Story by Jason Ross, General Manager, Reactive Sydney
The evolving landscape
It’s amazing to think how much has changed in the way we communicate over just the past decade alone. The pace of change only gains momentum as new innovations and ways of using them fall into ever welcoming hands.
Investor Relations is (sometime unfairly) seen as one of the last bastions to adapt to the ever changing communication landscape. After all, servicing a complex stakeholder group, who are often seen as the ‘no-nonsense’ type, is not easy. Whether it’s analysts, private or institutional investors, regulators or internal stakeholders, Investor Communications need to be clear, direct and to the point – fluff free. So it’s no surprise perhaps that when scanning the websites of some of the ASX top 50 companies there are plenty of examples where investor and corporate information is presented in a lacklustre way, being defined simply by regulatory requirements.
Consider however that we live in a day and age where people are collaborating in ways like never before. Sharing things which they would have never shared, with people they would have never considered ‘friends’ or being ‘LinkedIn’ to until just a few years ago. This is not just a phenomenon, indeed we are living in a time which is regarded as the sixth great communication revolution. Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn going public serve as a perfect example for how rapidly innovation is becoming mainstream today.
As the way people communicate changes, expectations from corporations are changing, too. What worked just a few years ago is no longer seen as meeting the needs of the audiences who consume corporate information today. A company that fails to embrace innovation and present itself as a cohesive organisation working to common goals and vision is seen as a company that is falling behind.
Companies at the forefront of understanding how best to leverage the tools available to them have embraced the concept of integrated reporting. Integrated reporting stems from an understanding that stakeholders have a wider interest than they did just a few years ago. This change is partly driven by the fact that information has become far easier to find, receive and share, increasing the desire for knowledge before making decisions – such as whether a company represents a sound investment or not. But it is also driven by the fact that companies are recognising the value in taking an integrated approach to their communications – one that is underpinned by a common understanding of what the business stands for and on which goals to focus.
With all this in mind, it is clear to see that the tired and tested approach of presenting investor information in isolation of the broader business strategy while ignoring new channels and technologies is no longer acceptable.
So what can be done?
Working at an agency, it would have been all too easy to write about the merits of introducing more innovation into corporate communications. Launch an app. Get onto Facebook. Tweet more often. And while you’re at it, make it all work on an iPad! But the point is really that every business needs to identify clearly who their stakeholders are, what would be relevant to them and how best the information can be delivered.
There are plenty of great examples out there, which reflect the results of taking a more integrated approach. Bowen Craggs & Co (www.bowencraggs.com) uses a tailored marking system in their FT Web effectiveness index which has allowed them to rank the top global organisations use of digital. Shell and Unilever who appear in the top 5 have embraced investor apps, making their key highlights available to stakeholders on the go. BP’s ongoing use of social media to manage stakeholder expectations (in particular through the Deepwater disaster) continues to serve them well and earn them praise. And Siemens (who top the charts) lead their investor section with a ‘Siemens at a Glance’ section providing a clear overview to their company in conjunction with the facts and figures. All of these companies have recognised that taking an integrated approach and leveraging innovation is key to managing their stakeholder needs and expectations effectively.
Whilst the examples covered all make great use of digital in different ways, they represent the end result of a process. The process starts with achieving clarity of vision about the corporate ‘mission’ and making sure this is communicated in a clear, engaging and consistent way to both internal and external stakeholders. Once these basics are in place, the process extends to understanding clearly who your stakeholders are and what is of relevance to them. Once you have established these things it becomes far easier to look at the ever changing innovation landscape and decide what will work best for your company and stakeholders.
Jason Ross is General Manager of Reactive Sydney – a global digital agency with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, London, Auckland and New York. Before working in Australia, Jason lived in the UK where he worked with many top FTSE 100 companies, helping them harness and evolve their digital communications for their internal and external audiences. Reactive provide digital services to clients across all industries. They have recently launched corporate websites for Origin Energy, BHP Billiton, HESTA Superannuation and bankmecu.