We’ve been reviewing lots of corporate materials over the last several weeks, as it’s stock Proxy season. Each Spring, public corporations hold their shareholder meetings, and issue proxy voting statements for the shareholders to provide feedback to the Board, elect new board members and settle other issues like compensation, accounting firm choice, and other matters. They are also required to bring shareholders up to date on the financial health of the company. Many of them choose this opportunity to further inform shareholders of their efforts and fill them in on future endeavors planned by the company, by mailing out Annual Reports with lots of artfully crafted text and full-page glossy images – all that’s required by the SEC is a set of edited, audited financials and some bare-bones intent reporting.
If you read this creatively crafted text carefully, you’ll have a hard time discerning where the company fits in the competitive scheme in their industry (they’re all industry leaders) and how their products are perceived, sometimes even what they do or are used for! Some are so nebulous, so vague, so “artful” and flowery, they become nearly useless.
Holy missed opportunity, Batman! What a tremendous chance to reach out and tell your corporate story in a way that really provides not only usable information that might prove relevant to increasing future investment, but to do double duty in a number of other forums where a corporate story might be useful. Love the images, too, but do they reflect the daily reality at that firm? Not likely. Do they tell the story? Better than the text, but is it the right story? Maybe not.
I think they can do better. Printed Annual Reports may be going the way of the dinosaur, with online websites allowing technology to improve communication’s timeliness, and relevance. The use of multiple imagery, video, and the tantalizing prospect of nearly endless real estate in which to put more flowery copy, not to mention the reduced cost of reproduction and distribution, make online Annual Reports very tempting. Not sure of the SEC’s feelings on this, but we now have online proxy voting, so the annual reporting requirements can’t be far behind.
For now, let’s hope corporate marketing departments take transparency to heart, and while they don’t have to back track all the way to the days of Dragnet scripts, a little direct, honest language may go a long way toward convincing shareholders to maintain and even increase their investment. It might also allow employees and other constituencies to become company evangelists – surely the current copy can’t be repeated verbally by company representatives – at least, not with a straight face . . .
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