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Investor Relations

Intro to an IRO: Sylvia Wheeler, Immune Design

This is a new role at Immune Design. In this capacity I’m focused on helping the company raise its profile and visibility on Wall Street. I’m looking to get greater appreciation for the company’s programs and its progress and specifically, its position in the Immuno-Oncology space. There’s a lot of noise out there in this hot and cutting-edge field within Immunotherapy. Helping the company rise above the chatter is imperative. Immune Design has been dedicated to Immuno-Oncology and Immunotherapy for a number of years, before it was in vogue. They are true pioneers in the space. And yet, the company is underappreciated in the industry. My goal is to educate Wall Street on what’s happening at the company in terms of its programs, technology and its promise, and gain some traction with investors to help the company realize greater value.

That’s an interesting question – I’ve been doing investor relations for nearly 30 years and in that time, there’s been a huge evolution from technology, intelligence, SEC rules and disclosure regulations, and frankly, appreciation for the role of investor relations; but specifically, in the past few years, I’d say that there’s fierce and intense competition for mindshare – there’s so many ways that we’re able to communicate with investors and so many different media vehicles that the noise level is significant and it just continues to grow.

On the heels of the point I just made, the best thing you can do is make sure you’re telling a clear and compelling story and make it easy for investors to understand. If you think about putting yourself in the shoes of an investor, they’re looking to see the most promising investment opportunities so the more you’re able to help them understand how your company is differentiated and how it’s set up and well positioned for future success, the more you’re going to engage and attract them.

I’d say hands down that there are multiple and they are essentially around issues management. IR is a fun and exciting job and the role is significantly easier when things are going well for your company. Where you really earn your chops and show your capabilities and how seasoned you are as an IRO is when times are tough, when the organization has a setback. I’ve never been at an organization that has had an absolutely straight, ascending line up. Undoubtedly, you’re going to deal with setbacks and it’s very rewarding when you lead an organization through those times, you help to regain confidence on Wall Street, and you do what you can to protect the company’s reputation. To me, those are the most rewarding times.

I have a list of four sources that I lean on: First, the investment bankers. They are well patched in, they’re talking to investors and companies, and I really enjoy those conversations. You can find great sources on that side. Second, I really rely on Nasdaq’s market surveillance. I get a lot of intel from my surveillance manager and which helps me guide the management team and look smart about what’s happening in the markets. When you check your screen first thing in the morning and it’s red and you see your peers are all down – it’s good to get intel right away so that when management asks you what’s going on, you’re able to have an informed, intelligent answer. Third, there are industry trades that are common in the biotech industry that I troll through to get news that could influence stock swings on a given day. Fourth, I do my own surveillance when I have investor interactions because they will tell you directly if they have an appetite for your stock, what they’re thinking, if they’re bullish or bearish on the industry and your company in particular. Just keeping your ears open.

Consider yourself a marketer. You have a legal and ethical obligation to conform to certain rules and regulations but a marketer nonetheless. Your company and its assets are your products. Credibility is extremely important. Make sure you thoroughly understand every aspect of your company and carefully set expectations. When and where you can, try to exceed them.

I touched on many of these points but just to summarize, the first thing that is mission critical is to have an insatiable appetite for information and for being in the know. That’s going to help you know the “product” or your company really well and the more you know, the better you’re going to be at actually talking about it. The second skill set is to be an excellent marketer, to really understand that you are positioning and messaging all of the time. Third, you have to be a great listener because you have to hear what’s happening in your organization, where the vulnerabilities lie, what investors are looking for and then match those demands and expectations with what your company has to offer. Lastly, I would say be a strategic thinker, because there’s a lot to our role that is execution, but if you can step back and think about strategy, you’re going to be a more valued player and team member. You’ll have more executive presence if you’re able to help set strategy for your communications and organization. Knowing what’s coming down the road and what your future looks like helps you telegraph credibly to Wall Street and your target audiences.


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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.