BC Tip: Levi Strauss & Co - the wrong sort of 501

Levi Strauss & Co returned to the stock market recently, but its IR site was not dressed as properly as it could have been

Levi Strauss & Co IR site home page

Levi Strauss & Co IR site home page

The Feature

Levi Strauss & Co shares started trading again on the New York Stock Exchange recently, after an absence of over 30 years.

The company’s Investor Relations site, separate from the other areas of its corporate web estate, carried regulatory news items relating to the IPO, including the final prospectus filed on flotation day.

Its Events & Presentations section was and remains, at the time of writing, totally empty. The section is promoted on the IR site landing page, leaving error messages visible to users arriving at the site.

The Takeaway

An IPO is a stressful time for any IR department and digital manager, and it can be easy for things to slip through the cracks on the IR site – especially if the site, or part of it, is new, and laws about what can and cannot be shown must be navigated.

But that does not mean that companies cannot do more to prepare for the day that shares float.

We suspect that the Events & Presentations section on the Levi Strauss & Co site was simply part of a standard template, but clearly it would have been better to remove it until the company had something to put in it; or to create a more elegant message advising users when materials would be available.

The prospectus is largely hidden, only available from the SEC Filings area of the site and not in, for example, Financial news. The company should at least point investors to this more obviously now the shares are trading. We would also expect material from the prospectus to be adapted for the website, to state the company’s investment case, in the near future as regulations allow.

Sometimes the IPO company has not thought about its IR site and who is going to run it, so that planning should be part of the overall preparations. We know that US companies, encouraged by their legal departments, can outsource their IR sections or sites. If this is the case, it should still be closely overseen by the in-house digital and IR teams.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: ITV - Not loving islands of information

British broadcaster ITV fails to make the most of a significant new strategy

ITV plc corporate home page

ITV plc corporate home page

The Feature

UK-based broadcasting and production company ITV plc announced a major new strategy in June.

As of early August, the corporate site home page http://www.itvplc.com/ has a rotating carousel promoting the 2018 Interim Results, the 2017 Annual Results, and information on ‘What we do’.

The new strategy is mentioned, but in an area under the carousel and below the ‘fold’ on many devices. Along with an overview, there are links to find out more by downloading the 2018 Interim Results presentation or the Interim Report.

The home page strategy area also offers link buttons relating to ‘Broadcast & Online’ and ‘ITV Studios’, but – as with the presentation and report links -  these open PDFs without warning although at least they do appear in new browser windows.

The home page does not link to the new strategy page, housed at About ITV > Our Strategy.

The Takeaway

At a time when ITV has a higher public profile than usual – thanks in large part to the popularity of its Love Island programme in the UK  - the corporate site misses an opportunity to sell its new strategy, and how the company will capitalise on its current success.

The site still feels as if it is in ‘news’ mode rather than presenting a consistent, integrated view of the new strategy. This might be understandable in the immediate aftermath of a big announcement that the web team may or may not have been privy to, but they have had enough time to rectify matters.

Many users on smaller screens might not scroll, and so miss the strategy area on the home page. The strategy could have been promoted in the carousel as a main item. Even though the timing meant it was competing with the Interim Results part of the announcement, some mention of it could have at least been made on the Interim Results panel.

The PDF links were probably a temporary measure when the announcement was made and perhaps before the strategy page existed. But linking to them now, instead of the strategy page, does not makes sense.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

MiFID II: Rise of the websites?

Much has been written about MiFID II, the EU’s revamped Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, which comes into effect on January 3rd 2018. Andrew Rigby takes a look at the potential implications for digital managers.


MiFID II is a package – a very long one at almost 1.5 million paragraphs – of EU legislation that aims to bring greater transparency to financial markets. Ultimately the EU wants to make it easier for investors to see what they are paying middle-men (brokers and asset managers) for: research on and meetings with companies and their management teams in particular. The costs for these will have to be unbundled from charges for buying and selling shares, which has not been the case to date.

So while the bulk of the impact will be felt by financial institutions across the world – because any transaction that touches the EU is affected – there are likely to be implications for IR and communications teams.

If research and corporate access now has to be paid for in a more transparent way, it is reasonable to assume that there will be much less of both from analysts in the post-MIFID II landscape.  And what is produced and paid for, will have to be of high quality. IR teams will also need to work harder to communicate the company’s investment case directly to investors: produce more information themselves, and arrange and deliver more meetings.

It seems to us that this is where the corporate website can help, in two ways.

It can fill the gap created by the decrease in freely available research, by providing free access to company information for investors, journalists and other audiences.

And it can provide more detailed information for those producing paid-for research. This might be especially useful as the effects of MiFID II begin to become apparent. IR teams may need to scale up to deal with the increased workload, but this may take time to achieve. In the meantime, the website can be used to deliver information at scale, so it is worth talking to the IR team to see how the company website can help them.

More hard financial data might be useful, but so will a clear statement of the investment case, and ways to make senior management more accessible may be important – videos and webcasts. Our recently published ‘Explain Yourself’ index may be useful here. It highlights some of the companies which are best at telling their stories and presenting their leadership teams.

One particular aspect worth considering will be consensus estimates. With less research, it is not clear how the likes of Bloomberg will compile consensus, and consensus based on algorithms or crowd sourcing is still in its infancy. Once again, the onus may be on companies to manage and distribute consensus – so the website comes into its own. Barclays has a good example of a consensus estimates page.

screenshot-www.home.barclays-2017-12-04-13-21-19-789.png

Finally, with IR teams potentially needing to target investors more directly rather than through brokers, website measurement may assume greater significance to IROs. Building a picture of who is coming to the website, from where, and what they are looking for, could be very helpful…even if other pieces of EU regulation, both existing and future, limit how forensic you can be. But that is a topic for an upcoming blog…

For those who would like more background on MiFID II, we have prepared a short Q&A.

BC tip: Procter & Gamble – Proxy fight microsite

The US consumer goods giant goes online to make its case against an activist investor.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 14.48.44.png

The Feature

Procter & Gamble (P&G) and activist investor Nelson Peltz have spent, according to the New York Times, at least $60 million in a proxy battle over whether Mr Peltz was to get a seat on the P&G board. (Yesterday the vote went management’s way, but the conflict over P&G’s strategy is expected to continue.)

Part of the company’s war chest went towards a microsite – voteblue.pg.com – which forcefully made the case for management and against Mr Peltz. Leading with the banner ‘A Profoundly Different P&G’, the microsite had facts and figures backing the company’s strategy; supporting quotes from well-known analysts and business professors; and attacks on Mr Peltz’s record. The microsite also had prominent ‘How to vote’ links for shareholders.

Before the vote, the microsite was well signposted from P&G’s main corporate site. After the vote, the microsite was promoting the results.

The Takeaway

It is unusual for a company to set up a microsite to fend off an activist investor, and voteblue.pg.com is possibly unique in using the tactics of a political website – unapologetically taking management’s side; attacking its opponent; and frequent calls to action – ‘how to vote’.

The political nature, and plain language, of the microsite may reflect the fact that P&G had to persuade individual shareholders, who own 40% of the company’s shares. It is an approach that appears to have paid off, at least in the short term.

The lessons for other digital managers may be niche – what to do when your company is in a public tussle with an activist investor; but as activists pursue more and larger corporate targets, it is a situation that could become increasingly common.

https://voteblue.pg.com/

BC tip: BT Group – Summaries in the results archive

Visitors to the telecom giant’s financial archive can easily see summaries of historical financial material for any quarter without leaving the page.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 16.01.23.png

The Feature

The financial results archive page in BT Group’s corporate website investor section has a series of clickable boxes listed horizontally according to financial year – from 2017/2018 back to 2004/2005.

When clicked, the box is highlighted in purple and a series of click-to-expand menus appears for each of the four quarters and any supplemental reporting or updates.

For example, the menu under 2016/17, ‘Fourth quarter and year to 31 March 2017’, expands to include key developments for the year, a statement from the CEO and links to the press release, webcasts, slides, etc.

Unusually, the ‘Key developments’ and CEO statement text are not links, but provided within the menu.

The Takeaway

Including summary performance information in HTML directly in the click-to-expand menus – rather than providing these as separate linked pages – makes it easier for analysts to do research across years and reporting periods.

It also helps that the set for each quarter is comprehensive and that file formats are clearly signposted with icons.

One drawback is that PDFs open in the same window, forcing visitors to use the back button on their browsers if they want to return to the archive, but this is a weakness across the whole site, not just the investors section. Another weakness is that press releases jump into the media section, which is on an older template, without any obvious way back.

Despite these drawbacks, the summaries on the archive page itself are an efficient and usable resource for investors.

http://www.btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Quarterlyresults/index.htm

Does your IR section sell your firm short?

Corporate giants can learn a thing or two from smaller firms when it comes to presenting an investment case online, argues Scott Payton.

 

I recently spent a week judging more than 50 candidates for two online investors relations awards – best digital reporting and best overall digital communications. 

Quoted companies of all sizes entered, from global giants to small-caps. I learned a lot from the exercise, and found plenty of interesting examples of good practice. 

But one thing stood out above all else: when it comes to using the web to make a compelling investment case, smaller firms have much to teach their multinational counterparts. 

FTSE 250 firm William Hill is an example. The UK-based bookmaker’s corporate site has a clear, detailed and engagingly presented Investment case sub-section of ‘Investors’. 

Intuitive click-to-expand panels contain cogent details of the firm’s strategy, market and performance. Informative graphics illustrate the firm’s business model and market share. Clear charts show key indicators covering the past year. A neat table summarises performance over the past five years. Simple, effective traffic-light graphics are used to show the likelihood and potential impact of various business risks. 

UDG Healthcare, another FTSE 250 company, takes a simpler and less detailed approach – but its Reasons to invest sub-section of ‘Investors’ still does a good job of clearly conveying overview information about the company’s financial and non-financial performance, as well as the market in which it operates.  

Compare this to the investor relations sections of the world's biggest companies’ websites – which often don't have an ‘investment case’ sub-section at all, or any kind of equivalent. 

There are some noble exceptions. BASF’s Investor Relations section includes a detailed BASF at a glance sub-section, for instance. It doesn’t explicitly try to ‘sell’ the chemicals company as an investment proposition, but it explains the company’s activities and strategy well. Similarly, Shell’s Investor Highlights sub-section is a treasure trove for financial professionals researching the company. 

But why is such material not more common in the IR sections of the world’s biggest companies? Perhaps many big-name large-caps think they simply don’t need to explain to investors who they are, what they do, what their strategy is, or why all this makes them a particularly sound long-term investment. 

Maybe their IR teams think such material is better off elsewhere on the website (in the About section)  – or tucked away in the annual report. 

If they do think this, I'd urge them to look at what the likes of William Hill are doing and think again about whether similar investment case sub-sections would work on their sites. I think that they would – very well. 

BC tip: IBM - A bad place for good stories

The tech giant wastes high-quality editorial by burying it in the online annual report.

The Site

IBM’s 2015 online annual report features ‘150 stories of IBM today’ in six categories – cognitive solutions, cloud platforms, ecosystems, clients, research and people.

The primary navigation makes reference to the nuts and bolts of annual reporting – financial highlights, stockholder information, etc – but the stories take centre stage.

Visitors can scroll to ‘explore all’ stories or browse by category. The stories we looked at are visually and editorially impressive, employing the latest online publishing techniques and multimedia to engage readers; and they look good on mobile or desktop screens.

The Takeaway

IBM’s stories are impressive, but it is a waste to publish them in the online annual report.

People only usually look at annual reports once, whereas this material should be given the widest possible audience, and the big traffic is likely to be on the main website. There tends to a be a viewing surge for annual reports when they come out, then a steep drop in interest, largely because they are usually promoted for a few weeks then forgotten about.

Annual reports are also ‘frozen’ (by law for the audited material, but that means everything else is frozen too) - so the opportunity to constantly provide new stories and build an audience is lost.

It is a symptom of the ‘annual report first’ mentality that still dogs companies. Our view is that you should put material that is compulsory in the annual report - mainly statutory audited material (this is exactly what IBM does in the PDF version of the report). Everything else should go on the main site, boosted where possible by social media.

http://www.ibm.com/annualreport/2015/


The word is greater than the film

We recently tweeted a link to an interesting piece of market research from Addison Group on the things journalists most want on a corporate website. One of them is video transcripts - most journalists don't have time to watch the videos themselves, but they do want to pick out quotes. That reminded me of something a former financial analysts told us the other day - that he didn't watch webcasts but did scan the transcripts. This implies that transcripts are not just a useful extra (and good for accessibility), they may actually be more important than the video itself. Which of course leads to the question, should you just publish the transcript and forget the video? Brave, but not necessarily that stupid.

David Bowen


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