Best Practices: Is Your Investor Relations Collateral Telling the Right Story?

Introduction 
At some juncture, your company developed a website and a corporate presentation, allocating human and financial resources to ensure that those two key pieces of investor relations material were telling the right story. Since then, subsequent iterations have more or less been variations on the same theme.

When is it time to embark on a wholesale review of your front-line collateral to ensure that it reflects the company’s best possible story? We’re not talking about regular updates (which should be often); but material changes to reflect what the narrative is and how it’s being told.

All C-Suite executives have had multiple iterations of their résumés: the one that got them the summer job as a lifeguard in high school is different from the one that got them the summer job as an intern for an up-and-coming tech company; and the one that got them the full-time job as a software engineer after graduation was different yet again. Twenty-five years on, and now at the pinnacle of the executive’s career, the résumé currently focuses on qualities like leadership, strategic planning and governance. Along the way, a number of independent eyes – trusted friends or colleagues – have likely provided advice on form and content.
Front-line corporate collateral is no different than a résumé: as marketing documents, they need to evolve to take into account important changes to a story in order to be effective.
Here are some questions to ask to determine whether it’s time to consider a wholesale re-vamp.

Has the Corporation Grown Materially?
While growth is frequently mentioned in front-line collateral as a measure of success (a questionable thesis), its practical impact on how the company tells its story is often over-looked. The most common mistake we see in the collateral of small and medium-sized businesses is a reflected in an inability to focus on core services/assets/projects, while dismissing the rest as immaterial (to the investor relations story). Rather than cull non-core material from the narrative, the tendency is to keep it in and then simply add new content to reflect the growth piece. While legacy assets or clients that are smaller in scale will contribute to the bottom line, their materiality needs to be assessed carefully to determine worthiness of mention on the website or corporate presentation. Giving equal line space to a project that contributes 5% to revenue as one which contributes 20% risks the inference that the company is unfocused.

Has the Business Plan Changed Materially?
New products and services, geographic diversification and responses to financial or operating challenges are often catalysts to promote material changes to the company’s business plan. Rather than try and fit a new narrative into the old story, consideration should be given to re-writing the script.

Has the Target Audience Changed?
There are many factors that impact the make-up of a public company’s investor base (both current and prospective). These include items that are related both specifically to the company (revenue sources, market capitalization); as well as more general market factors (is the sector more/less out of favour). What might have been a retail-focused, Canadian story might now be one that attracts institutions outside the country. Understanding the primary constituency – and tailoring form and content accordingly – is critical to telling the best possible story.

Is the “User Experience” Optimized?
User experience is important and begins with the efficiency of what can be accessed on-line; and then moves to the quality of the content. To this extent, is the company’s website – and the corporate presentation loaded on the website – optimized? Investors have become accustomed to fast and mobile-compatible access to data that depicts accurate and graphically intensive information. A deficiency in any of these can led to a poor user experience. Broken links, unintuitive navigation, slow-loading pages and a bland slide show do not project a professional image.

Conclusion
Conducting the occasional audit of front line collateral is an important exercise. This should not be done in the context of regular updates coinciding with continuous disclosure events (such as issuing news releases or publishing interim/annual results); nor should it be undertaken by the individuals who are primarily responsible for their production and maintenance. While it’s impossible to adopt a hard-and-fast rule about when that audit should occur, asking – and answering – the four questions posed above should provide the appropriate guidance.

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