Episode 5

Building a sustainable narrative with Alyssa Barry and Caroline Sawamoto

Q interviews Alyssa and Caroline, the founders of IR Labs - an investor relations firm that is build for the modern world. They discuss how investor relations today is about so much more than just a press release, and the many things that companys need to take into account. Listen to hear more about why ESG matters more than ever today, and how the market keeps promises made in check. Alyssa and Caroline also share how companys can get started with developing their strategy to communicate their ESG strategy, and progress to the capital markets.


[00:00:00] Qayyum ("Q"): Welcome to the Real People Real Impact Podcast. I'm Kim Or Q, your host. And I'm here with Alyssa and Caroline, who are the founders of IR Labs, which is the company that we're partnering with here at East Analytics. And they're doing some really, really cool stuff in the world. So before we get into what you do and all that, I would love to just ask, first of all, who are both of you? Alyssa, maybe you can start.

[00:00:26] Alyssa: Thank you so much. And we really appreciate the opportunity to be with you on this podcast and really are excited about the partnership that we have with ESG analytics. My name is Alyssa Barry. I have about 15 years of experience in investor relations. I originally wanted to be a journalist, and I had a mentor in my life very early on who said I should be making the news, not writing about it. And much ahead of the demise of the journalism industry. It was a really smart move on my part to kind of go into the communications investor relations space. I've been in house investor relations for about 15 years, primarily with publicly traded companies. And more recently, I was a shareholder activist with a private equity firm based in Vancouver called Sandpiper Group, essentially advocating for positive change in the real estate space. And I'll pass it over to Caroline to give her background.

[00:01:31] Caroline: Thank you, Alyssa. Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me on this podcast. My name is Caroline Salamoto. As Alyssa mentioned, I've been also in investor relations capital markets industry in the past 15 years with mostly publicly traded companies in the clean tech sector. And earlier this year, Alyssa called me with an idea to launch an investor relations firm that would focus on good IR and good shareholder engagement, talking about talking decades of experience and supporting companies and everything from traditional IR, internal communications, corporate governance, marketing, PR, ESG, and more. And so here we are today with IRLAB.

[00:02:16] Qayyum ("Q"): That's awesome. Well, Congratulations on taking the entrepreneurial journey. And what was that call like? So she called you up and she was like, we're going to start a firm and will you join? What did that actually look like?

[00:02:29] Caroline: Yes. So it was in the middle of Covet, and Alyssa and I connected. Earlier this year, we just gave each other an update about what's going on in our career and our personal lives. And she said, I have an idea, and I think there is a need, there's a gap out there that needs to be filled, and that's good investor relations. So I didn't hesitate. I took the opportunity. I think by the end of the call, I said, yes, that's awesome.

[00:03:06] Qayyum ("Q"): It all started with the conversations, right? And it sounds like from both your backgrounds, it's something that was near and dear to your heart with clean tech. And you mentioned the slant that you had listed on Social Good and stuff like that so what's the focal point of IR Labs? When you say good IR, what does that mean? And does that mean there's a bad IR as well?

[00:03:27] Alyssa: Yeah, it's a really great question. So Caroline and I really felt that there's a need for really strong shareholder engagement and good communications. There's so much noise, as we all know in our lives, and we're inundated with communications pretty much from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. And we felt that combined with the way that people are digesting and receiving information today, along with the kind of shift in profile for the average investor now, and you've got a lot of investors who are becoming more socially conscious, they want to not only be a consumer of a product, they also would like to invest in it and vice versa. So we felt that there is an opportunity to really focus on identifying clients that we can align with. And Caroline and I from the get go said we only want to work with clients that we can believe in and do good work for and feel really fortunate that we've got a roster of clients today that are doing really great work from a sustainability perspective, giving back to the community, socially conscious, environmentally conscious. So we just felt that there's just a need to help those companies get their messages across in a really great way and have essentially put a bit of a formula together at IR Labs to be able to do that.

[00:04:58] Qayyum ("Q"): Awesome. And I'm not going to get you guys to develop the full secret sauce, but I feel like the world is like storytelling is such a big part of everything that we do. And I know that I haven't started a few companies myself that it can make or break a company. Right. And there's good products and good people, but the kind of work that you do helps to shape the narrative around the company. And I don't know, to me, it's a very valuable component of what companies actually are because you're almost pulling their essence out of there. Right. But when you say kind of going beyond the press release, which is, I think, what people associate IR with in the past, what does that full sort of lifecycle look like or the formula, if you will, what does that encompass?

[00:05:42] Alyssa: Yeah. So for us, we really took a step back at the beginning and said if we were to put together the dream team of IR, and if every IR professional could tap into various resources, what would that look like? So we've put a team together of people that are so wildly smarter than we are. And we've got everything from capital markets, content writers, graphic designers, social media experts, and a number of IR associates as well, who wear many different hats. And so at any given point, our clients can come to us and we can tap into all of those resources. And to give you a tangible example of going beyond the press release. We don't write a Press release and just deliver to our clients and say good luck. We are executing it from start to finish. And often that means having a bit of a discovery session with the client to make sure that we're getting the right key messages in a Press release and putting in the effort to make sure that the messaging is clear, concise and aligns with the strategy of the company. And along with that, we're delivering key messages that can be used by the company, the board of directors, they can share internally. I think often people forget that their internal audience can also be investors in a company. And then we're executing from we take that press release and we had a company this morning that just launched a really great new impact fund in the real estate space. And so we went out and ran press. We managed all their social media. There's an email campaign that goes along with that. That's part of an investor targeting exercise. They're quite the productions now.

[00:07:29] Qayyum ("Q"): Yeah. Truly, it's a full on production. That's a good word for it. The orchestration of everything. That's insane.

[00:07:37] Caroline: We just want to make sure we touch every channel and we have the engagement and the reach that we'd like to see. So we want to make sure we use not just the press release itself through the wire distribution, but we reach out to individual media contact. So again, like looking for media coverage, we posted the same press release on various LinkedIn pages. We're trying to find different groups of investors who would be interested in this type of news, for example, and target those groups through LinkedIn or other social media channels. So, yeah, we're not afraid to push the envelope and disrupt the old ways of doing things. And that's where our name came from. Actually, the word lab means innovation, forward thinking, trying new things. And that's what we're doing today.

[00:08:45] Qayyum ("Q"): Yeah, more than ever. I mean, we got to experiment. This is not the same world that we were in like ten years ago, not even like two years ago. Right. So everyone's in different places, the pockets, the customers, internal stakeholders and all that. So obviously this is an ESC podcast. And you mentioned, like, the companies that you're targeting are not necessarily all in sustainability space, but they have a certain ethos, which I think we as companies share as well, which is, I guess, where we're connected. But EC is starting to touch basically every part of the business. Right. So IR and comms and such as the financial team, such as the operations team, it's all these different components, which I don't think we ever thought of at first. And so where do you see the role of IR PR Communications playing a role from the East, east side of a company, if that's not really very clear, but where does your role fit into the EC world?

[00:09:40] Alyssa: I think a lot of companies are doing really great work already and ESG has become this phrase or acronym or thing that has come to the forefront. But a lot of companies have been part of their ethos from the get go. Caroline and I were just having a conversation about this where early in our careers there was a lot that we were doing that touched on the E, the S and the G. But obviously we've all seen what's happened in the world the last several years. They've just kind of enhanced or brought to the forefront these really great conversations that for those companies who haven't prioritized, it's good that we are where we are today. A lot of companies are doing good work, but just not communicating it properly. And there's one client that I was working with specifically where I went in to help them with their Est communications and realized that it wasn't talking to HR and HR wasn't communicating with the Ops team. And when there's a lack of communication amongst various groups, it's really hard to come together and be aligned in what the company is trying to achieve as it relates to their ESG goals. So being able to go in and really almost have that initial discovery conversation in an organization to ensure that your people are all aligned with what the goals and the philosophy is around. Esg is critical. That's just a practical example that we've lived through more recently. But the role of IR and communications is really understanding all of the different components and clearly articulating that to various audiences. It's not just the public markets or the investors or the investment community. It's also making sure that the internal audience, your vendors, your suppliers, your customers, everyone. It should really become something that a company eats, sleeps and breaths, and it doesn't mean going over the top, but there's a lot of opportunities for companies, whether it relates to their marketing, advertising, investor calls, roadshows, press releases, AGMs, and other materials to start layering in and highlighting some of that good work.

[00:12:04] Qayyum ("Q"): Totally. And anything to add there, Caroline? [00:12:07] Caroline: Yeah, just to add to that.

[00:12:09] Caroline: I believe the IRO's role.

[00:12:11] Caroline: The investor relations officers role has become a lot more strategic in the last few years.

[00:12:20] Caroline: Again, going back to that.

[00:12:21] Caroline: It'S not just about the press release.

[00:12:23] Caroline: But we have to be able to articulate the company's strategy to attract long term shareholders to create that long term value creation. So ESG is part of that, right. And it's becoming more prominent now in a lot of these companies that are going public. They have specific ESG mandate. They apply to be a B Corp before they even go public. So yeah, there's a lot of work on that front. And our job is to really amplify that message to the investors and to other stakeholders.

[00:13:06] Qayyum ("Q"): Yeah. And it's crazy because of course every organization is tackling this in a different way. And it's a bit of a web to navigate. Right. Like between disclosures reporting. But then also, like your perception in the industry, what advice would you give to a company that is looking to structure or they might be pursuing ESG mandates internally? But what would be your advice on getting that message out and actually making it part of their brand?

[00:13:40] Alyssa: I think a lot of people believe that ESG is really complicated and it is complex. There's a lot to it, but you have to start somewhere. So even just starting the conversation, I think giving a real practical advice is assembling a group internally, an audience that might perhaps there's someone internally who can champion, but bringing together different individuals across the organization just to start having the conversations and dealing with the low hanging fruit. There's probably some really easy wins type of initiatives that companies can start pursuing. I think a lot of companies believe that it has to be a very complex exercise with a very detailed report that needs to be mapped out for a year. We take a bit more of a practical approach to how we work with our clients as it relates to any of the ESG mandates that we're working on.

[00:14:41] Qayyum ("Q"): I love that from a software side of things. It's an agile mindset, right. It's not this crazy waterfall, like you got to do all the reporting and all the different things at once. It's like just get started. Right. Get started and iterate move on and just start summer. Right. And then move on. One of the things that's interesting is we hear a lot about greenwashing today, right. We hear a lot about companies that might be saying things that I might not be doing, and of course, that's few and far between from what companies actually do. But as communication professionals, where does this play a part in your universe? Right. Because, of course, we're always trying to show what we're going to do in the future, and sometimes that's out of lockstep with what we're actually doing. Right. But how can companies navigate that and really plan around to avoid controversy and to make sure what they're saying is the right thing?

[00:15:40] Alyssa: We just worked with one of our clients, ask us to support them on implementing some ESG goals and their forward their goals. So they're forward looking in nature. And as soon as you put them out there publicly, there's a responsibility to fulfill those, especially if you're a public company and you have investors who are monitoring your results on a quarterly or if not more frequently basis based on a company's disclosures. So I think whatever you put out there, you have to own and you have to update, you have to report on the progress. And even if there may not be a Measurable or a metric attached to that goal initially, but if someone comes out expressing that they're going to add diversity to their board and two years go by and there's lack of diversity, then investors are going to pick up on those things. And I often look at ESG through my shareholder activism lens, and we have clients or prospective clients that come to us saying, we're undervalued, we're really struggling. Our share price is around $3. We probably should be five or seven or whatever for whatever reason. And they're usually trading at a discount for a whole host of reasons. And this could be just unfortunately being a victim of what's happening in their specific sector or the markets in general. But often it relates to something that I've seen anyway, again, through putting on my activist hat, some sort of gap in the corporate governance structure or framework. And often it also is an issue of strategy and not properly articulating where the company is going and not having that visionary lens when it comes to talking about strategy. And much of the work that I've done in the past as it relates to shareholder activism, the proxy contests or situations I've been successful in, it's usually been a governance issue or something that kind of ties into the E, the S and the G. So I think we're just going to see that become more prominent. And I mention this because companies often believe that these problems can be solved or their underperforming share price can be solved with a marketing campaign or a digital strategy or something very short term in nature. But we try and coach our clients to be a bit more insightful and think a bit more strategically about is it actually because we should look at refreshing our board, or is it because our strategy there's a gap there or something that's just not resonating with investors? Or are there components of our business from an ESG perspective that aren't being communicated properly that could really resonate with a new group of prospective investors that might really want to get in on our story and where we're heading? So those are just a couple of thoughts that come to my mind.

[00:18:45] Qayyum ("Q"): Yeah, that's awesome. And obviously, from your background, you've been in the boardroom at that stage when in some of those proxy battles. So if I summarize, you can put whatever you want out there. But more than ever, people are monitoring that. And not just monitoring, but from activist angle or from proxy angle. They're being enforced. So if you're going to put something out of there, you better make sure that you actually do it. Anything to add there, Caroline?

[00:19:11] Caroline: Yeah, I think as investors, you should also vocalize your opinions and challenge the companies if they've put something out there. And maybe in one of the quarterly calls you dial in and ask the question, how is your ESG framework? How's your ESG goal doing? Are you performing? Are you tracking are you on track for these goals for this year? Right. Yeah. And there are many communication channels that investors can take part in. And yeah, I think if we encourage investors to engage with the company to promote ESG totally and so they start to kind of wrap up here.

[00:19:57] Qayyum ("Q"): What does the future look like for Irlabs?

[00:20:02] Alyssa: The Sky's the limit. We are having so much fun. We feel like we've got our dream jobs. We have an incredible team. I think for us right now it's just really growing. Our team across the country. We've got twelve people at IR labs across Canada spread out, working all virtually but connected as though we were together in one collective space. We feel really grateful for that and we just look forward to bringing new and innovative ideas to our clients and helping them navigate the crazy world of the capital markets and making their lives easier wherever possible. And yeah, just really trying to push the envelope. And in some ways Caroline and I often joke that we've kind of gone activists on the entire IR industry in some ways and implementing a bit of a different approach to how we do things. But so far it's been a really great experience and really resonating with our clients as well.

[00:21:02] Qayyum ("Q"): That's awesome. Just trailblazers in the IRS space and you get to disrupt everything right. And I think things are right for disruption as well. And so if people want to find you find our labs, where can you do that?

[00:21:16] Caroline: They can find us on our website, www. Dot. Irlabs. Ca or on LinkedIn. Also search for irls on Instagram. Irlab. That's our handle. Or you can email us at happyinvestors at irlap. Ca.

[00:21:37] Qayyum ("Q"): That is the best email I've ever heard in my life.

[00:21:41] Caroline: Thank you.

[00:21:42] Qayyum ("Q"): That's awesome. Well, thank you too for coming on. It's been a pleasure talking to you. You guys have built something amazing and are going to continue to build something amazing and I think you're playing a really good part in the world of good IR and I really look forward to seeing what you do next.

[00:21:57] Alyssa: Thank you so much and we really look forward to continuing to work closely with ESG analytics. Thank you so much, Keith.

[00:22:03] Qayyum ("Q"): Thank you.

[00:22:03] Alyssa: Thank you.