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Case Study: Checking in on the Volkswagen Investor Relations Website Post Scandal

Posted By Tyler Horne, Friday, October 30, 2015
ir websitesVolkswagen Auto Group has done the world of financial public relations an unfortunate favor -- it's teaching us all just how bad a PR nightmare can get. If the company manages to navigate its way through the emissions scandal -- the recalls, repairs, multiple class action lawsuits, security commission investigations, and more -- then it will have shown the investor relations industry that anything is possible.

A few weeks ago, reports surfaced that Volkswagen was cheating on its emissions tests, making their vehicles potentially in violation of numerous global pollution laws. Investor Relations consulting firms like ours have been watching the scandal with great interest, for obvious reasons. One of the biggest developments in the world of financial public relations is the way traditional issuer services and shareholder communications have been combined with new media, like social media strategies and investor relations websites.

We specialize in developing comprehensive IR websites like this, and the Volkswagen scandal provides a case study in investors relations gone wrong. So what happens if you check in on Volkswagen's various IR websites? What does a company with vast resources at its disposable do in a crisis like this?

When you first visit the website for investors, you see a fairly standard greeting on IR websites. It reads, "We warmly welcome you to Volkswagen’s Investor Relations website and would like to thank you for your interest in our company. Through this website you can find comprehensive and detailed information about our IR activities and the performance..."

You get the idea. A quick glance around the page shows links to all the earning reports, press releases, and other filings that come standard on the best IR websites. But the most prominent feature on the page is a mea culpa by the company's new CEO, Matthias Müller.

The beginning of his statement reads:

"Dear Shareholder,

The Supervisory Board asked me to take over as CEO of Volkswagen AG, and I am writing to you today in my new function.

We all saw that last week was a very difficult time for our customers, shareholders and for the whole Group as we were compelled to come to terms with misconduct that has occurred within our company.

As a shareholder in the Group I know that you will have many questions you would like to see answered. Let me assure you that I am personally committed to answering them. However, I must ask you to give me time to gather the full facts first. Only when we have established exactly what happened will I be able to give you a detailed response. The Group’s internal investigations are running at full speed."

His statement is direct, written in plain language, and brief. In that sense, it's a masterful lesson in investor relations services in times of crisis. It also shows how the best IR websites can be used to the advantage of both your company and its shareholders, even in times of crisis.

In the United States, the investor class is shrinking, with just 10% of the country controlling 80% of stocks and mutual funds. Overall, just 55% of the middle class is invested in the stock market, which has been at the heart of the Western economy for 800 years. Despite this, the best investor relations websites are not unlike the Volkswagen page -- simple enough for the average investor to understand.

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Failure to Disclose: Mylan Offers a Case Study in Investor Relations Gone Wrong

Posted By Tyler Horne, Tuesday, October 27, 2015
informed shareholder

Shareholders have rights to certain information, and the responsibility is on the company to disclose that information. That's because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission places strict requirements on corporations, which must provide details on certain kinds of transactions and information. That includes certain transactions involving executives and others with close ties to the firm.

Unfortunately, it's not always 100% clear to firms what kind of transactions they have to disclose to investors. This makes it possible to unintentionally leave shareholders in the dark, opening up the firm to financial public relations nightmares. This year, generic drug company Mylan offers a case study of what happens when companies fail to disclose information.

Like most cases like this, the details are complicated, so bear with us. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, real estate developer Rodney L. Piatt was the part-owner of a company that sold land to a firm owned by a business partner for just $1. That firm then immediately sold the land to Mylan for $2.9 million. After the transaction was finalized, Mylan revealed plans to build their new headquarters on the land. The problem?

Piatt is the chairman of Mylan's compensation committee and a director at the firm since 2004. Mylan's spokespeople say the company met all necessary disclosure requirements, but some securities lawyers disagree, arguing that the company should have informed shareholders about Piatt's ties to the transaction.

Securities lawyer Irwin Kishner told the Post-Gazette, "To me, this one is obvious,” he said. “How can you possibly think that this was not a disclosable transaction?”

Charles Elson with the University of Delaware's Center for Corporate Governance agreed. He elaborated, "An independent director should not be involved in related-party transactions. It compromises their independence.”

Even though this transaction took place three years ago, this summer a highly critical Op-Ed in the Post-Gazette accused the company of keeping its shareholders in the dark. Even if Mylan isn't found to have violated any securities regulations, the negative media attention could have turned shareholders against the company. If the company is found responsible, the effects could be even worse.

The right investor relations consulting firm can help prevent these kinds of unnecessary dramas by helping firms promptly disclose information. Ultimately, informed shareholders are more loyal investors. The stock market has been at the heart of economics for more than 800 years, but the 21st century has seen major changes, like 24 hour trading and the Foreign Exchange market. Shareholder communication services have come a long way too, but the basic need for investor awareness hasn't changed. To comply with SEC disclosure guidelines, you need informed shareholders. And that means you need to invest in investor relations services before you get into hot water.

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Too Many Investor Relations Firms Ignore the Most Important Part of the Job...

Posted By Tyler Horne, Thursday, October 22, 2015

existing shareholder

Financial public relations has been radically changed by digital technologies, just like the stock market itself. Without a doubt, the financial world is undergoing some of the biggest changes in the 800 year history of the modern day stock exchange. Too often, we've found that these powerful new tools have shifted the focus of many investor relation firms away from the most fundamental part of the job -- servicing your existing shareholders.

Yes, digital tools have expanded the realm of the possible in the investor relations industry. It's now possible to stretch your advertising dollar further, to spread your press releases wider at the push of a button, and to share data at literally the speed of light. But in our experience, making your existing shareholders feel valued is the difference between activist shareholders and loyal shareholders. In our extensive experience providing comprehensive investor relations services in the 21st century, we've found that better reporting and communication with your existing shareholders is an incredibly reliable strategy.

Informed Investors are Loyal Shareholders

In short, too many of the big players in financial public relations desperately need to get back to basics. Yes, we've never had more tools in our toolkit, but rather than focusing on the latest bells and whistles, those powerful reporting tools should be turned inward, to better service one of the most important parts of your company -- your existing shareholders.

So what does this look like in the 21st century?

Thanks to the latest technology, you can now publish a press release to reporters and industry professionals all over the world instantaneously. In the same way, you should be able to contact your shareholders just as easily. In addition to reporting earnings, revenue growth, the latest contract news, and all other necessary updates, your investors should be updated on the story of your company. They need to feel like they're in the know, the first to hear about crucial company news and milestones.

Of course, that doesn't mean other vital aspects of investor relations should slip to the background. SEC filing, a strong presence on the web, and getting the company coverage in the press are also essential to financial PR, and you need an investors relations firm that understands this.

At a time when just 52% of consumers say they or their spouse are invested in the stock market, it's more important than ever to keep existing shareholders satisfied. Sure, most investors will stick with a stock for 15 years or more if they're seeing strong returns, but loyal shareholders are more willing to stick it out during those rough quarters. So as your company heads into 2016, it's time to step up your investor relations strategies.

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How Chinese Propaganda Is Actually Making the Crisis There Worse

Posted By Tyler Horne, Tuesday, September 29, 2015
investor relations industryFortune magazine has an interesting feature this September about China's doomed attempt to restore confidence in its stock market by... lying about its stock market. That impulse is understandable, if nothing else. After all, the Chinese economy has suffered a seismic stock market crash, currency devaluation, and weak economic growth as a result.

Financial public relations operate a little differently when propaganda is a matter of official policy:
"China is supposed to have learned many lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of them is that only a thriving economy can save the rule of a communist party. But it seems that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) own Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department), which controls the country’s media, has learned nothing about the futility of lying about economic performance."

Previously, we've talked about some of the ways those in the investor relations industry can navigate a crisis. Using social media, press embargoes, and emerging digital technologies make it easier than ever to control the flow of information. Of course, it's often wiser for investor relations firms to release bad information all at once, rather than prolonging the inevitable fallout.

But as China tries to censor dismal economic news, the country ensures that a steady drip of bad news continues to leak out. In the European Union and U.S., there are strict regulations on how the investor relations industry reports information. But when corporate issuer services are beholden to state directives to alter or erase information, the investor relations industry has its hands tied behind its back.

In fact, transparency and prompt reporting of data can actually help restore confidence in a crisis, even if the data is bad. And Fortune agrees, writing that "the lack of reliable data on the Chinese economy and the opacity of Beijing’s process of economic policymaking" is the main source of their troubles, not the bad news itself. Although, to be fair, the bad news isn't helping either.

Stock markets have been in operation for more than 800 years, but the 21st century has seen revolutionary changes to the financial system. Now that the forex is open 24 hours a day, global markets are more interconnected than ever. Unfortunately, that means Chinese financial problems immediately have an effect on markets in the U.S. and Europe. And with 52% of U.S. households invested in the stock market, no doubt investors will continue waiting for the latest news from the Chinese press, true or false.

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What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Investor Relations

Posted By Tyler Horne, Thursday, September 24, 2015
investor relations services

Donald Trump, love him or hate him, is unflappable. And chances are you love him or hate him.

The anti-establishment candidate entered the Republican presidential field as a major underdog, yet quickly rose to dominate virtually every poll. Despite controversial statements and proposals that would have quickly sunk any other candidate, the Trump train just keeps picking up speed. Yet the Pew Research Center reports that the wealthiest 10% of Americans, like Trump, control 80% of stocks and mutual funds. Just 55% of households that earn between $30,000 and $75,000 annually are invested in the stock market, and just 52% of households overall.

So why are so many Americans so taken with a billionaire member of the One Percent? And what can we learn about investor relations services from Donald Trump?

Investor Relations Services and Trump Mania
Although Trump has made a fortune on casino and real estate deals, his primary skill is in selling himself. He has mastered the art of personal branding, with buildings all over the world bearing his household name.

When voters are asked what they like about him, it's his winning personality that so many people respond to. In short, Trump's supporters just think he's a winner, and Americans like winners. Similarly, often times investor relation firms have to tell a positive story that shareholders and the public will respond to.

There are a number of lessons the investor relations industry can pick up from Trump -- his messaging, his ability to spin any fact to his favor, and most of all, his unconditional confidence. No matter the crisis, projecting confidence is key to finding investor relations solutions.

For instance, after he was accused during a debate of going bankrupt four times, he wasted no time in rebutting the claim. He was careful to note that he personally has never filed for bankruptcy, skirting the fact that his companies have gone to bankruptcy court four times.

Likewise, one of Trump's fellow anti-establishment candidates offered a clear lesson in finding a silver lining in bad information. When controversial Hewlett-Packard leader Carly Fiorina was called out for a disastrous Compaq merger (and the loss of thousands of jobs), she wasted no time in telling the other side of her story. That doesn't mean she told lies or gave denials (a losing, and possibly illegal strategy in shareholder services), but rather, provided the right information and data to inspire confidence.

"I led Hewlett-Packard through a very difficult time, the worst technology recession in 25 years," Fiorina said. "The NASDAQ stock index fell 80%. It took 15 years for the stock index to recover. We had very strong competitors who literally went out of business and lost all of their jobs in the process."

Politicians and financial public relations consultants often rely on the same strategies. Neither Trump nor Fiorina lied about their records, but simply provided the facts and context that reflected most positively on their record. And that's a skill that's extremely valuable, particularly in the complex world of investor relations services.

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Bloomberg Fires Editor For Breaking Press Embargo By 20 Minutes!

Posted By Tyler Horne, Tuesday, September 22, 2015
financial public relations

Bloomberg fired an editor who violated a press embargo by just 20 minutes. The drastic action should reassure anyone in investor relations services nervous about releasing sensitive information under an embargo. So how did the recently-unemployed editor lose his job?

An embargo is an agreement whereby the press agrees to wait until a certain date to publish time-sensitive information. This gives journalists time to prepare in-depth coverage before news breaks, and it's a popular tactic in financial public relations.

Bloomberg's U.S. economic team leader received an embargoed report from the Federal Reserve regarding the minutes of a July meeting of the Fed's policy-making committee. And USA Today reports that the editor accidentally published a headline about the meeting 20 minutes before the 2 p.m. embargo.

If the swift dismissal seems harsh, remember that Bloomberg was already planning to eliminate 100 newsroom positions. In 2013, the company fired two editors in Prague for a similar embargo violation. The incident provides the perfect opportunity to review exactly how such embargoes work.

When do financial public relations and investor relations firms use press embargoes?
If someone in the investor relations industry wants to give a reporter a story, they can request the writer agree to hold the story until a certain time. In other cases, a company might be planning an event or press conference, and wants to give reporters time to prepare. This can result in more detailed coverage when the news finally does break.

What's an example of when an embargo would be useful?
The financial public relations industry is just one industry of many that utilizes this tool. For instance, movie studios will screen their films to the press before they're publicly released. If the studio knows the film is terrible, they might embargo reviews until the day of the movie's release, to prevent negative word of mouth. If the movie is fantastic, they might use an earlier embargo date.

So the press isn't allowed to break an embargo?
Yes and no. An embargo isn't a legal contract. However, if a reporter gains a reputation for breaking embargoes or going back on their word, they will quickly be unable to find sources. Plus, they could get the sack!

How do I institute an embargo?
In general, it is enough to issue a press release with an explicit note regarding the embargo. Write that the information you provide is under embargo until a specific date and time. And if a reporter breaks an embargo, make sure you let investor relation firms know that he or she can't be trusted!

The stock market has been at the heart of economic activities for at least 800 years, but the landscape has really changed in the new millennium. Some things stay the same, like the historical 10% average return rate on stocks. But changing technologies have changed investing for good. For instance, the foreign exchange allows trading 24 hours a day.

As the financial industry experiences bigger and bigger changes, controlling the flow of information is more critical than ever. And the press embargo is one of the most important tools in the financial public relations toolkit.

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Q&A with WrapMail CEO Marco Alfonsi

Posted By Tyler Horne, Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stock Market Manager's Tyler Horne sat down with the CEO of WrapMail for a quick Q&A session. Check out the session below. 

Tyler:  First, Marco, thanks for joining us for this super quick Q&A session.

Marco:  My pleasure, Tyler. Always happy to sit down with Stock Market Manager.

Tyler:  Let's dive right in. What is Wrap Mail and how long have you been in business?

Marco:  WRAPmail (OTC:WRAP) is an email template system that adds a dynamic, interactive and trackable letterhead to the regular emails we all send every day. WRAPmail users can create wraps in the included WRAPmaker from scratch or choose an email template and combine this with an image library and customization. WRAPmail is compatible with all email systems both desktop, web and server-based. Users can create multiple wraps and select which emails to wrap, what template to use or simply rotate a number of different templates. Users also find out instantly when someone clicks on any link.

Tyler:  How do businesses benefit from using your product?

Marco:  It is an untapped advertising medium (email) that WRAPmail turns into a complete marketing tool spanning from Branding through selling and lead generation to complete research. Bottom line WRAPmail will increase revenue for the business using it.

Tyler:  How my clients currently use your product?

Marco:  There are about 7,500 accounts signed up. We are aiming for a major advertising push in the very near future that we believe, combined with brand new solutions for both desktop and mobile, will propel the user numbers into the millions.

Tyler:  What are your short-term growth plans?

Marco:  Funding the company to be able to release the new solutions combined with a serious nationwide marketing/advertising campaign across all media. In addition we aim to partner with companies/people that can open the doors to millions of users of our various solutions/offerings.

Tyler:  Where do you see Wrap Mail in 3 years?

Marco:  A company valued north of $1 billion with millions of users that are using the solutions in many different ways.

Tyler:  How can someone learn more about the product?

Marco: - website will be completely redesigned shortly. Free trial. Automatic demo. All available from the website.

Tyler:  Thanks so much for your time, Marco.

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How to Keep Your Investors Happy

Posted By Tyler Horne, Tuesday, September 1, 2015
issuer services

The stock market, which has been at the center of business operations for more than 800 years, includes 55% of earners in the $30,000 to $75,000 annual income window. These people are invested for a reason, since historically, stocks have an annual return of 10%, much higher than the average annual inflation rate of 3.2%. If you've been wondering how to better improve your shareholder communications and investor relations, look no further. Here's a quick guide to maintaining positive shareholder relations, and how to offer the right shareholder services that will make your investors happy.

If you want your investors to be happy, you're going to have to pay them. You'll be able to do this by paying them dividends, which will be equal to your capital, plus your earnings, minus your debt. What's leftover should go to the shareholders, who desire the least amount of debt possible from an organization in order to be truly happy and confident in their investments. You should also be able to provide your shareholders with issuer services like liquidity, so that they are able to convert their established shares into cash whenever they feel like it.

Another way for you to keep your investors happy is to play an active role in the community. Your involvement shouldn't stop at issuer services. Investors want to see their shares used to promote projects like charitable donations, organized fundraisers and events, and other things that help them feel like their involvement is paying back to their community. Consider what your company's level of involvement says about your business, and your shareholders, and take an active role in making the change your investors seek.

The most obvious way to keep your shareholders happy is to stay out of trouble. Make sure that your shareholder communication services are honest in regards to the state of affairs within your company, and keep the investors informed so that they have all the information they need to continue investing in the future.

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Modern Day Scavenger Hunt

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I have always been intrigued by underwater exploration.  To think of the vastness under our seas and all they possess is overwhelming.  The unseen species, the uncharted landscapes and even the treasures from sunken ships generate childlike awe as to what lies beneath.  Many a life has been devoted to changing the unknown to known.  From the fame of being the first to discover new species or the fortune of sunken treasure, the race is on to be the one to discover.

Endurance Exploration

One group in particular that I have been following is Endurance Exploration (OTCQB:EXPL).  Today, companies like Endurance use modern day technology as well as historical data to pinpoint areas to explore.  Another key component to exploration is an understanding of the laws that govern international waters and rights of ownership to the treasure. Endurance, which is a Clearwater, Florida based publically traded company, is starting to create a buzz with their work. According to a press release by the company on August 24, 2015, the company “completes video survey and recovers first artifacts” of the Connaught.  CEO of Endurance, Micah Eldred stated in the release “this represents our first big step as we begin the excavation…”

The Connaught

This massive, iron hulled side-wheeled steamer was built in Ireland and launched in 1860. It was 380 feet in length and was considered one of the largest and most luxurious liners of the time. The fateful journey began from Galway, Ireland on September 25, 1860 on what would be her 2nd and final voyage.  The ship was bound for Boston via St John’s, Newfoundland and carried 50 first class passengers, 417 in steerage, a crew of 125 and £10,000 British Pounds in gold.

A Perilous Journey

The Connaught began taking on water during a sudden storm.  While the leak was contained another problem would arise; a fire below deck.  The smoke and flames were so overwhelming that none of the gold or passenger valuables could be rescued.  Life boats were lowered but the waves destroyed them while smashing them into the ship.  All seemed lost until a tiny fruit transport sailed out to the rescue.  Eye witness accounts say the hull was so hot the water boiled around it.  Amazingly, all 600 passengers and crew were able to somehow make it onto the smaller vessel.  Only 100 miles from the final destination in Boston, survivors watched as the Connaught met her peril and slipped into the sea. 


Technology, Diplomacy and History

With today’s mapping technology, most believe that discovering historical shipwrecks will become easier.  Endurance Explorations seems to have an advanced understanding of navigating the legal and diplomatic aspect of sunken treasure. History is peppered with individuals or companies who have located and raised treasures and artifacts only to lose it through court proceedings.  The research team of Endurance seems to also have a clear understanding of other potential recoveries as they have mapped out future sites with hopes of future explorations. With the chance of monetary reward along with a historical story like the Connaught, Endurance Exploration makes for a fun follow.


Keith Holloway - CEO Discount Coupons Corp
As Chief Executive Officer, Keith implements programs and practices to support the ideas and vision of our brands. He is the former Vice President for Lamar Advertising; a publicly traded media company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In his 15 years with Lamar, he operated in several markets within the Southeast. During his tenure, Holloway was responsible for managing multiple offices, hiring and training all staff and Sarbanes- Oxley compliance certifications. Keith led expansion of existing markets as well as entry into new markets. He has personally been involved in hundreds of mergers and acquisitions and is well versed in identifying the media companies, valuation of the business and all due diligence of operations. Once purchases were complete, Holloway’s responsibilities included melding operations into the current business. Keith is married with 3 children.


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How Social Media Can Create An Instant Investor Relations Crisis

Posted By Tyler Horne, Friday, August 7, 2015
investor relations services

This July, little known small cap stock IDI, Inc. presented a perfect example of how social media is changing the investor relations industry for good. A full-blown crisis kicked off on July 21, when an anonymous blog post went live on several investor blogs. The anonymous post called IDI a "strong sell," and claimed the company had engaged in a "Yahoo message board stock-pumping scheme," while also accusing its chairman of an alleged sketchy history of bankruptcy and fraud lawsuits.

The post certainly looked legitimate, and it set off a social media firestorm. Of course, the accuracy of the post has since been called into question completely. The veracity of the post isn't the lesson. Instead, it's important to note that the story spread across social media among users who had no way of knowing whether it was true or not.

Instantly, IDI stock began to plummet, although it's since stabilized because of a strong public relations push from the company.

So what can we learn from the IDI debacle? Investor relations services are more important than ever in the digital media age. In effect, having strong financial public relations in place can allow your investor relations firm to act as a rapid response team.

In the digital age, social media-generated crises of confidence require immediate action. Investor relations services can help prevent a social media spark from turning into a total public relations wildfire. Not only that, but investors relations can help provide a full court press, putting out press releases, communicating with shareholders, and responding to crises as they occur.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing divide between Wall Street and Main Street, in part because many people are skeptical of the stock market following the recession. That's one reason only 52% of U.S. adults said that they or their spouse own stocks of any kind. On top of that, the Pew Research Center reported in 2010 that the wealthiest 10% of Americans owned 80% of all stocks, and experts say that percentage is increasing year after year. Even the middle class is missing out, with just 55% of Americans who earn between $30,000 and $75,000 a year currently invested in the stock market.

Investor relations services can help the public feel secure about their investments when social media claims of dubious origin start a panic. But remember, blog posts, anonymous claims, and social media outrage spread instantly in 2015. You need investor relations services already in place if you want to prevent a small problem from turning into a total crisis.

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