- When AMC Theatres became a meme stock, CEO Adam Aron embraced the opportunity.
- His investor base shifted from 80% owned by Wall Street to more than 80% owned by retail investors.
- A canny social-media presence helped woo the new backers, who’ve stuck around longer than expected.
- Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories
In 2021, AMC Entertainment’s investor base underwent a dramatic shift. Like many publicly traded companies, the theater chain historically has been owned at least 80% by institutional investors — large money managers, pensions, and endowments.
But after becoming a meme-stock favorite among retail traders, who have rabidly bought up its shares and sent its stock price through the roof this year, the dynamic flipped: AMC is now more than 80% owned by individual investors, some 4.1 million in all by the company’s latest official count.
“We’re one of the few companies on the New York Stock Exchange where individual retail investors are clearly in control of the company. They own the company,” CEO Adam Aron told Insider in a recent interview.
That means AMC has “been navigating through uncharted waters,” as Aron put it, requiring a novel approach to investor communications.
Aron has a long history of catering to consumers
Communicating with retail investors is a task Aron is uniquely suited for — his sprawling, 40-year corporate résumé is littered with catchy marketing and loyalty programs that resonated with retail customers at airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and ski resorts.
He helped created the WorldPass, a pioneering frequent-flyer program at Pan American airlines in the 1980s. A few years later, he launched one of the earliest hotel loyalty programs for Hyatt. At Vail Resorts, business surged under his decade of leadership that ended in 2006, thanks in part to the unveiling of a popular subscription plan for skiing.
Back in April, when the company’s meme-stock status was still fresh, Aron and his team made a conscious decision to lean in to social media and embrace these new investors, Aron said. That required an active Twitter presence that transcended the traditional corporate speak.
He’s embraced the new role with gusto, amassing a colossal social-media following by directly engaging with the self-styled Reddit “Apes” and speaking their language, which Aron says “humanizes the connection between the investor and company they own.” He recently attracted the attention of Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and millions more on Twitter by polling followers about accepting cryptocurrencies like dogecoin and shiba inu as payment.
“I write all these tweets myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t send them around to be looked at or edited by others. But this is not being done by a PR staff or social-media staff,” Aron told Insider.
AMC also rolled out AMC Investor Connect, a program to communicate directly with shareholders and offer them perks, like free popcorn and exclusive screenings. More than 425,000 people have signed up so far, Aron said.
The company been rewarded with a highly engaged group of shareholders who have held on to the stock — and kept its share price uplifted — far longer than Wall Street’s establishment expected.
“There is a tremendous amount of inbound commentary to the company from our shareholder base, which is illuminating, because it really helps us to understand what the owners of our company are thinking,” Aron said.
Aron uses social media as a sounding board for new ideas
Aron doesn’t just read messages from investors, he takes highly visible public action to demonstrate he’s taking them seriously — often gathering valuable intelligence in the process.
For instance, Aron was inundated with direct messages suggesting that AMC accept the cryptocurrency dogecoin. But he wondered just how popular this idea was in actuality.
So he market tested the concept with a Twitter poll, at essentially no cost, and had a resounding answer within 24 hours. The poll garnered 140,000 votes — 77% in favor — and more than 4 million views, Aron reported, and AMC is in the process of adding dogecoin to the list of cryptocurrencies it accepts as payment.
—Adam Aron (@CEOAdam) September 22, 2021
AMC quarterly earnings calls, which used to cater to Wall Street research analysts, now revolve around retail investors and their ideas for the company, which involve questions about crypto, NFTs, AMC merch, eSports, and more.
One of his most impressive achievements in investor relations, and a testament to the currency he’s earned with this new investor base, has been his navigation of the thorny issue of AMC executives, himself included, cashing in large portions of their shares.
Among the meme-stock crowd, holding or increasing your shares is a virtue — commonly referred to as “Diamond Hands” — while selling your stake is a grievous faux pas and something mockingly referred to as having “Paper Hands.”
Some analysts expected executives off-loading their shares would infuriate the Main Street investors, causing the stock to fall.
Aron elected to get ahead of the issue this summer with transparency, repeatedly alerting investors that he would sell a portion of his holdings over the coming months for estate-planning purposes while vowing to remain heavily invested in the firm.
AMC execs sold $55 million worth of shares in November — $25 million by Aron — according SEC filings reviewed by Insider via Sentieo. More will be sold in the coming months as part of a prearranged plan handled by his bank, Aron has said.
“I can only imagine that naysayers and others who wish AMC harm will try to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt in this regard,” Aron said on the company’s November earnings call.
AMC’s stock remained stable through it all.
“They came out unscathed,” said Alicia Reese, a Wedbush analyst who covers AMC.
Indeed, the Silverback, as Aron is admiringly called by many retail traders, is as popular as ever. At a special screening he hosted in early December for the new movie “Being the Ricardos,” stars Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman made surprise appearances, but Adam Aron was a star himself, shaking hands, signing autographs, and taking selfies with the audience.
Read the full story of how AMC CEO Adam Aron embraced the Reddit Apes and helped save AMC.