Posted by: WendyLane in: Financial Services -
ESG reports – which focus on an organization’s environmental, social and governance aspects – are becoming more prevalent. Just a few years ago, only about 1% of public companies prepared them, but that number is now roughly 25%. The reports are often considered risk management tools by boards of directors. They offer stakeholders greater insight to how investments are stewarded and what types of impacts their dollars are creating beyond just the bottom line. In the event of a market downturn and a flight to quality, ESG reports may also help differentiate and elevate a brand.
The National Association of Corporate Directors’ Northwest Chapter recently hosted an informative event in Seattle: “Managing Risk in an Environment of Evolving Shareholder Engagement.” An impressive panel of thought leaders – Randall Hopkins of NASDAQ, Weyerhaeuser Company’s senior director of investor relations Beth Baum, and HomeStreet Bank’s investor relations officer Gerhard Erdelji – offered valuable insights for companies undertaking the formidable task of creating an ESG report:
- Establish an internal ESG committee. Have a team oversee and create the report, as its breadth and depth is typically beyond the capacity of one individual.
- Communicate the ESG report initiative companywide. Each department should be aware of the report’s development and understand their role. Certain departments will be key resources to build the content: facilities and production for environmental, human resources for social, and investor relations for governance, for instance.
- Establish metrics in key areas. The ESG reports are based in fact and should illustrate performance. Individuals within departments must determine how results will be measured and be dedicated to tracking and reporting them over time.
- Keep investors in the loop. ESG roadshows, which are growing in use, inform investors about how their dollars are making an impact. Importantly, these roadshows give companies a chance to learn more about what their investors value. Additionally, more traditional investor presentations may be strengthened by including elements from an ESG report.
- Prepare board members to carry your messages. In addressing concerns from investors, it’s valuable to prepare board members to speak to investor relations issues, leveraging documented findings in a company’s ESG report. Passive investors tend to gravitate toward governance issues, while active investors want to know more about environmental and social aspects.
As investors demand more accountability and transparency from public, and even privately held, organizations, ESG reports will likely become more common across all industries. Investing time and resources into creating an ESG report creates an opportunity to keep important stakeholders engaged.
Posted by: Ryan Barr in: Financial Services - Media Relations -
Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Who am I to disagree with Mr. Buffett? According to the Reputation Institute, intangible value — including corporate reputation — makes up 81 percent of market value. Additionally, a one-point increase in reputation yields a 2.6 percent increase in market cap, which translates into an average of $1 billion.
However, corporate and financial communicators know that if a company is going to market now, it doesn’t have 20 years to build its reputation. With 24/7 media, globally connected social networks and online marketplaces, investors, influencers, customers and employees can alter the perception of a corporate brand in the blink of an eye.
As corporate reputation impacts valuation, communicators must close the gap between the reality of a company’s current operational status and the perceptions of key external stakeholders. And, the vast array of external influences can interfere with a company’s ability to control its narrative. Given this, it’s more important than ever for a company to use all the tools at its disposal. Where to begin?
It starts with storytelling. Financial and corporate communicators need to build compelling narratives rooted in data that show an obtainable goal, all to be measured by a roadmap that tracks a company’s progress. For all companies, financials are the obvious, and sometimes most critical, gauge of success. It’s fairly straightforward: tell your stakeholders what you’re going to do: increase sales, control expenses and grow the bottom line; execute your plan; and then report back. Unfortunately, financials are only one metric used to measure a company’s success and not all companies are at the same moment in their lifecycle.
A narrative must go beyond the numbers. Stakeholders must understand the vision of the company: what are you trying to achieve beyond growth? Start-ups and early-stage companies too often default to, “We’re a disruptor in an industry that has been stagnant for too long.” Great, but what does that truly mean? Disruption has become a cliché. What are you really doing as a company? Solving the last mile of affordable and efficient transportation; bringing life-saving preventative medicine to those most in need; providing connectivity and speed to rural populations? All of these are disruptive and also showcase achievable goals. Build a story that people can relate to, follow and rally behind. Now that you have your story and you know what your audience wants to hear, you need to reach them where they are. Not every stakeholder is reading the same publication, visiting the same websites or even using the same social media channels. Your audience is as unique as you are. You need to understand how they consume information. Whether it’s a commentary in The Wall Street Journal or a thought leadership piece in The Atlantic or a listicle on BuzzFeed, make sure you’re telling a consistent story that is relevant to the outlet’s specific audience. Ensure that you employ this approach through all your communications channels. While the appeal of a “third-party” endorsement in earned media remains the holy grail for many, it’s not the only means of connecting with and influencing key audiences.
Posted by: Sean Mogle in: Financial Services -
For investment firms looking to sell their expertise, a successful pitch ultimately boils down to the numbers: whoever can offer the best performance at the lowest price should, in theory, win the business. Of course, in practice, it does not always happen this way – for a variety of reasons. One area where some buy-side firms tend to slip up (especially those involved in complex, quantitative-driven strategies, aka “quants”) is failing to have a cohesive, credible story behind the numbers. No matter how sophisticated the underlying models and methodologies, no matter how impressive the technology or how rapid the calculations, clients are, above all else, investing in a story. If the story doesn’t resonate, they will put their money elsewhere. From a marketing perspective, here are three lessons that can be applied in telling a firm’s stories.
The Power of Personality
As in any sales effort, personality counts for a lot. People want to know the who behind the product, sophisticated as it may be. An investment firm selling highly technical, quantitative expertise should incorporate meaningful messaging about the firm and its people (beyond a numerical performance record) into its marketing efforts. For example, is there a compelling narrative behind the firm’s origins? Does the founder or fund manager have an interesting career trajectory, skill set or driving passion that could relate back to the types of products the firm offers? These are the kinds of narratives that can be woven into sales messaging and reinforced by external PR efforts such as CEO/manager profiles and/or stories about the firm placed in top-tier financial media. Executive visibility initiatives, which might include securing speaking opportunities at major industry conferences and events, are another way quantitative firms can put a human face on their strategies, which may help boost both leads and sales.
Don’t Oversell the Tech
Related to the need to humanize the sales process, quant shops also tend to rely too heavily on technological superiority as their main point of differentiation. When everyone is affirming that theirs is the fastest, cheapest and most assured way of achieving performance, the message loses some of its punch. This is especially true for tech-driven strategies, which can be exceedingly difficult to communicate and even more difficult to understand. That’s not to say firms should not tout their innovation; they should. It must be clear, however, how the technology fits into the bigger performance picture. In other words, the tech story, if there is one, should be strong enough to pass the “so what?” test. Achieving meaningful visibility for a firm’s product/tech story can be a helpful component of a broader PR program.