Posts Tagged ‘Websites’

IR webpage: connecting with investors

August 22, 2016

Mattel IR webpage

Looking at the IR page on Mattel’s website the other day, I saw something worthy of emulation. Not some fancy technology – the toy maker uses a standard back-end system with an automated feed. No beautiful graphics. Or even terribly unique content – just news releases, SEC filings, slide decks, stock quote … the basics seen on other IR sites.

What struck me was a brief introductory text. A welcome. Here it is:

INVESTORS

In addition to making great toys, the Mattel family of companies is proud to uphold our responsibility to investors and media by providing immediate access to the latest Mattel financial information and news. Delve into executive presentations, events, track stock history, and annual reports.

What I like is that this lead-in to the page makes a connection. Most IR webpages skip the pleasantries. Investors, after all, know what company they’re researching, and they can find links or tabs that lead to information they need. “Just the facts, ma’am” is the typical rule.

For me, Mattel’s little intro accomplishes three important things:

  1. Branding – reinforcing the feel-good identity of Mattel
  2. Bonding – expressing a commonality of interest that lets people know “We’re here to serve you”
  3. Calling to action – encouraging investors to use specific tools

At the bottom of Mattel’s IR webpage is the company’s boilerplate – reinforcing who the company is, in factual terms like names of its main toys and in feel-good terms like awards for ethics and corporate citizenship. And the page encourages linking to social media.

If a website is meant to be interactive – and it is – we ought to give more thought to how we connect with people. Maybe even tell them we are providing this information because we think they’re important.

© 2016 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

 

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Websites – not the only channel

May 27, 2010

Nearly two years after the SEC issued guidance on use of company websites for disclosure, a survey of investor relations professionals by the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) reports few have changed their web disclosure practices.

In August 2008 the SEC – before the near-meltdown of our entire financial system captured its full attention – issued an interpretive release on use of web-based media to fulfill Regulation FD disclosure responsibilities. (Read SEC guidance here.)

The essence of the SEC guidance, carrying out then-Chairman Chris Cox’s agenda to bring disclosure methods into the 21st Century, was to let companies know they can establish their websites as the place for investors to find material news. That set off speculation (and some advocacy) that companies would stop issuing press releases and possibly abandon other channels of disclosure. It hasn’t happened.

According to NIRI’s survey of about 200 senior IR people, 93% have not changed the role of their websites – and only 7% have – since the SEC guidance. NIRI adds, “the 7% who did make changes … are using more channels, not fewer.”

To be sure, more companies are encouraging investors to visit their websites – building the email alert lists through the sites, putting the web address on all materials, issuing advisory releases to direct people to the sites, and the like.

About 90% of the respondents file 8-Ks and issue news releases through paid wire services to get material news out to the market. (The IROs reported median annual cost of $25,000 for issuing press releases.) After those two channels come conference calls, email alerts, RSS feeds and social media.

A few companies are pushing the envelope. Google created ripples in the IR community by reporting Q1 earnings on its IR website in April – and not providing a detailed release through a newswire. A 3-sentence alert through a newswire did point market participants to the website posting:

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has released its first quarter 2010 financial results. Please visit Google’s investor relations website at http://investor.google.com to view the earnings release. Google intends to make future announcements regarding its financial performance exclusively through its investor relations website.

Google’s move stirred some controversy. Reuters clucked that this “unorthodox” approach “raises questions.” Dominic Jones of IR Web Report sprang to GOOG’s defense and went after Reuters. I’ve heard other IR people give varying opinions.

My feeling? Google can do whatever it wants, of course. I view company news more from a communication standpoint than a legal one. For most companies, the goal should be to reach as many investors and other stakeholders as possible with earnings or another announcement. I would add channels, not cut them off.

At this stage, having your press release feed automatically into Bloomberg screens, Yahoo! Finance and all those other channels (even Google search) seems desirable. Transparency includes making it easy to find your information. Requiring an investor to visit your website, adding clicks to the process, or pushing more people to read news filtered through reporters for Reuters or Bloomberg, seems limiting.

I’m all for robust websites. As I’ve said before (see “The website: your front door”), IROs should view a company site as the potential investor’s entry point to engage the business. We should evaluate the experience a person has approaching that front door – and benchmark how we do providing information, creating impressions and inviting interaction. Ease of use and transparency should characterize a website. But the site isn’t the only channel.

What’s your opinion on the place of websites in good disclosure? Comment below.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Visualize the data

October 23, 2009

If you enjoy seeing your data in graphic form – not just drab tables or bland bullet points – you’ve got to check out a website called FlowingData. Nathan Yau, a PhD candidate in statistics at UCLA, publishes the site – a wealth of interesting pictures.

Investor relations people and our audiences are, of course, data geeks. IR is about the numbers – but more than that, our story is about the change in numbers, the trend that creates value for shareholders. Flat lists of numbers hardly do justice, sometimes, to the powerful drivers of performance for our businesses.

FlowingData mapWe should always be on the hunt for clearer, easier to grasp, more persuasive ways to communicate data on the markets for our products and services, not to mention the financial trends that influence our stock prices. To the extent that investors “get it,” they invest.

It’s worth spending some spare time exploring new graphic approaches. A good place to start is FlowingData’s “projects” page, a sampler of Nathan’s experiments in visualization (he also offers an archive of older projects). Some pearls I’ve found:

  • Living maps – WalMart or Target‘s amazing growth story starts with a single store and expands to fill up the continent, as the years tick by. Instead of showing a static map of locations on a slide in a Powerpoint, or a simple map on your website, go dynamic with a map that comes alive.
  • Bubbles – Discs on a graph, by their size and positioning, communicate a lot. Have a look at this post on US market shares of beer – you see at a glance who the winners are and by how much (unless you’re an upscale beer snob, ignore his comments on Bud, Miller and Coors). To go hyperactive with bubbles – and leave numbers behind – check out Nathan’s moving graph of people’s hopes and dreams as expressed on social media site 43things.com.
  • Choosing a chart – Ever wonder which kind of chart to use? Nathan links to a decision-making flow chart in a PDF file from the Extreme Presentation blog.
  • How not to do it – FlowingData offers six amusing tips here on how to make an ordinary graphic really, really ugly.
  • Blogs on presenting data – A page full of links offers a jumping off point for exploring dozens of viewpoints and how-to sources on visualizing data.

FlowingData doesn’t focus on financial information, though it has some economic content. For example, the humble bar graph isn’t explored much. A staple of data presentation for investors, many bar charts could speak more persuasively if they had movement to show growth over time – or even just better labels and scaling.

My point is simply that IR people need to be thinking and learning about graphics. Visual tools are critical to communicating effectively with investors – and we should be sharpening our craft, even as we keep up with the numbers side of IR. At the intersection between numbers and art, we should be lifelong students.

A few other sources to stimulate your visual thinking: The Wall Street Journal Numbers Guy blog, anything by data graphic guru Edward Tufte, By the Numbers blog in The New York Times, and the Extreme Presentation website.

Do you have a favorite source of ideas for graphics in IR? Share a comment.

The website: your front door

June 8, 2009

As investor relations professionals, we need an audience-centered approach to communicating with investors. And the audience, more than ever, is online. So we need to think strategically about our company websites and their IR sections.

Do they deliver what investors need and want? Do they accomplish what we want?

Think of a corporate website as a place that people experience. When an investor comes to your home page, it’s like a prospect stepping onto the front porch of a house you’re trying to sell. The investor looks in the front door, takes it all in, and prepares to go in and walk around. Other sections of the site are the rooms.

An investor has three kinds of experiences when he or she visits your website:

  • Finds information – which, of course, is why he’s there.
  • Forms impressions – your company brand comes across in many ways.
  • Interacts in some way – which may be your one chance to engage.

We should evaluate our websites in terms of these experiences for our audience – what they’re looking for and what drives value in their minds.

Over the years, I’ve worked on corporate websites to benchmark best practices for what IR content should be there, and I’ve done a good deal of writing for the web.

In a panel discussion today at the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) 2009 Annual Conference, I’m sharing some ideas on websites in a workshop called “Trends in Media and Technology.”

The strategic IR focus for a website looks at whether we are delivering the right information for investors in easy-to-find, usable forms, creating the right impressions of a company committed to creating value for shareholders; and inviting investors to interact with the company in convenient and helpful ways.

The IR purposes of the website must integrate with other goals – marketing, recruiting and retention, public affairs – because all of these audiences overlap. A corporate website must integrate with offline sources of information – the print reports, SEC filings, product promotion, media releases and so on that all of these audiences also see.

Tactically, we can do a great deal to maximize the value of our websites to investors. My own “audit” checklist for IR websites has about 40 potential features or content items.

But checking off information items isn’t the main point. The experience of the investor when he or she comes to this place – your front door – is the main point.

Some resources to guide IR people in maximizing our websites:

Update your website

February 2, 2009

Getting caught with stale information on your website is an embarrassing – and usually preventable – moment. Investor relations can lead the way in protecting the company reputation by keeping that website up to date – or ensuring that someone is tasked with monitoring the corporate site.

The latest slap at a company website comes from Thomas Brown, a hedge fund guy writing on the BankStocks.com blog. Brown has been on the warpath against Bank of America and its CEO, and he takes another slap today in a post called “Ken Lewis’s Web Bio: Update Urgently Needed.” 

The B of A executive bio Brown cites gives Lewis implied credit for big increases in revenue, profit, assets and shareholder value …

During his tenure, Bank of America has improved customer satisfaction significantly across every major line of business; annual revenue has increased from $33 billion to $66 billion; annual profit has increased from $7.5 billion to $15 billion; assets have increased from $642 billion to $1.7 trillion; market capitalization has grown from $74 billion to $183 billion; and total annual shareholder returns (including stock price growth plus dividends) have averaged 13.3%, doubling peers, the KBW Banks Index, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the same period.

… except that it doesn’t cite a time period for those stellar results.

Anyone who hasn’t been lost at sea knows that shareholder value in the banking biz – and for B of A – hasn’t been growing of late.

Brown refutes the rosy results point by point. That $138 billion market cap for BAC? It’s dropped to $38 billion, says Brown (closer to $30 billion after today). And the 13.3% annual total shareholder return? Brown calculates average total return as negative 18% per year during Lewis’s tenure as CEO.

I’m not into kicking a bank when it’s down, or siding with the hedgies. Generally, blending financial metrics into corporate descriptive material seems like a good idea – perspective and all that. But letting it go stale? Let’s just say it gives ammunition to the critics.

Best practice would assign responsibility for monitoring web content to someone who’s part of the company’s messaging process, whether it’s a person in IR, corporate communications or an outside firm. (The task should not go to a tech person or web designer, whose skills are not in financial communication.) 

This has to be an ongoing maintenance commitment. And you must decide a comfort level for how often to check and update the site: quarterly would make sense, at least, maybe monthly or a continual loop process.

Corporate blogging: A personal touch

December 3, 2008

The switch that unleashes the power of communication is making it personal – and this applies to corporate websites, blogs and social media – author and communications prof David Perlmutter says.

Perlmutter studies and blogs on political communication and wrote Blog Wars: The New Political Battleground, which came out early in 2008 chronicling, among other things, the superior online presence of Barack Obama’s campaign for President. I went to Perlmutter’s lecture on business blogging today at the suburban Kansas City campus of the University of Kansas (where he teaches).

The mark of a great communicator, Perlmutter says, is that a member of the audience comes away saying, “I felt like he was talking to me personally.” Without the human connection, talk is just noise. So it is with corporate forays into interactive media, Perlmutter says. The goal is mass communication, but the voice must be personal.

“I have seen a lot of corporate blogs and, boy, they read like corporate blogs,” Perlmutter says. “This is something that big institutions have trouble figuring out how to do.” Finding the right voice will be different for every company, but it will certainly take some thought.

The professor also hit one of my favorite themes: Companies shouldn’t leap into blogging, Twittering or using other media without first figuring out how those tools serve their business purposes. A blog, for example, demands time and resources – someone to maintain relationships by posting fresh material, responding to comments and implementing new ideas. So, Perlmutter says, “The first decision you need to make is, what is it actually trying to accomplish?”

For investor relations people looking at what I call IR 2.0, strategic thinking is a critical first step.

More on bear market IR

October 7, 2008

Over on IR Web Report, a consistently informative source on all things online, Dominic Jones kindly refers readers to this blog (see Oct. 6 post) – and adds his own useful insights. He endorses the value of staying in front of investors but notes that the Web offers new, low-cost ways to do so:

Technologies like blogs, podcasts, vodcasts and Twitter enable everyone from the CEO to workers on the shop floor to tell the company’s story. And often their voices, real and unrefined by the corporate PR machine, have much more credibility than sanitized, over-massaged press releases.

Putting a human face on the corporation, he adds, is critical:

… if you want to give your company an edge in this market, you’d do well to remember that investors are also buying into a business run by real peopleGet those people out in front of investors, not just in person in small group meetings or one-on-ones, but out on the web as well.

My thought is that IROs might take advantage of a depressed time (and the CEO/CFO’s reluctance to go on the road and meet depressed investors?) by moving forward with IR 2.0. Dominic’s blog archive is a good place to start researching more interactive forms of communication – and preparing a case for management and legal to embrace the trend toward online IR.

Defending yourself in a YouTube world

September 3, 2008

Some good insights on reputation management in the era of Web 2.0 appeared recently in IR Magazine’s blog: In “Stay Awake Online” (August 15), IR correspondent Tim Human notes that investors are increasingly scouring the Web to learn about companies – and can be swayed by attack posts on blogs, nasty YouTube videos and the like. He adds:

But companies can fight back against negative publicity online, with the right know-how. The 2009 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide by MarketingSherpa explains how a major bank reacted to a highly ranked site attacking its reputation.

The bank contacted other sites linked to the negative one and got them to de-link, lowering its importance to search engines like Google. In addition, the bank added lots of search-optimized content to its own site – like blogs, videos and press releases – to fill up more of the top spaces in search listings. As a result, the offending site was knocked from the top page of results.

SEC guidance on the Web (follow-up)

July 31, 2008

Good commentaries on the SEC guidance on corporate websites, blogs and the like at two other blogs: TheCorporateCounsel.net and IR Web Report. The devil is in the details, of course, so you’ll want to study the SEC’s interpretive release (update: the full release was posted on August 1).

The broad implication is certain: Companies need to get on top of what they’re telling investors online – intentionally or unintentionally, on the official website or on some employee’s blog or MySpace page. (See July 30 post below.)

SEC clarifies guidelines for Web IR

July 30, 2008

The Securities and Exchange Commission today approved new guidance for public companies’ communication with investors via websites, blogs and other Internet channels, a long-awaited update for investor relations officers and executives who last heard from the SEC on this topic in 2000.

The SEC press release provides a broad outline – and some further hints at the direction were provided in staff comments today – but details are in the interpretive release itself, which has not yet been posted on the SEC website. The commission promises clarification on several issues:

  • Use of websites to comply with Regulation FD requirements. The SEC promises guidance on how companies may disseminate updates or material information online, without the well-worn ritual of issuing a press release to make information “public.” The interpretive release will go into particulars on how companies can evaluate whether (1) their websites are recognized channels of distribution, (2) posting online makes the information available to the marketplace in general, and (3) investors and the market have time to react to the information posted. Details will be of interest to IROs as well as PR staffs and vendors.
  • Liability consequences of online financial communication. Specifics include corporate websites’ provision of data in historical archives (without considering an old news release or financial report “reissued” every time someone accesses it); links to third-party websites or reports (updating the SEC guidance on disclaimers to avoid “adopting” the other persons’ views for liability purposes); and summary or highlighted information (imagine a brief overview of financial reports, without rehashing all the notes and disclaimers in the 10-K).
  • Blogs and online forums, a hot topic among IROs eager to interact with investors in a 21st-century way. The SEC affirms that antifraud provisions of the securities laws do apply to statements made by companies or persons acting on their behalf in these venues. (In my book, this is the only sensible approach.) And companies can’t force investors to waive protections as a condition of entering such a forum.
  • Sarbanes-Oxley and the website. The guidance cuts companies a little slack by discussing boundaries so that not all information that might appear online (many company websites offer areas for marketing, recruiting and other purposes as well as investor info) is subject to Sarbanes-Oxley rules on disclosure controls and procedures.
  • Cool graphics. The SEC gives the go-ahead to creative technologies that use video or interactive features but aren’t “printer-friendly.” Apparently it doesn’t have to be on paper to be disclosure.

It’s great that the SEC is responding to this need for clarity, following a recommendation from its Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting. Companies will want to study the guidance to implement best practices, and stay legal, as investor relations enters the era of IR 2.0.