Investor relations is the sum of a company's activities aimed at providing investors with information about the company.
The most important part of investor relations is the provision of published information that is available to all investors. This is important because companies must ensure that price sensitive information is made available to all investor at the same time.
This means that whenever any price sensitive information is to be revealed it must be publicly announced. This usually means through RNS or its equivalent on other exchanges.
Companies also release a lot of other information publicly. Company websites, in particular, can have a huge range of useful information, although they vary.
Companies also have presentations (made either by management or investor relations staff) to which analysts are invited. These are most frequent after results announcements.
Presentations are also commonly made at investor conferences organised by brokerages. Again, these are attended by analysts and fund managers. Some companies make a practice of visiting brokerages and making presentations in order to reach the widest possible audience.
Many companies also arrange guided visits to their operations for analysts. This gives the company a chance to explain their operations more clearly to investors - for example, a retailer can show analysts their format in operation and explain why they do things the way they do.
Clearly access to presentations and company visits is only available to a small number of people. While no price sensitive information is disclosed, the accumulation of a lot of non-price sensitive information, and the chance to get an insight into how a company's management are thinking, can make a significant difference to how an analyst views a company.
The issue has been partially addressed by technology: for example, most companies now make presentations available on their websites. However this still leaves private investors at a disadvantage to analysts. The latter get a chance to meet management, visit operations and ask questions.
The most privileged group of investors are those who already have substantial shareholdings in a company. They can hold the management to account and directors are well aware of this.
Even if large shareholders are able to get price sensitive information (for example, because a large shareholder is on the board of directors) insider trading rules restrict their use of it.