It’s year-end earnings season for investor relations pros: time to effectively communicate the gains and losses for the prior year. Up this week, Aflac, Prudential, Honda, Timberland and many more. It’s the time for IR to shine, and in 2011 IR is shining in several innovative ways, says Claire Koeneman, president of the MWW Group’s Financial Relations Board. “There are a number of trends, particularly the digital/social media spaces that communicators should know about,” says Koeneman.
Here is a rundown of leading financial comms and IR trends, issues and tools:
Despite lingering concerns about running afoul of financial regulations and social media crises, more and more IR pros are using Twitter to communicate earnings releases, company performance and other financial news, says Koeneman. For example, Citibank has begun tweeting information from its earnings reports.
At restaurant company Yum! Brands, both Twitter and Facebook were used to provide news and updates during a recent analyst investor meeting. Facebook ads linked interested parties to their own page, where they could read real-time posts about the meeting, says Amy Sherwood, VP of public relations and consumer affairs at Yum! “We also generated interest through Google keyword buys, such as ‘emerging market investing,’ that enabled us to find an audience receptive to our global growth story we presented at the meeting,” she adds.
Adding visuals to the financial outreach mix is becoming more common among IR practitioners, says Koeneman. Some organizations, including the aforementioned Citibank, are releasing videos that further explain their earnings for the year. It’s a practice that has not gone unnoticed by Crocker Coulson, president of New York-based CCG Investor Relations. “It’s gotten so much easier and cheaper to use video,” says Coulson. More of CCG’s clients are creating investor-oriented corporate videos, which, says Coulson, “gives more of a sense of scale on what companies are doing.”
Sherwood says videos capture Yum!’s culture, customer enthusiasm and global business story in a more compelling way than just print. “We’ve created videos that showcase us around the world, including India, France and South Africa,” she says. “Investors hear from our leaders and get a behind-the-scenes look at our restaurants that they couldn’t see otherwise.”
Inviting investors to follow along online during an earnings call gives life to a normally staid phone presentation, says Koeneman. PepsiCo’s use of the SlideShare site (www.slideshare.net/PepsiCo/documents) is a prime example of making often complex financial conversations simpler for investors.
Coulson says slideshows are almost ubiquitous among CCG clients, better showcasing the financial messages. “Graphics have a much bigger impact than trying to follow earnings via a phone call,” he says.
Conversations though, are not limited to the phone. StockTwits (www.stocktwits.com) is community-powered idea and information service for investors. Users can eavesdrop on traders and investors, or contribute to the conversation and build their reputation as savvy market wizards. The application has an IR platform that allows companies, and their investors, to monitor their stock performance in real time.
In addition to that service, Sherwood reports that StockTwits, a source that Bloomberg references for updates, picks up Yum! tweets, giving the brand huge exposure among the Wall Street crowd.
At Yum! Brands, IR outreach truly extends from digital to the more traditional. “We reach individual investors in multiple ways,” says Sherwood. Those tactics include in-person (the IR team presents at individual investor conferences); traditional media including print, wire and television (news coverage); television advertising; and social media and Web sites.
Keenly aware of the wide demographic range of investors, Yum!, says Sherwood, is a presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, because race day viewers range in age from 25 to 54, with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more. “This demo matches the profile of potential individual investors,” she says.
Koeneman says that corporate communications’ focus on varied stakeholders, such as employees internally and business partners externally, is all relevant to investors.
While the stock price and quarterly earnings still resonate with investors, corporate social responsibility does, too, says Koeneman. “The whole idea of social responsibility funds is growing,” she says. “So we’re focusing on CSR for our clients.
TAKE A GLOBAL VIEW
Coulson says another big IR trend organizations should watch for is the continuing globalization of equity markets—giant pools of savings that are sitting in Asia and Middle East. “People are putting more effort into targeting those funds, and funds in China that invest in overseas equities,” he says.
The existence of these markets should encourage financial communicators to think more globally about their shareholders. “As companies plan investor road shows, they need to consider the accumulation of capital coming from outside the U.S.,” says Coulson.
In addition, Coulson says that over the next few years, the Shanghai Stock Exchange will start accepting foreign listings, “an appealing option for a lot of U.S. companies,” he says.
Yum! serves as an example of U.S. expansion into China— it’s the largest U.S. retail developer in that country, with about 3,700 KFC, Pizza Hut Casual Dining, Pizza Hut Home Service and East Dawning restaurants in over 650 cities, says Sherwood.
Bottom line: As businesses think more globally, financial communicators must think along the same lines. PRN
Claire Koeneman, email@example.com; Amy Sherwood, firstname.lastname@example.org; Crocker Coulson, email@example.com.
Integrating Digital Platforms in Financial Comms: It’s Money
Thanks to digital developments, financial communications/investor relations is in a transformation period, as more companies communicate via Web sites, blogs, videos and social media platforms. Claire Koeneman, president of the MWW Group’s Financial Relations Board, has some tips for leveraging digital tools:
1. Create and manage a presence across all social media platforms including a blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Slideshare and StockTwits. These platforms should be regularly updated with investor news.
2. Claim your ticker symbol on StockTwits.
3. Monitor (in real time) mentions and comments about your corporation and ticker symbol online.
4. Create and implement a social media communications policy that outlines official corporate communications online as well as employee communications on social media sites with regard to investor relations.
5. Live-stream earnings report press conferences and then post them on YouTube.
6. Earnings reports posted online should be kept behind a secure private wall prior to their official release in order to avoid having organizations like Bloomberg getting them early.
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