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: Samsung Electronics - Board committee transparency

Samsung Electronics hides its corporate governance pages away, but they contain some unusual, but welcome, transparency on board committee activities


The Feature

Samsung’s global Investor Relations site, available in English and Korean, has a Governance & CSR section, which contains pages on the company’s six board committees.

Each ‘Committee’ page lists its members, with links to individual biographies; and outlines the committee’s responsibilities and duties.

Unusually, each of these pages – see the Audit Committee page, for example –  has a sub-section called ‘Activities’, which has committee meeting dates, agenda items (along with an indication as to whether each item was approved or not) and the number of committee members present. The information is presented in tables and click-to-expand menus by year, back to 2012.

The Takeaway

Recording committee meeting dates, agenda items and attendance back to 2012 sends a strong message about Samsung’s approach to governance and transparency, and is a level of detail we have rarely seen in corporate governance sections.

The company could go further: agenda points could be explained in more detail (for example, linked to board documentation), and the exact voting results for each motion could be recorded rather than just saying whether they were approved or not. And attendance figures do not reveal exactly which members were present.

The biggest problem for these pages is that they are so hard to find: there is a lot of clicking and scrolling required to find them, especially if users start on their local Samsung sites.

However, despite not being as well signposted or executed as they could be, including board committee ‘activities’ on corporate sites is an idea worth emulating if the aim is to improve the organization’s reputation for transparency.

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.  

Persuasion: A novel theme for 2017

Getting other people to do what you want is a critical part of any digital manager’s job. David Bowen suggests who to persuade, and how.

In the overworked world of three-letter titles, I would like to suggest another: Chief Persuasion Officer. I would also like to propose that anyone now called digital comms manager, or something similar, should automatically be appointed CPO. That this would put them straight into Star Wars is no bad thing – they need to be noticed more.

Much of a digital manager’s job comes under the broad theme of persuasion. We are using it as a theme for our conference this year, not because it is new, but because it is just so important. As many people as ever need to be persuaded of this or that. It is, after all, a much better way of getting things done than insisting, demanding or ordering.

Here are the targets, the problems and some suggested solutions.

CPOs needs to persuade:

·      Their bosses. Problem: An alarming number of senior managers don’t see the internet as anything more than a selling tool. Or, in corporate headquarters, as inferior to print (a glossy annual report is still what it’s all about for some people). Solution: We have seen some good success with ‘upward education’: if you can persuade your boss – maybe the head of corporate comms – of what needs to be done, he will then persuade his boss; maybe the CEO. And once a CEO is happy, things tend to start happening.

·      Bosses around the company. By which I mean country heads, divisional heads, and such like. Problem: Not a general lack of interest, but great variation. At one end there are people who think digital comms is either baffling or a waste of time, and won’t let their staff spend the time or resources they need. At the other are bosses who think they know best, and prefer to use local agencies and their own ideas. It is difficult for anyone at the centre to persuade either of these groups, unless through an edict from the CEO. Difficult but not impossible. Solution: Gentle education, constant communication and – if they are in the second category – getting local digital managers to do the upward education.

·      Digital managers around the company. Problem: If they have a lack of interest, they are in the wrong job. But the other problem – allergy to central control – is widespread. Most country or business sites have a dual marketing and corporate role, and marketing people just can’t see the point of relying on the centre for anything. Solution: Good governance combined with a central team that really can do things better than local agencies – if you are reducing their workload and giving local managers what they want fast, why wouldn’t they want to work with you? Of course ‘good governance’ raises a whole new set of questions, and there is no one structure that suits all organizations. I will just point you to a piece with, I hope, some helpful pointers.

·      Your marketing colleagues. Problem and solution: This is more a matter of getting a concept across, rather than getting specific things agreed to. We have been peddling the idea that corporate communications would be better called group or enterprise level marketing. More sexy and, more importantly, true: increasingly people are buying not just the product but the company (they like its image, ethics etc); while jobseekers, investors, journalists etc are customers in a different sense. Few corporate websites are marketing products or services direct, but they are very much marketing the overall brand. This in turn has a halo effect on all the things your marketing people are trying to shift (the halo may be more about protecting an uncertain reputation, but it is still a halo). If they understand that, they will see why corporate comms is a powerful partner, not an irrelevance. A matter of education as well as persuasion: this piece we wrote on the role of the corporate site in serving customers may give you some ideas. 

·      All your other colleagues. Problem: You want them to contribute to your lovely website or social media channels, and they can think of better things to do with their time. Solution: One CPO we know said her main tool here was ‘charm’, and you can’t do much better than that. Flattery works well too.

If you are really skilful you will get these different groups persuading each other, and you can go off for a well-earned rest in the Bahamas.

- David Bowen

If you’d like to pick up a host of persuasive ideas at our conference in June, do come along

Exxon in Wonderland

ExxonMobil's corporate site is really good in some ways - but its navigation is as insane as ever

I have been diving again into the wonderful world of Exxonmobil.com. This is a site I have been baffled by in the past, and my latest look – to update the review in our database – has failed to unbaffle me.

But when I say wonderful, I’m not being ironic. In three areas the site shines. First, it is good looking. Energy should be a great source of dramatic images, and here it is. Look for example at the waterfall on the Water landing page under Current issues. Not big, but nice.

Second, it is exceptionally well written. The  language is crystal clear – even where the subjects are potentially dull, clarity should keep you reading. The way pages are laid out help. With text well spaced, short paragraphs and plenty of bullet points, this is textbook ‘web writing’.

Third, there is lots here - great detail in places, and also notably assertive commentary. 

Linked to that last point, there has been a surge in the company's efforts to get its viewpoint across on controversial subjects. It's well known that ExxonMobil is not first among its peers when it comes to flying the climate change flag. It did not sign up to the recent agreement by other oil majors. But it is trying to use its site (the obvious place to get complex points of view across) to explain what is believes and what it is doing. The home page now has seven panels in view without scrolling (hurrah!): one with its ‘perspectives on climate change’, two on carbon capture, and others on the environment. Only one, on Liquefied Natural Gas, does not have a ‘we are responsible’ message behind it.

The problem is that it is failing to get these views across – or indeed serving any of its audiences well – because the way the site works is little short of insane. I have been trying to work it out, and below I’ll try to explain what may be happening. But for unfortunate visitors trying to find their way around, ExxonMobil.com is Alice in Wonderland rewritten by an out of control machine. If they built refineries like this … well, I hope they don’t.

To illustrate, I tried to investigate ExxonMobil’s thoughts on climate. I could have clicked the ‘perspectives on climate change’ link on the home page, but for a more general view I went for Climate, a link under Current Issues in the dropdown panel (the main navigation device).

This took me not to the main climate page but to the ‘perspectives on climate change’ bit of it (first confusion). To get to the main page I clicked ‘Climate’ on the breadcrumb trail (hurrah, I thought, there is one). This took me to a nice picture of a field, a single sentence and six menu items, each with a number in brackets (parentheses) after it. The number by each link was one, except for ‘ExxonMobil's perspectives on climate change’ which had 44. What's that about?

Anyway, I went to the perspectives page and found a panel at the top with a clear intro sentence followed by four links, the top one being Our position on climate change. I clicked this and came to a concise explanation of the company’s position. Climate change is real, ExxonMobil is doing its best internally and by trying to help its customers, but balancing all the interests is very tricky. 

But that was all. Below was a panel headed ‘You may also be interested in’  listing two other pages: ‘Encouraging greenhouse gas emissions reductions through responsible use of our products’, and ‘Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions within our own operations’. I clicked them. 

Both pages were long but clear, explaining in some detail what ExxonMobil is doing. A neat (if slightly confusing) device is a 'menu' to the right that both shows which section you are in on the page, and lets you jump to the others.

So I had finally got to two hard bits of editorial. I guessed there must be more; perhaps it was on the '44' page? Unfortunately the breadcrumb trail was no use (it simply had 'Climate', and the name of the current page) so I hit the back button until I found my way to the perspectives on climate change page.

And here, once I had started scrolling, I did indeed find so much more. Somewhere between 40 and 50 links; 44 maybe? Though it was hard to count them accurately because some were duplicated. ‘Our position on climate change' appeared three times, for example.

The similarity between links titles - and their lack of accuracy - made life even more interesting. 'Lowering emissions' would seem to be a good sub-section heading that would encompass several of the other pages listed in the 44 links, but instead went to a specific page within The Outlook for energy: A view to 2040. But the near-identical 'Reducing emissions' - a link in the dropdown menu under Current issues - led to the page explaining the company's efforts to cut its own greenhouse gases.

The Outlook for energy section illustrated illustrated the hopelessness of the affair. Its landing page had a battery of parenthetical numbers. I copped out and clicked the one that let me download the report. This 80 page PDF was, I discovered, much easier to to use than its web counterpart.

So, the detailed problems I came across were:

  • The numbers in brackets are unfamiliar, unexplained and as far as I can see, unnecessary.
  • There is little prioritisation on the page, and an apparent assumption that visitors will scroll down long pages to find what they want (Jakob Nielsen has demonstrated this is not so).
  • Labelling is often ambiguous and vague.  I may not have clicked on ‘Our position on climate change’ if it had been more precise: for example ‘Statement on climate change’. ‘Lowering emissions’ and ‘Reducing emissions’ are both too similar and neither describes its target page well.
  • Some links are wrongly directed (like the Climate link).
  • The breadcrumb trail is neither consistent nor comprehensive.

Behind these lies a larger problem. The site appears at first to be built using hierarchies, and the URLs suggest they exist (as do the breadcrumb trails), but it comes across as being close to unstructured. I suspect this is because the mechanism (CMS) is ruling the operators - why else would there be numbers in brackets? - and that they are unwilling or unable to counter its inflexibility. We know there are clever humans there - they are doing all those lovely words and pictures. Now they need to get to grips with the mad machine. 

- David Bowen

Defying the 'whisperers' and leaps of faith: Five lessons from the Bowen Craggs Web Effectiveness Conference

It’s been two weeks since our 10th annual conference in Copenhagen, and we’ll be publishing a summary next month (email Dan Drury to request a copy: ddrury@bowencraggs.com). In the meantime, I’ve come up with a list of five lessons I took away from the event.

1. Corporate ‘stories’ can entertain as well as inform, but they need to put the audience first

Our keynote speaker, Allister Frost, former head of digital marketing marketing strategy at Microsoft, had unkind things to say about corporate attempts at ‘storytelling’. So-called stories, he said, often ‘just get in the way’ of website visitors finding what they need to solve a problem.

Still, Allister also said that corporate online content, whether marketing or communications, needs to aim to do one of two things – inform or entertain. So just because there is so much bad storytelling out there does not mean companies should give up, but try to get better. One way, Allister said, is to be more audience focused. The ‘story’ is not about what is interesting to your company’s head of marketing, but what will interest the intended reader or viewer.

I would add two things: it is also about strong editorial governance and quality – good headlines, clear writing, etc – something we talk a lot about at Bowen Craggs. And also signposting and placement – stories in a section for investment analysts are likely to go largely unread; but creative, relevant material for private investors or jobseekers, for example, is more likely to find an audience.

2. Greenpeace is looking for a good story too

Greenpeace, although sometimes in direct confrontation with the companies at our conference, faces some of the same challenges that corporates do in getting audiences interested in online messages. Michael Hedelain of Greenpeace shared his organization’s approach. ‘People are at the centre of our stories,’ he said, an idea inspired by Winning the story wars, a 2012 book by Jonah Sachs, which casts the audience as ‘heroes’ in a broken world that needs fixing.

Practically speaking, Greenpeace focuses on four things to tell a good story: suspense and jeopardy; personal motivation; audience interaction through social media; and duration – activities that go on for weeks and months to allow a story to build momentum.

3. Measurement requires a leap of faith

Approaches to website measurement are maturing and companies are trying to move beyond ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ as a way to evaluate online communications.

‘Clicks are proxies for success but they do not tell us if we got a sale,’ Allister said. ‘Did seeing an article make our employees more or less enthusiastic about their work or not? Did downloading a white paper inspire an investor to buy or sell?’ Data can only ever be a clue, ‘ROI’ from marketing and communications will always be elusive.

SABMiller considers measuring the impact of stories to some extent a ‘leap of faith’ – by knowing the company a little better, audiences will think well of them.

The Financial Times’s Tom Betts proved that all measurement is specific, presenting the publisher’s own algorithm for measuring ‘engagement’ – ‘recency’, ‘frequency’ and ‘volume’. There was not an exact correlation with corporate editorial, which is not subscription-based, but companies could consider coming up with their own combinations of individual data points as a metric for engagement.

4. Give website ‘whisperers’ the tools to work with you

Zurich Insurance has a way of working with so-called whisperers – external web agencies that convince managers to break with global governance guidelines. Give them a publicly accessible, downloadable toolkit to build on-brand pages with their own code, which has ‘brand guidance baked in’ and ‘allows agencies to post elements into the system without Zurich’s involvement’.

5. Third parties add credibility but what happens when they criticise you?

Simon Thresh of SABMiller showed a video from an investor seminar with outside analysts praising its performance, including a professor from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University talking about the success of the company’s CSR efforts. The video was much more credible as a result.

Accepting third-party praise is the easy part though. What about organizations and websites that criticise you? The corporate site is just one of multiple information sources, and probably less trusted. An important question for corporate communicators in the future will be how much to engage with sites that are seen to be more objective, such as Glassdoor, and in what ways.

- Jason Sumner