Q&A: Financial Communications

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Claire Koeneman is president of MWW Group's Financial Relations Board.

Could you describe your role?

The Financial Relations Board (FRB) provides a range of financial communications and services that help companies achieve their financial and business goals. Our work centers on helping companies build positive profiles in the media. I handle everything from running administration and operations to securing new business. I also handle transactional work for our clients and am in charge of the firm's global real estate practice. Much of my work is focused on investor relations and financial communications. As part of MWW Group, I often work collaboratively with the corporate and financial communications groups on multi-tiered communications programs for our clients.

Walk us through your career path.

Up until the age of 26, I wanted to be a television news anchor. I was a liberal arts major in college, but went to business school and earned an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago. After business school I joined Salomon Brothers and worked on the firm's trading floor. Afterward, I spent a year working in private real estate before coming to Financial Relations Board, where I've been for the past 15 years.

What's a typical day like for you?

My day is varied, which is probably why I find the work so exciting. On a given day I might be counseling a client on an earnings release or how to handle a huge impairment charge and concerns over how Wall Street may respond. In another case, we could be working with a client trying to determine how to communicate its capital situation and the status of negotiation over its debt coverage.

Currently, we're seeing more situations in which we're helping a company navigate near-term operational and financial issues because of market conditions. Before the financial crisis, it was more of your typical investor relations work. We're also involved in consultative work, transactions such as mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, and advisory services. We'll determine the messaging to shareholders and whether a client should be going on a media tour. Often, we're making a case to our clients that they need to keep an open dialogue with key stakeholders. Also, I'm frequently pitching new business and maintaining and developing relationships.

What are the most important skills for a career in financial communications?

You need to be an effective communicator and understand financial issues. We deal with clients that face a range of issues, such as putting out an earnings release, handling board of director composition and proxy issues. You need to be able to understand the implications for the company and how to advise them on handling them. Our client base consists of CEOs, CFOs and internal investor relations professionals. Someone in this role needs to have the gravitas, or presence, to work with senior executives. Even in a more junior role it's critical to be proactive and come up with forward-thinking strategies for clients. Solid writing skills are also crucial to working in financial communications.

Any advice for up-and-coming financial communications professionals?

I would certainly recommend that you be aware of what's happening in capital markets. To do so, read The Wall Street Journal and financial trade publications. It's important to develop the financial skills to be able to talk intelligently about balance sheets and income statements. Having public relations agency experience is helpful. I don't necessarily think you need an MBA, but you must be comfortable dealing with the financial aspects of a company. All of our traditional services require a high level of understanding of financial markets and information. We need curious people and great thinkers who also have a firm grip on the capital markets.

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