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Postcards from the (virtual) road: the show without the road

Few have done it since March 2020. European IPO success stories from specialist and profitable companies like Italian filter maker GVS, or Dutch Peet’s Coffee chain successfully raised millions of dollars from investors all over the world without so much as printing a boarding pass.  Come again? Unimaginable a few months back, in today’s COVID-19 crisis era, management teams do their show without the road.  So, how will roadshows and investor interest differ when the IPO market emerges from the coronavirus pandemic? Our experienced Account Director shares her impressions of the virtual roadshow lifestyle with #mediatreethinktank and sums up her key insights below:

Physical roadshow work is often misunderstood, but it has existed for decades.  So when it came time for my first virtual roadshow, I had to re-think how I could offer our service to the management team (who had never done an IPO) without actually being with them at any point during the book-building period.  It is safe to say that, as for most of you I am sure, the coronavirus pandemic and complete halt in business travel has radically affected my line of work.

All dressed up with nowhere to go

I’m grounded.  For someone who travels somewhere multiple times a month throughout the year and does this for a living, year after year, being directed to work from home was…. grounding.  Having emerged from the initial stupor of a near apocalyptic mid-March, my project groups reformed to rethink the processes that lead to the outcomes we were looking for.  No IPO can eschew institutional marketing, so it wasn’t a matter of if, but rather when and how we would head out to share equity stories of our clients with the market.  Needs must, and so our virtual platform, and that of others, re-defined the roadshow.

When asked, I have to observe that the whole experience has been just as intense, but less frantic.  Hard to believe, virtual roadshow days are as long as any.  Because no one travels, it is possible to pack in 11 or more meetings a day with potential shareholders—a lot more than the usual 7 a traveling roadshow allows.  While I might not be up a whole hour earlier than my client and running around well past their bedtime, organising and putting things in order logistically, as I would be on the road, I am nonetheless ready to go at dawn a good 30 minutes before the team gathers and pretty much doing all the prep and planning that the hectic schedule requires.  My days end only after everything is ready for the next and all the updates and data is shared, often a few hours after the management team itself retires at night.

For management, the virtual roadshow experience was mixed: so much of the anticipation was to travel around the world together and be bonded in that unique IPO roadshow moment, but equally, no jet lag, no ruined weekends, no dysfunctional eating patterns, no being away from family or friends for a long period was a welcome change from the norm.

What’s up? Seamless communication and collaboration

Most of my job entails organising and communicating with the CEO, CFO and IRO of my client companies how best to navigate the complexities of marketing to investors: going the extra mile to ensure that the experience is seamless and sorting out absolutely everything to allow give 100% of their attention to the task at hand — fundraising.  I am with them, live, in real time, tending to everything and sorting out each detail, taking away anything that could come between them and a successful investor meeting.  Here, I replicate this using the immediacy and proximity of WhatsApp.  We may not break bread together, ride in the cars together, walk through every minute of the two-week schedule together, but my role is still to provide that experience.  With WhatsApp, we are all in each other’s front of mind.  The collaboration and communication, and the trust they build in me and my role as their ‘fixer’, work their way through our fingertips and our phones. Proximity, immediacy, accuracy and coordination – largely I am still the go-to for anything linked to the roadshow, the sanctuary of organisation in the mad world of Initial Public Offerings.

Technically speaking….

The actual organisation shifts from largely on the ground, logistical, production and geographic to managing the virtual platform.  In that respect, I feel much closer to the deskers in my team: in front of a computer 12 hours or more in a row.  It takes a different stamina and makes me realise what they go through and the skill set required to deliver immaculate 24/7 desking.  As for me, I’m organising the virtual rooms, the virtual lunches for 80 people or more, cross checking everything, testing the links especially with investors who have their own systems—and liaising with IT teams.   While many have Zoom, BlueJeans and Webex (in that order), some have bespoke systems and we link ours to that.  There is a strong preference for video calls, which contribute directly to the management team establishing rapport and having the ability to tailor their intervention specifically to what their counterpart requires and investors ‘looking in the white of their eyes’ whilst kicking the tyres of the company.  It dawns on me how important body language and reading a room is in this novel exercise.  All the collateral (deck, prospectus/IOM and investor profiles) is loaded up and accessible securely for each region of the buy-side.  For 1-1s, I make sure to introduce a waiting room, so management can choose when to let the fund manager in.  For group lunches or breakfasts, I have to disable that feature, and keep track of everyone who joins to create an accurate attendance list.

And then, I troubleshoot — this investor mutes himself by mistake, or that one needs to move things around.  Amazingly, it’s done remotely and with agility.  Overall, my experience is that all parties were willing to adapt, more relaxed, even on the syndicate side of the banks, when usually things can get a little tense.

So, what’s going to change in the longer term?

It’s hard to know because the roadshow is a small part of a transaction, which is run by many stakeholders—the tail won’t ever wag the dog.  However, there is no doubt the world has shifted, and newfound efficiencies will prevail.  My sense is that there is potential for better targeting of investors with respect to their appetite from the early looks or the pilot fishing using this virtual method.  As deals evolve and investors access the market earlier and earlier (like wall crossing and cornerstone investing), maybe the roadshow days can be configured around identifying which investors need a physical visit and which ones can commit from a video call.  This would have a number of benefits: optimising the marketing time and effort, and preserving much-needed senior management energy; opening up pools of capital that otherwise might not be accessed; notching down the stress levels for all parties (bankers and senior management alike) of the transaction execution; and arguably the most important of all, if your consider our GreenerRoadshowsTM initiative, there would be a significant reduction in the environmental impact of these deals.

Virtual roadshows, baci xx