IR on course for professional makeover

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With the growing interest has come a concern, however, that IR be recognised as a professional discipline and this has spawned three-tiered training courses run by the IRS.

As an introduction to investor relations for support staff and newcomers to the field, the IRS runs a beginners' course consisting of three seminars running over three consecutive weeks.

These cover subjects such as the definition of a company, the importance of shareholder analysis, the interpretation of accounts and stock exchange requirements.

The final seminar focuses on the role of the in-house IR manager. The seminars run for a day each, with the accounts section taking two days. Attendance is limited to 15 delegates and the course costs 800&#43VAT, but bookings can be made for individual seminars.

Intermediate investor relations also consists of three sets of seminars, each running over two days.

This is only the second year the programme has been running, and a more practical element has now been introduced with presentations by experts with hands-on experience of IR.

Presenters this year include Michael Cooling, recently retired from Reuters where he started out as a financial journalist and moved over to manage the IR side.

The complete course costs 1,500&#43VAT for IRS members and 1,800 for non-members. Once again, individual seminars can also be booked.

The beginner and intermediate courses are seen by many in the business as extremely valuable. Leading IR consultancy Makinson Cowell sends school-leavers on these IR courses.

Founding partner Bob Cowell says: 'We are very keen to help the training process become more professional. Anything that takes the mystery out of IR is a good thing, and so is anything that will help to improve relationships and increase knowledge within the profession.'

But the jewel in the crown of the IRS training programme is undoubtedly its advanced course, run in association with the City University Business School.

It has been designed for a small group of experienced practitioners to explore topical IR issues under the guidance of academics from the business school and specialist guest speakers. This year, for the first time, it has been developed to run alongside an IR elective on the City University Business School MBA programme.

As the first elective module in IR for MBAs, the course has raised the profile of investor relations. In practical terms, the MBA students overlap time with the IR members, but they are also separated for some sessions. IR practitioners currently attending the course say they feel the benefit of cross-fertilisation with the MBA students and the speakers, many of whom are high-powered.

'In both the way the advanced course is structured and in what it is attempting to do - which is to raise the profile of IR and improve professionalism within the industry - it does very well indeed. The speakers represent the top end of the training programme,' says Peter Hall, IR manager at BP, who is currently completing the last leg of this year's course.

'Last year the MBA students weren't involved. I feel this is a vital new element, swapping experiences with practitioners. The speaker and student combination with open sessions works very well,' says Hall.

The list of this year's speakers is certainly fairly impressive, including Jonathan Charkham, former Bank of England adviser on corporate governance, Hugh Brown, partner at Coopers & Lybrand on mergers and acquisitions, Bob Cowell, partner at Makinson Cowell on IR relationship management and perspectives from both UK and US fund managers.

The chief executive's perspective is to be offered at the final session on July 14 by Vernon Sankey of Reckitt & Colman, followed by an evaluation of possible thesis topics for MBA students.

One very useful aspect of the course for MBA students is the element of sponsorship at the end, which arises from the possibility of developing academic research in IR in conjunction with a particular company. This year the MBA students outnumbered the members of the IRS in a course that was fully subscribed with 24 places.

Steven Pain, director of corporate affairs at Storehouse, who is also on the current course, says: 'The advanced IRS course draws together all the different strands of IR - from the development of corporate strategy to research, communication, talking to investors and the financial press. It provides a focus for discussing a wide range of activities that contribute to our being custodians of the company's image. And with its excellent speakers it gives a very good update on what is going on in the industry.'

The advanced course costs 1,500 &#43VAT for IRS members and 1,750&#43VAT for non-members, and stretches out in one-day sessions over a few months.

The IRS also runs a programme of informal evening meetings covering various aspects of IR. The next one, on July 22, is on the role of the buy-side analyst, with guest speaker Tracy Campbell, vice-president of Capital Research International.

Those toying with a possible career in IR may find the views of one professional involved in the industry interesting.

'It is a very interesting alternative career for the fund manager or investment manager who is interested in how investment decisions are made, but is more attracted to the human dimension than other aspects of his job.

'One would expect a senior IR director to be paid well into six figures - short of being a Eurobond trader, it's as good as it gets at the top end of the market,' Pain says.

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