IR Web Report’s Q&As are unpaid profiles of service providers that we believe are doing interesting and innovative work in the area of online investor relations and stakeholder communications. If you would like your firm featured in a Q&A, we invite you to contact us using our general email inbox.
Firm name: AGORACOM Investor Relations Date established: April 1997 CEO/President: George Tsiolis Number of clients: 86
Representative clients: Small and micro-cap companies trading on the TSX Venture, TSX and OTCBB. Number of employees: 16
Principal products/services: Online Investor Relations; Online IR Community Amalgamating Current and Prospective Investors; Search Engine IR Programs Targeting New Investors; Webcasting (power point, audio, video); Podcasting.
Technologies used: Ruby on Rails Custom Application running on Nginx in a clustered Linux Gentoo environment; Flash based media content (Agoracom TV, PowerPoint Webcasts); MySQL Database; Security: SAS 70 Type 1 compliant data centre; XML Feeds For Content Syndication To Tier-1 Content Partners (Globe Investor, Yahoo, AOL, Blackberry)
Website addresses: www.agoracom.com Head office address: Toronto, Canada
1. What does your firm do?
AGORACOM is online investor relations firm that focuses on small – micro-cap companies and their investors. The entire process of targeting current and new shareholders, then communicating with them is executed online. Our website currently attracts 130,000 unique visitors per month, reading 10,500,000 pages of information every month. Our Alexa Ranking rates AGORACOM traffic ahead of 99.82% of all websites in the world.
2. What products or services do you provide?
Our product and service offering can best be described as a simple two-step funnel approach:
- Getting The Story Out. The biggest challenge facing almost any company other than the Fortune 500 is getting their story into a targeted and qualified audience of investors. This is especially true for mid, small and micro-cap companies that do not have the benefit of large IR budgets.
We use the web to get companies’ stories out through content partnerships and through search engine advertising. AGORACOM is a small-cap content provider to Globe Investor, AOL Finance Canada and every Blackberry device on the planet. To maintain the integrity of these content partnerships, we only publish the most newsworthy small-cap press releases of all public companies every morning. This leads to far greater reader retention on our partner sites and far greater attention on our clients when they issue newsworthy press releases.
For search engine advertising, we believe in the power of search engines to target and attract new potential investors. After all, our clients use Google and/or Yahoo to find things everyday, so they understand the power of being found by investors searching for their next investment. As Google’s largest small-cap partner in North America, we have the advantage of having Google personnel actually create campaigns on our clients behalf. No other IR firm has that arrangement with Google. And we expect to shortly announce a similar arrangement with Yahoo.
|AGORACOM provides content to web portals like Canada’s GlobeInvestor, including a daily video show called Small Cap TV. Client and non-client news is featured.|
- Amalgamate and Communicate. Getting the story out would not be very valuable if we were not able to provide new, current or prospective investors with an immediate call to action. Given the fact we were targeting online investors, we needed to provide them with online tools to amalgamate and communicate with both management and fellow shareholders in a civilized environment.
AGORACOM builds a customized IR Hub for each one of its clients. Each hub provides investors with information about the company, including news, photos, stock trading information, executive videos and a monitored forum. A sample IR Hub can be viewed at http://www.agoracom.com/ir/noront Investors are driven to the IR Hubs from links in every press release and IR communication the client issues.
On the IR hub for a company, investors are able to post questions to a monitored discussion forum and have an answer posted within just a couple of hours. Every investor sees the question, every investor sees the answer. Participants in the forum earn points for their level of participation and each has a public profile page.
3. In what ways does your firm help companies be more effective in their online communications with stakeholders? What unique problems are you addressing?
Our clients are now able to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever thanks to our web-based one-to-many model. IR personnel no longer have to answer the same question multiple times per day via phone or e-mail. And by observing discussion amongst shareholders, management can immediately measure the effectiveness of its message and, if necessary refine/clarify it to make sure the investment community fully understands the company and its direction.
The major financial media primarily cover the mega-cap companies. As such, most large and mid-caps, let alone small and micro-caps, have difficulty finding an audience. By using web content partnerships and search engines, we get the word out and target new potential investors.
We’re providing companies with a way to communicate beyond press release text. This is especially important for small-cap companies that are in the early stages of growth and need to articulate their own business model. Boring press release text cannot beat video, photos or a power-point webcast for getting your message across and connecting with investors.
Finally, thanks to the efficiency of the web, we are allowing clients to accomplish these IR goals without breaking the bank. You are talking about end-to-end solutions involving the most credible names on the web for $5,000 – $7,000 per month. No road show expenses, no luncheon costs, no printing and, most importantly, no time taken away from the business to travel around the country. It’s a win-win all around.
4. Tell us about a recent project that you are particularly proud of? Why do you think what you did is effective?
We’re very proud of our work with Noront Resources. Noront was pretty much the Canadian TSX Venture darling of 2007 and continues to do well in 2008 thanks to extraordinary drill results released since September. Management realized the magnitude of the results and resulting investor interest would overwhelm their existing traditional IR department. In fact, they realized that anything short of a telephone bank was not going to suffice.
As a result, they called on us to provide them with an IR Hub to handle the overwhelming amount of investor queries, communications and presentations. Within the first month, we knew that management’s decision was prescient, as we experienced a load greater than anything we had ever seen before.
Nonetheless, we were still well within our server capacity and able to address the vast amount of questions and interest via posting online answers, executive addresses, investor presentations and video footage from important company events. None of this would have been remotely possible via traditional IR.
The IR Hub allowed Noront to significantly accelerate the IR process by not only keeping up with current queries but getting ahead of the curve by allowing us to anticipate future demands and delivering them. It was gratifying when the President and CEO Richard Nemis thanked us publicly.
|An example of an IR Hub that AGORACOM provides to its clients. These include a range of company information and a monitored forum.|
5. What are the biggest challenges your firm faces?
Our biggest challenge used to be getting companies to wrap their minds around conducting investor relations online. For the longest time, companies were stuck on traditional IR tactics. However, constant education combined with the advent of Google really changed perceptions and opened the door for us.
Now that companies have bought into the concept, our challenges are all but eliminated.
6. Which other firms similar to yours do you admire or respect and why?
We were the first IR firm to smash the telephone and operate as a pure online IR firm. To date, the traditional IR firms have not followed suit and we don’t know of any start-ups. We fully anticipate and welcome new entrants into the online IR space – as long as they do things the right way and stay away from spam tactics.
7. Are there any future plans for your firm that you want to talk about?
Look for AGORACOM to launch 2-3 big new initiatives in the second half of 2008. We don’t want to talk about them yet but would be more than happy to notify you when they go live.
Suffice it to say we are going to continue working hard at bringing new web-based IR solutions to public companies.
8. Is there anything you wish we had asked you but didn’t?
I would like to reach out to large/mega-cap IROs and let them know that all of the principals and successes experienced at the small-cap level would easily apply to them. This is especially true for Fortune 500 companies that are unable to communicate with their retail investor base via traditional means – but would like to amalgamate and communicate with them via an IR Hub.