Jeff Ramson, founder and CEO of PCG Advisory Group, talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his capital market advisory firm, the changes he has seen in the industry through the years and why companies need to establish a presence on social media.
As chief executive officer of New York City-based PCG Advisory Group, Jeff Ramson is dedicated to keeping the firm he founded in 2008 on the cutting edge of marketing and technology trends. In the late-2000s, he sensed the coming widespread popularity of social media and began encouraging its use as a tool to tell his clients’ story accurately and effectively and advance their investor relations goals. “Social media was an unwelcome, foreign idea to an overwhelming number of people when I first suggested it as a tool for business,” says Ramson, who spent more than a quarter century on Wall Street and has extensive experience raising capital and providing guidance for emerging public and private companies.
In 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission followed suit when it allowed companies to use social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to announce key information in compliance with Regulation Fair Disclosure (Regulation FD), “so long as investors have been alerted about which social media will be used to disseminate such information.”
Today, it is a rare company that does not have a presence on social media. “When we first started there was a lot of resistance and derisive commentary about it. People would say ‘My teenage daughter is on Facebook and I am never going to be on social media’ and things like that,” Ramson explains. “Now they know they have to be on social media but they don’t know what to do so they are asking for social media strategies. From a personal perspective, it is very rewarding to see this come to fruition.” Social media has leveled the playing field for small and startup businesses, he adds. “It has certainly changed the dynamics because you no longer need to be a big company to be prominent on social media.” Ramson and his team use their expertise to help small/microcap companies—a great percentage of PCG’s clientele—create value in the marketplace.
Of the more than 950 top social media apps and digital services, Facebook (1.55 billion monthly active users), Twitter (320 million monthly active users) and LinkedIn (400 million active monthly users) are among the most popular for business. PCG’s social and digital media services ensures that its clientele leverages these social and professional digital media sites to effectively and accurately communicate client stories and regularly distribute content. As an aggregation, distribution, and engagement platform, PCG reaches thousands of individual, retail and institutional investors using proprietary techniques, search engine optimization, online marketing, website development and a proprietary and extensive distribution network. PCG’s media and public relations team works with print, broadcast, online news sites and bloggers to tell the best client story at the right time—even providing assistance during a merger, acquisition or crisis.
Opportunist: Please tell us more about the services that PCG provides.
Jeff Ramson: Our area of expertise is investor relations and strategic communications. That is critical for publicly traded companies, particularly small public companies who need quite a bit of help in this regard. We advise them on how to communicate properly, help market their story and get their message out to a broad audience looking for investment opportunities, open market buyers and the stakeholder community. First and foremost, we get people interested and talking about our clients. This causes a ripple effect. We also do PR and media relations for our clients where appropriate and relevant for them, as well as advisory overall. I have been in the business myself for 30 years and each member of my senior team has 20-plus years of experience, so it’s safe to say that pretty much any experience our clients are encountering we have also experienced. Most importantly, I believe our clients see us as honest, trusted advisors.
Opportunist: Tell us about your role as CEO of the company.
Jeff Ramson: While PCG has grown quite a bit, it is still relatively small, with a staff of 15 people. Given that, my role is certainly not one-dimensional, but one of the things I am most concerned with is setting priorities for the organization and laying out our vision and building our brand. There are certain things we want to be known for in the marketplace, and my job is to set that vision and bring it to the marketplace and be a brand ambassador for the company.
Fulfilling our obligations and services for our clients is also of top importance. Driving business development is another large part of what I do, and some client relationships require a higher level of attention than others. I am always trying to keep the company on the cutting edge and thinking of new ways to keep us fresh and current. When I started in 2008, I was going to try to change the mold or break the model of what existed. I certainly don’t want us to become an older model for somebody else to come along and break, so my job is to stay ahead of the curve.
Opportunist: What type of clientele does the company serve and do you work with clients both overseas as well as here in the states?
Jeff Ramson: We primarily serve a client base of microcap or small cap companies, which typically means those with a market cap under $500 million—and many below $50 million. We work with companies from all over the world, in places such as Israel, Australia, China and Canada. Quite a few are based here in the United States; however, but our goal is to have a strong presence internationally.
Opportunist: Let’s say that XYZ startup company hires PCG Advisory Group for social media. What would you do for them?
Jeff Ramson: Even if the company has no social media presence and its digital footprint is limited, it will still have an online personality. First, we would run a social media audit, which we do with every client company, to find out what kind of information exists online about the company. The technology we use gives us precise insight about what’s out there about you—whether you know it or not—because even if you’re not highly visible online others may be talking about you. So we do an audit to determine what is out there and what you look like.
Next, we compile what we call an influencer list. As we learn about your company we are going to search the web to find out who are the most influential people already talking about topics that are related to your company, either directly or tangentially. What they are saying could be relevant to you and, if so, we will want to connect them into your community. We would then build out your platforms and establish a profile for you on all the social media sites that matter: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and places like that. There are also professional financial sites where we would like to initiate a presence for you, depending on what you do as a company. If, for example, your company is a biotech company, we would find social media sites where other prominent biotech companies have a presence.
As for a messaging strategy, we would share news and developments about your company and strongly encourage the CEO and management to take advantage of thought leadership opportunities. I believe one of the ways to get your company known is to go out there and contribute to the community you’re in. If you’re a biotech company doing cancer drug development, you’ve got a lot to say about that topic—without crossing the line into things you cannot talk about for regulatory purposes. We encourage our clients to make their management look strong by contributing to their stakeholder community, and we market it to bring relevant people to your community and help you with a messaging strategy that helps you look informed, professional and industry compliant.
Opportunist: Do you have any client success stories you can share with us?
Jeff Ramson: Actually, we have quite a few. It’s funny because when I am asked that question in general business conversations sometimes I will refer to examples of successes or challenges that may or may not look like successes at first. But if you’re in the room, you know it’s a success. One of our longstanding clients was an Australian company nobody knew about in the United States. It was about seven years ago, and they were on the pink sheets with virtually no volume or coverage. We got them a lot of coverage on some very influential financial blogger sites and that led to significant increasing value for the company. They uplisted to a major exchange here in the United States and have since have grown quite substantially. We watched them grow from a virtually unknown entity to a company with a $500 million market cap over a period of years. That was certainly a major long-term success.
Another instance, and we work with a lot of biotech companies, was a very well-known company that had its second clinical failure within a few years. As a result of this perceived failure, the company was being criticized strongly on social media sites. I remember the CEO called to admonish me. ‘I told you we didn’t want to be involved in social media,’ he said. ‘Once you’re out there, it opens you up to all kinds of criticism.’ As it turns out, a factually inaccurate article was written about the company. So I first explained to the CEO that whether you are on social media or not people are always going to be talking about you. Second, I told him that if there were factual inaccuracies I was certain we could convince people to look at it from another angle. The article was written by a notoriously difficult writer, but when I contacted him he took my call. After our conversation, he straightened out all the inaccuracies and printed a retraction. Not only did he fix what was wrong, but he also became a big supporter of the company. I thought that was great.
Opportunist: What attracted you to the small cap space?
Jeff Ramson: I was drawn to small cap companies primarily because that is the sector where the most help is needed. These are companies that are understaffed, under-resourced and unknown for the most part. They need to get their message out and yet they don’t have the resources internally to do it themselves. Also, from a personal and philosophical standpoint, we really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of the companies we work with. We enjoy working with management and founders of companies going through stages that we are familiar with. One of the most satisfying things is to take a company that is on a great track and help them succeed. It is professionally rewarding to sit down at the table with the decision makers of a company, learn their vision and help them package their stories. Larger companies that are already established would not typically need us as they have their own teams in place internally, and are also less interesting for us from the standpoint of the type of work that we like to do.
Opportunist: Have you seen a lot of changes in the industry through the years?
Jeff Ramson: In terms of the IR industry, it’s just a continuation of how smaller companies can meet the big challenge of reaching the ultimate investor. Small companies in the past were able to go through regional brokerages or smaller firms with client bases that liked smaller cap companies. When regulations changed it was almost impossible to go through traditional marketing routes to reach investors. Social media is now much more prevalent as a vehicle in which to become known among individual investors.
Opportunist: What makes PCG Advisory Group unique among its competition?
Jeff Ramson: I think that, certainly first and foremost, we like to talk about our people. Our people are very hardworking, thoughtful and proactive. Also, nobody else is integrating new media strategies with traditional IR at the level we are. We have also changed the way the industry has priced itself. Our fee structure meets the needs of small companies that are always raising capital and we like to be very competitively priced and give our clients much more than they are expecting.
Opportunist: What have you found most rewarding about building your company, Jeff?
Jeff Ramson: I would say the most rewarding and challenging element for me is helping a client through crises and growing through its problems. We as a company take great pride in our responsiveness to client issues, many of which are unexpected and unplanned for, and require quick and decisive actions. Our clients know they can always reach our senior management, and me, and it is extremely rewarding to provide counsel from experience.
Opportunist: How do you see social media evolving over the next decade?
Jeff Ramson: In relation to our business, I believe that in the next five to 10 years social media will become the standard form of communicating—if not the dominant form. I find the whole interactivity aspect and collaborative communication process very fascinating. Social media will definitely be more and more commonplace and standard. It still comes down to what you want to say, but the method of getting these messages out will continually change as other platforms are built and other ingenious ways of getting your message out are developed.
You need to have a good story to tell, and you need to be able to tell it well and execute on the company’s business plan. Methods of communicating will shift and can sometimes be innovative, but at the end of the day it’s still about the message itself and the company delivering on its business plan.
Opportunist: Where do you see PCG Advisory Group headed in the future?
Jeff Ramson: Looking back on our history, we did a good job of bringing some new things to the marketplace and established a really strong brand in the process. The next five years we will certainly want to continue that. I also believe there are other areas and other things we can build onto that platform, such as more advisory services and expansion of our digital services. Basically, by creating new methods for our clients to get their message out to their audience, we will be better able to align our services to meet the needs of these small companies. Within the next five years, I believe we will be the recognized leader in innovative services for small public companies.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Jeff Ramson on Twitter: @jefframson