Mindlessness in investor relations

IT’S a strong word. I looked it up. According to the Free Dictionary mindlessness means “having no intelligent purpose, meaning, or direction.”

There is a lot of mindlessness in the investor relations profession today. Especially when it comes to how investor relations departments prioritize their agendas and how they conduct their affairs on the web.

Mindlessness has been safe. You can hide in the confusion it creates. Mindlessness is so confounding to observers it can almost pass for genius. There must be a reason they did what they did.

Like Microsoft. They must have a reason for producing three different iterations of the same annual report and proxy statement.

  1. One for their website.
  2. One for their registered shareholders, which they paid their transfer agent to produce.
  3. And one for their beneficial shareholders, which they paid Broadridge to produce.

Why did they do this? Surely, they have a reason. With the help of those vendors they paid good money to, they might point to a sentence in an SEC adopting release that they’ve mindlessly interpreted to mean that the SEC thinks needless replication is the way to go. Some smart lawyer might even chime in on their behalf.

Mindlessness means big business for some.

We do things, stupid things, things that make no objective sense, just because that’s how we’ve always done them, or because that’s what everyone else does. Or because we trust the wrong people.

We post big, bulky documents like proxy statements on the web with formats inherited from the printed document. They are colorless — black and white — because printing in color costs more money. Never mind that we are delivering the documents online, a medium where color is free. Yes, mindlessness.

A problem with mindlessness is that you can get away with it for a long time. All you have to do is ask how not being mindless is good for the bottom line. Why should you do something differently or better? What’s the payback for *not* being mindless? What’s the ROI?

I can’t answer that question, except to say that some people don’t need to ask why. They just know in their gut that they don’t like being mindless. They have an ethic that doesn’t permit conscious mediocrity.

We need to stop this nonsense. We need to stop our colleagues and help them think for themselves. Why are they paying thousands of dollars annually to Thomson Reuters to host corporate governance pages that change once per year at most? You could host those pages anywhere for mere pennies a month.

Are wire services the best way to publicize information under Regulation FD? No, they are not. There is no fairer method of disseminating material information than posting it on your website at a designated time. Yet there is only one US company I know of that is doing that.

The rest are mindlessly hurting their own status as a “recognized channel” by sending out long earnings releases via expensive wire services that arrive at different times on different sites, giving some investors a decided advantage to trade ahead of others. And this the IR profession does in the supposed interests of fairness. Mindlessness.

Mindlessness has reached epidemic proportions. As a profession, we are like drunks who think the person buying the next round is our best friend. We don’t want to analyze motives, question whether that next drink is really good for us.

Unfortunately, at some point this rote foolishness must blow up in our faces. That point, I believe, has come.

IR departments are facing a market where there are few investors. Budgets are being tightened. Indeed, questions are being asked about the necessity of even having an IR department.

This is all healthy. We need to stop and ask if there are better ways of doing things. Adversity drives innovation. It takes us out of our comfortable myopia and challenges us to be leaner, fitter and more intelligent.

Of course, there is a great sense of fear among those who have gotten fat on years on mindlessness. The wire services, the cookie-cutter IR website vendors, the overpriced lawyers, and yes, the blathering consultants. They will fight hard to protect what they have. Survival is the most primal of instincts.

But for those of us who revel in innovation, who work hard at trying to think outside of this profession’s very square box, who are willing to challenge the status quo, it is time to get to work.

There are many opportunities to do things better. New technologies are waiting to be deployed. The regulatory environment is more amenable to innovation than at any time I can remember. A new tone has come to the top of the most powerful country on the planet.

While others are filled with fear, I’m excited about the opportunities for our clients and for those good service providers who are creating truly innovative solutions that support IR departments and their investors.

Together I believe we will create something new and meaningful. You’re welcome to join us. Subscribe to our journal, join us on Twitter or start your own blog and let’s start talking about how web technologies can redefine the relationships between companies and their investors.

Dominic Jones

Dominic Jones (bio) created IR Web Report in 2001. He is a consultant to leading public companies and investor relations service providers worldwide. You can contact him via the contacts page.