should be getting out to the chapters and asking at the local level what do they need and want? Regarding E-proxy and E-delivery, with the rules change, where was NIRI’s voice? I don’t remember seeing our point of view. We can tap our people who are dealing with this issue. We are powerful and we should behave like that. – Minnesota Chapter
And this, which should make IR Magazine nervous…
…I am really shocked that NIRI National does not do IR Related awards – Best IR program, Best International IR program, Best Annual Report, Best IR Website, Best IR Practitioner….I think that only celebrating the chapters and its members, and not the IR practitioner is a disservice to IR. I think these type of awards would generate more interest from current member and non-members and help with further participation down the road. IR Magazine is the only venue that I know that recognizes IR specific accomplishments. – Maryland Chapter
I honestly had no idea there were people who felt this way. It gives me hope. I might even join again. Does any of this strike a chord with you? What are your hopes for NIRI? And if you’ve never belonged, what would make you want to join?
I’m also interested to hear from our international readers. I look at smaller associations like DIRK and AIRA and am impressed by what they are able to do. In this age of the Web and globalization, how come there is no truly international IR organization?