One of the recurrent themes I address in this venue, as both a business leader and as someone who specializes in investor relations (IR), is the necessity of eliminating the gap between perception and reality, reconciling the public's perspective about an issue and contrary evidence about the very same topic of discussion. Where there is a discrepancy between the two, it is my job – no, it is the collective responsibility of individual executives, with the aid and counsel of my colleagues – to educate people about the truth and the positive opportunities before them.
Nowhere is this matter more relevant, and nowhere is there a more urgent need to separate fact from fiction, than in reports about the nation of Ireland. (Technically, two nations: Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and The Republic of Ireland, which has its own government and parliamentary system.)
Ireland is an ideal example of the importance of clarity of communication; the island contains, within its rich tapestry of history, religious identity, political independence, and layered cultural fabric of immigration and the preservation of ancestral values; this land of 6.4 million people, residents of a lush pastoral homeland of greenery, family farms, forests and distinctive wildlife – amidst all of this tradition, it is also vital to emphasize that the island is a hub of robust business activity, technological innovation and an economic Emerald Tiger, strong, resilient and impossible to ignore. The challenge is to convey that message to prospective investors and media alike.
One organization that achieves this goal is The New Ireland Fund, which has 80% of its assets in equity and fixed income securities of Irish companies. I cite this fund for several reasons, starting with their ability to clearly explain their investment goals, as well as their understanding of the divide between events relating to the global financial crisis in 2008 and the situation today.
Full disclosure: I had the privilege of hosting an event, in which The New Ireland Fund was one of several participants. The fund's presentation about the “Celtic Comeback,” which is available for reading here and viewing here, is an ideal example of the rule about the art of communications. In that instance, the fund reaffirms my longstanding belief in showing and telling: That an executive must, through every means available to him or her, make an issue intelligible and an argument persuasive, because complacency has no part in the interplay between shareholders and journalists, or potential investors and financial analysts.
Reveal the Facts and Underscore the Statistics: Dispel Myths and Falsehoods
I return to this point about facts and statistics versus myths and falsehoods because, if the latter persist and continue to skew people's investment decisions, then individuals will lose the chance to diversify and miss opportunities for possible growth. And, given the sort of “benevolent ignorance” about Ireland as a trapped-in-time world of banshees, leprechauns, four-leaf clovers, and folk tales about former gods and hidden riches at the end of a rainbow off yonder, it is critical to add a dose of modernity to this story.
For Ireland is also a thriving economy with approximately $114 billion in exports, with the majority of these goods consisting of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, computer hardware and software, food products, beverages, and brewing and medical devices. Indeed, technology – information technology (IT), to be more precise – is a cornerstone of the nation's involvement with everything from digital services and the creation of smart infrastructure to the design of mobile applications, cloud computing and the use of big data for a variety of industries, such as insurance, e-commerce, biotechnology and startups in general.
In a word, Ireland is diverse. That diversity – the appeal of Ireland as a multiethnic destination for American and European expatriates – is at the heart of the country's intellectual capital, entrepreneurial spirit and contemporary life. The New Ireland Fund exists for this very reason: To identify, invest in and profit from an economy focused on the categories with global appeal and financial significance. Put another way, the “newness” of The New Ireland Fund symbolizes the fields, which will propel the Celtic Comeback.
Take, for instance, the Fund's investments in CPL Resources PLC, a recruitment agency, and Smurfit Kappa Group PLC, a leading producer of paper-based packaging for clients worldwide. The first reflects the dynamism of the Irish economy and the nation’s job market as a whole, compared to conditions in Spain, Portugal or Greece, where chronic unemployment and political instability continue to prevent a bona fide recovery.
The second company, with its restructured balance sheet, price increases and international reach, has everything in place – cyclically and financially – to benefit from an upturn in the global economy. In fact, the changes in price have validation from the market – the response is very positive – and should profit shareholders during the course of this year.
Answering Questions and Responding with Important Information
The other necessary component of effective communications, which applies to all businesses, is the willingness to respond to queries from investors and demonstrate the patience to receive feedback from all manner of individuals. The New Ireland Fund is not the only group aware of this duty, but it does have an eagerness to acknowledge every question, suggestion or statement from investors. That commitment is one of respect and intelligent leadership.
Therein lies the purpose of running a company or managing an investment fund: Dignity, in all its forms, for the good of everyone and the integrity of an organization's mission. The New Ireland Fund has these traits, but “the luck of the Irish,” in terms of business success, is universal and accessible to any enterprise. The objective is to have the discipline and vision to enjoy such luck.
Patricia Baronowski-Schneider is Founder and President of Pristine Advisers, a marketing and communications professional with over 23 years experience in the financial communications and media relations industry.