The trouble with big company IR (and PR)

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The Trouble With Big Company IR (And PR)

There’s a really good, thought-provoking column in The Times today by m’learned colleague Patrick Hosking.

Lord Hosking (it’s a matter of time only) writes about investor relations, a corner of the City we don’t discuss enough. He starts with the fusillade against Unilever by Terry Smith, the fund manager whose performance is so good he can say what he likes about everyone else. As a Unilever shareholder, Smith thinks the company sucks.

“Against the background of this miserable performance, the company did not even attempt to contact us for the first eight years [2010-18] we were shareholders,” he wrote. “We have always assumed that one job of the investor relations team was to keep in touch with the largest shareholders and especially one with the characteristics of Fundsmith — a long-term investor who has never sold a share.”

They didn’t speak to him for eight years? On one hand this is shocking, on the other, well, at least they treat Terry Smith the same as they treat the rest of us.

From a PR and apparently an IR perspective, really big companies seem lost in navel gazing. They speak to themselves, while the rest of the world passes by. Sir Patrick notes that IR is “an activity that rarely makes the headlines but operates at the nexus of capitalism, where companies engage with (or in this case, don’t engage with) their owners”.

The industry is booming but too much of it is reluctant “to engage with hostile criticism or to pass the bad news back to the board”.

Maybe all this is a bit unfair on Unilever specifically, but the general point is right. What hacks, and perhaps investors, really want from a big company is one point of contact, one person who answers their phone and really knows what they are talking about.

Too often, what we get are an ever-shifting cast of thousands who have learnt not to take responsibility, lest they get the blame.

That makes sense for them. For the whole organisation, it plainly does not.

The WFH mandate is lifted and there is at least some pressure to get back to the office, especially from the government.

This from Alight Solutions says some employers are ignoring that. Be interesting to see how many employees do too.

Marcus Beaver says: “When the Government instructed people to work from home in 2020, many found their jobs could be done without productivity being affected. Going back to commuting five days a week no longer works for all. Employees have learned that working remotely offers flexibility, and companies are recognising this.”

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