Letters to a young IRO: Advice for new professionals

I came to investor relations as a poet, not a quant. While I had minors in economics and global business, I planned to attend school for English literature.

March 15, 2024

View original article by IR Magazine featuring Gateway's Jackie Keshner

How an unconventional path to IR brings diversity of thought

I came to investor relations as a poet, not a quant. While I had minors in economics and global business, I originally planned to attend graduate school for English literature. I loved writing, research and teaching, but I wanted a new challenge upon graduating. I sought to apply my communications strengths to new industries and keep building my analytical skills.

As a first-year IR analyst, I had a steep learning curve, with more experience analyzing literature than financial statements. I was also soft-spoken and often the only woman on many of my calls. Most glaringly, I entered finance with neither golf skills nor a Patagonia vest. While there is no singular road into IR, mine diverged more than most.  

Writing today as an IR director for a leading financial communications and digital media advisory firm, my less-traveled road made all the difference. My background was not a stumbling block but an instructive source of strength. While I’m still early in my career, I’ve learned lessons and transferred skills.  

Lead with empathy  

As a university writing tutor, I helped first-year students brainstorm arguments and PhD candidates structure dissertations. I had to adapt my approach based on who was sitting across from me. Regardless of age or expertise, each student had a distinct set of strengths, anxieties and goals. My job was to meet them where they were and help them where I could.  

In IR, I draw upon my tutoring experiences as frequently as my business coursework. I help new executives prepare for their first earnings calls and seasoned public company leaders work on capital-raises. While my setting has changed, my objective has not. I’m still adapting to the people across from me, tailoring my counsel to their priorities and experiences.  

In all communications, I strive to lead with empathy. Navigating this market isn’t easy, but building deep relationships makes it easier. I can offer more thoughtful advice and messaging by understanding my clients’ individual perspectives and pressure points – and those of their stakeholders. 

Communicate to educate  

Some say IR is strictly finance; others say it’s strictly comms. Coming from academia, I define IR as an educational resource. For both C-suites and investors, we’re a source of clarity and reassurance. We tell succinct, compelling stories in increasingly complex market conditions.  

Coming from a non-finance background, I know what it’s like to be a newcomer to specific market terminology and unfamiliar client industries. My learning process reminds me that my clients’ communications will reach newcomers, experts and everyone in between. When I tell their stories, I focus on making even the most technical topics accessible.   

More than telling stories, communicators exist to help our audiences navigate uncertainty. We often do the former to achieve the latter. Ensuring our companies’ investment theses are clear, well researched and approachable is the highest order of financial comms.  

Hone your voice – don’t raise it 

There’s a prevailing stereotype in finance that the loudest, most assertive voices are the most powerful. I’ve been told to ‘speak up’ and ‘lean in’. I’ve heard that if you don’t speak within the first seven minutes of a meeting, you won’t be an influential voice in the discussion. As someone who’s quieter by nature, this advice pressured me to show up inauthentically. I forced myself to speak before I was ready and I thought something was wrong with me when it felt unnatural.  

I learned to address these challenges by forming my own definitions of success. Making one thoughtful, comprehensive comment at minute 27 can change the course of a meeting – often more so than rushing a comment at minute three. In those situations, people turn to your voice because they haven’t heard it before and often listen more intently.  

I remind myself that I’m not in that room to be a carbon copy of the people around me. I’m here to give my perspective – and if it’s a fresh one, all the better. My knowledge and capabilities earned my place in the room before I walked through the door and I will keep earning opportunities as my skillset evolves. 

Find your people, trust yourself 

Seek community, mentorship and continuous education. Once you know your company and disclosure requirements, IR becomes both art and science. In addition to learning from my colleagues, I’ve read insights from CFOs, marketers, academics and others that have shaped my perspective. You’re never worse off for staying curious or having more information than you need.  

Above all else, trust yourself and trust your process. If you’re coming to IR from outside of finance, I hope you know you’re not alone. I hope you also know that it will sometimes feel that way. While other peers and mentors have walked the path before you, your journey won’t look exactly like theirs. You can be a poet, a quant – or someone in between.

Case Studies & Strategies

Dive into our newsletter for a wealth of knowledge in digital marketing