IR in France: who's top?

We held an event in Paris this week, at which we revealed the best among France’s biggest companies for online investor relations (our global ranking was covered by IR Magazine earlier this month).

The top French performers provide some useful lessons for IR and web teams around the world.

Joint-top: Sanofi and Total

Both of these companies excel in serving two IR audience groups: analysts researching the company (as opposed to those who already follow the firm); and individual shareholders.

Look, for example, at the clear, plentiful overview information about the business and its performance on Sanofi.com; and at the powerful data analysis tools in the accompanying 'Financial Reporting Center’.

Look, too, at the warm welcome that Sanofi extends to private investors, and the wealth of information in the dedicated Individual Shareholders section.

Over at Total, highlights include clearly presented historical data tables for institutional investors, and a crisply laid out individual investors’ Publications page, stocked with useful material for visitors looking for both quick overviews and deep detail.

Indeed, our French IR ranking highlights the fact that France leads the world when it comes to serving individual shareholders online. If you’re interested in how this can be done well, the dedicated retail investor sections from Air Liquide and L’Oreal are well worth looking at too.

Third: AXA

This insurance giant shines at serving a third audience group: analysts who know the company (and therefore want historical performance data, quarterly results materials, webcasts and the like).

Highpoints of this site include a polished quarterly results index with a wide range of resources, including Excel financials, transcripts and podcasts; plus an exceptionally elegant and well-executed webcast service.

Joint-fourth: Air Liquide and L’Oréal

Standout features here include...

·      An engaging ‘Why Invest in Air Liquide?’ section – a particularly sensible provision for firms that do business in areas that might not be self-explanatory (like ‘liquid air’).

·      Intelligent and effective use of video on L’Oréal’s Shareholders Corner landing page, in which private investors say ‘what they like about their relationship with L’Oréal’.

Conducting the research for this ranking uncovered some other interesting trends among French firms’ online estates.

For example, unconventional navigation systems are unusually common on French corporate websites. In some cases even the primary menus break with convention. Four of France’s biggest 20 companies have no visible primary menu at all, opting instead for a mobile-style hamburger menu even in the site's desktop ‘mode’. This undermines usability by ‘hiding’ a crucial navigation tool.

Tablet/mobile investor apps also remain more prevalent on French corporate sites. Four of the top five French companies in our IR ranking continue to offer an investor app for phones and tablets (L’Oréal, Air Liquide, Sanofi and Total), bucking the global trend away from corporate app development due to disappointing uptake among investors and others.

HTML annual reports also remain more common in French IR sections than elsewhere. Five of our Top 10 companies offer an HTML version of the annual report (Orange, Vivendi, Air Liquide, L’Oréal and BNP Paribas), even as many companies have been moving to abandon such services, to save money.

This may be a yet further sign of a very French devotion to relationship building with private shareholders. Though Bowen Craggs’ research – and that of the Financial Reporting Lab at the UK’s Financial Reporting Council – indicates that private investors actually prefer a simple, hyperlinked PDF to a whizzy HTML report. So when you’re trawling through French IR sections looking to cherry-pick ideas, it’s probably worth thinking twice before adopting all the fancy features you’ll find there.

Sue Harding, director of the Financial Reporting Lab at the Financial Reporting Council, kindly joined us in Paris for a panel discussion about what investors and analysts really want from companies’ online IR communications. Her team’s report on current use of digital media in corporate reporting is interesting and useful. Download it for free here.

Here’s our French online IR ranking in full:

Scott Payton