Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Altitude sickness, anyone?

July 13, 2016

WSJ 7-13-2016

Headlines like “Dow Presses On to Historic Peak” seem a little scary. Yet there it is, splashed across page 1 of today’s Wall Street Journal.

Being part of anything cyclical can bring its chills as well as thrills – because of that old saw about what goes up must … (well, you know, I don’t want to say it). We don’t know, of course, whether this is THE PEAK or simply a peak. And I can’t forecast worth a darn.

Not all that long ago, in the summer of 1979, Business Week‘s cover declared “The Death of Equities.” If you had taken that as a Buy signal and held on through the 1980s and 1990s, you would have done alright – check it out on the WSJ‘s graph.

But “Historic Peak” does make you think. Many of us work for companies that have shared in the market’s relentless, if bumpy – maybe historic – climb. The trends may look fine. But did we cause this rise in the market – or in our companies’ stocks? And what comes next?

My feeling is that all of us, especially investor relations people, need to stay a bit humble about trends and prospects.

© 2016 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Crisis rules

July 16, 2013

When a company gets into a crisis – a real crisis with the mob at the gates wanting to tear the place down – management can call a lawyer. Or a politician. Or a PR person. Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer who served in Bill Clinton’s White House when the Prez got caught with his pants down, is a player in all three realms. He’s a guy people call when it all hits the fan.

Now Davis has a book, Crisis Tales (Threshold Editions, 2013), laying out five rules for how to survive a crisis. War stories from many crises in business and government illustrate these rules. Says Davis:

My work in crisis management has taught me a series of rules and one overall guiding principle. The guiding principle: Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.

The core idea of the book is to take control of a story – a narrative, as the pundits say – by becoming the person who tells the story. This is a valuable lesson for companies and CEOs whose business blows up, literally or figuratively, in the harsh light of media or public attention. And it’s a good guideline for us as investor relations professionals.

A top-line look at Davis’ five rules of crisis management:

  1. Get all the facts out.
  2. Put the facts into simple messages.
  3. Get ahead of the story.
  4. Fight for the truth using law, media and politics.
  5. Never represent yourself in a crisis.

This is a crisis communications guide worth perusing. I’m uncomfortable in the swampland we call politics, even cynical about anyone whose address ends in “DC.” But Davis’ examples of damaged reputations – and the process of damage control – are instructive.

In a public company, it’s well worth considering the strategy for handling a crisis before something blows up. What’s your crisis plan?

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

New IR tactic? Michelle Obama …

October 22, 2010

Well, there it is, in the pages of the Harvard Business Review for November 2010: Finance prof David Yermack of NYU reports in “Vision Statement: How This First Lady Moves Markets” that Michelle Obama’s choice of outfits generates “abnormal returns” for stocks of publicly traded companies behind the fashion brands.

Who’d have thought the First Lady might become a tool for investor relations?

Yermack reports on 189 public appearances by Obama – FLOTUS, not POTUS – in which she wore 245 items of apparel with recognizable brands of 29 public companies. For those 29 companies, her wardrobe choices generated a total value of $2.7 billion, Yermack says. You read it right: $2.7 billion, with a B.

When the First Lady jetted off on a one-week tour of Europe in March-April 2009, for example, her fashion choices were much in the media – and Yermack calculates the stocks of fashion and retail companies whose clothes she wore rose an average of 16.3%, beating the S&P 500 gain of 6.1%. For 18 major appearances, the cumulative abnormal return averaged 2.3%, he says.

A hedge fund could build a trading strategy on this First Lady Fashion Anomaly. The NYU Finance prof observes:

The stock price gains persist days after the outfit is worn and in some cases even trend slightly higher three weeks later. Some companies that sell clothes that Obama frequently wears, such as Saks, have realized long-term gains. Her husband’s approval rating appears to have no effect on the returns.

This is about impact on revenue (and perhaps investors’ perceptions), not some kind of fashion voodoo like the stock market hemline indicator. And her impact exceeds that of other celebrities or models, Yermack says. He explains it this way:

The unparalleled robustness of the Michelle Obama effect results from the confluence of three factors: her personal interest in fashion, recognized by consumers as authentic; her position as First Lady and the intangible value it confers; and the power of the social internet and e-commerce. Descriptions and images of what she’s wearing spread across the social internet in near-real time, and consumers can buy these fashions almost instantly online.

So figure out how to get your product on the First Lady, preferably for a high-profile event like a state dinner or tour of world capitals. IR needs to be creative!

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Good news for BP shareholders?

June 1, 2010

Let’s not take this to extremes, but a recent study offers the counter-intuitive notion that companies with great reputations don’t generally provide great returns for investors – and a decline in corporate reputation can presage better returns.

In the Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of Portfolio Management, economist Deniz Anginer and finance prof Meir Statman look at Fortune magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” rankings from the start of that survey in 1983 up through 2007.

The annual “Most Admired” survey reflects opinions of executives, directors and analysts on companies in their own industries.  You might expect the stocks of firms with the best reputations to perform best in the market, but it just isn’t so.

The authors compare portfolios of higher-reputation companies vs. lower-rated firms, looking at 12-month returns following publication of the “admired” ratings:

We find that stocks of spurned companies, or those with relatively low Fortune ratings, beat the stocks of admired companies, or those with relatively high ratings.

… we also find that stocks of companies that moved up the reputation scale lagged stocks of companies that moved down the scale.

This study looks at a relatively short-term trade, a 12-month adjustment after a reputational change takes hold. It doesn’t consider multi-year differences in returns or valuation between respected and disrespected firms.

The authors also don’t explore causes of their counter-intuitive finding. But I believe a key factor is that reputation surveys are lagging indicators:

  • A company is recognized for rising reputation after peers in its industry see it deliver strong results, an increasing stock price, high-profile successes. And then? Well, high-flying companies and stocks tend to revert to the mean.
  • When bad things happen to a company, peers and analysts are quick to cast blame – the stock drops, company reputation sags. And then recovery begins.

The JPM article confirms what many value investors practice: Out-of-favor stocks may yield more opportunities than “admired” companies riding the wave, for the simple reason that less-popular companies are cheaper than glamour issues. And at least some of the high-multiple stocks are going to hit bumps in the road.

Of course, it isn’t much of an investor relations story to say “Our reputation is in the tank, so things can’t help but get better.” And IR people, as champions of our companies’ reputations, all want rising earnings, strategic accomplishments, recognition in places like Fortune … the good news that creates solid reputations.

But when times are tough, we may find some comfort in the reversion to the mean.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Earnings giggle

August 10, 2009

For a bit of comic relief check out “Mad Lib Earnings,” an all-too-true parody of earnings releases and the obligatory wire service stories that cover them. It’s Stanley Bing’s column on the last page of the August 17, 2009, Fortune magazine.

Bing’s fill-in-the-blanks earnings release makes our job easy. There’s a boilerplate quote from the CEO complete with an overwrought metaphor:

“These are tough times,” said Bob Boberts, chief executive officer of Big Fat Company. “Tough times call for tender chickens, and ours are the juiciest in what is, right now, a lean and stringy sector.”

We can choose between reporting a decline or “sad little incline” in second-quarter revenue. There’s a nod to cost cutting in “the elimination of nondairy creamer in offices nationwide.” Some optimistic-without-saying-much words from the COO.

And a wire service story, appearing five seconds after the release, offers jewels like:

“Results, schmesults,” said a quote monkey from an investment bank who’s always available to validate assumptions. “We’re going to downgrade them anyhow …”

I think we  know that sell side analyst who always take the reporters’ calls. And as a former newspaperman, I can enjoy the satire on journalism’s craft – we used to call quickie news stories with instant analysis “three phone calls and a cloud of dust.”

So there you have it. Investor relations and the financial news media continue getting the word out, for better or worse. We need a chuckle now and then.

What’s up with live blogging?

March 20, 2009

One of the strange inventions of our new media era is live blogging of conference calls by financial media. What’s up with that? 

Today, for example, The Wall Street Journal is live blogging the Goldman Sachs conference call on its AIG risk. The odd thing is, of course, it’s a conference call – an investor could be listening live to get the news personally in real time.

Live blogging is minute-by-minute, as fast as a reporter can type a summary of what he’s hearing. You read things like this from the WSJ:

10:56: The hold music is Mozart. One of the better symphonies.

11:04: The conference call starts.

… 

11:12: If AIG failed, GS would have been able to collect on its hedges. That is why the company said it had no material exposure to AIG.

11:12: Viniar on AIG collateral: “We also have taxpayer money at GS and it’s our responsibility not to lose it.”

11:13: If GS was fine if AIG failed, how was it fully hedged? Viniar defends not returning some of AIG’s collateral or taking the discount. “We had about $7.5 billion of collateral, and if we had to take a discount on it, then GS would not be fully covered.” …

All well and good, but live blogging reminds me of play-by-play commentary on a basketball game – it lacks something if you don’t watch or hear the game itself. Live blogging is in print, with no video or audio. It’s a step removed – almost live, but not quite.

My thought: An investor who wants to be in the know would listen to the Goldman Sachs call. An investor could follow the live blog at the same time, but there isn’t much value without hearing or seeing the actual event. 

In fact, it’s spring break so I am watching – right now on TV – the University of Kansas play its first-round game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The game is live, and I’m seeing it first-hand.

Wouldn’t it be silly, it occurs to me, to follow the game through a live blog? But wait. Going back to the WSJ.com home page, I see there is a live blog on the KU game … Lagging a few minutes behind what I see on TV, there’s the play-by-play. But I’ve already seen each play before it’s reported. I could multitask and read this almost-live blog for additional commentary – or I could just watch, get all the information I need and enjoy the game. Then, I might read a news story or column in the morning paper to find well-thought-out commentary on what happened (in sports or finance).

News media are in a period of experimentation, and live blogging is part of that. For my money, live blogging of a conference call does not provide a good substitute for listening live. Even then, the value depends on the blogger’s ability to add insightful explanation in real time.