I WAS having a conversation the other day with a client about recommendations we had made about her company’s website. She wanted to know if a certain recommendation was really “fundamental” to her company’s site.
That’s a really good question and one that every company needs to think about. What are the basic requirements for an IR website?
There are some obvious things, of course. Being up to date is a fundamental. Investors being able to easily find information is a fundamental, albeit one that many companies struggle with.
Today’s leading-edge might be tomorrow’s basic requirement
But there are times when it can be hard to distinguish between a practice or technology that is a basic requirement and something that is optional. What is thought of as leading edge or nice to have today might be a fundamental component of an effective IR website tomorrow, or it might just go out of fashion or be replaced by something else.
Identifying future fundamentals is a big part of our jobs as advisors. We help companies that are planning upgrades for their IR websites identify practices and technologies that are likely to have staying power and which should be incorporated into their sites.
RSS feeds, for example, are still an emerging technology on IR websites and haven’t really taken off with investors. But it’s just a matter of time before they become fundamental components of any IR website and no company should upgrade without feed-enabling their sites.
Fundamental practices often overlooked
Then there are technologies and practices that are fundamental to an effective IR website but most companies don’t do them because they simply haven’t thought about them.
I get a lot of push-back from people when I say this because people think I’m being rude about their intellect or belittling the effort they put into their sites. How could they possibly not be thinking about their sites when they spend so much time making sure content is posted to their sites?
Simple. Because posting content to your site and thinking about your site often are two very different things. At most companies, the IR website is a repository for documents and files that are created for other channels, such as printed annual reports, in-person PowerPoint presentations, or live teleconference calls.
While all of these end up on the typical IR website, they are not specifically designed for or delivered online in the first instance. So the IR departments that produce them aren’t thinking about the website experience per se. They are thinking about the person leafing through the pages of the report, or the content of a slide and what the CEO should say to the live audience.
While a lot of time might be spent preparing materials and then posting them online, very little time is being spent thinking about how best to deliver the information online. The web is an afterthought.
This lack of focus on the web experience extends beyond the information that companies are in fact posting to the things that they don’t even think about. And they don’t think about them because they don’t do them offline.
But just because so few companies implement these practices does not mean they are leading-edge or nice-to-have.
Case in point: annual meetings
The practice I was discussing with the client was an online annual meeting campaign. Is it really a fundamental, I was asked. Yes, absolutely it is, I said. And it doesn’t matter one bit what your shareholder base looks like.
“Well,” said the client forlornly, “we just had our annual meeting and we put a lot of time into it and we got one question.”
Yes, but they hadn’t done it right, I said. Everything happened offline and they just dumped the materials on the site without thinking.
Saying this never makes me popular, but it has to be said. And then I quickly added the bit that positively confounds people.
Even if they had done it properly and investors still didn’t seem interested, that does not make an online annual meeting campaign any less important to an effective IR website.
Why? Because how you treat your company’s owners on the web says a lot about a company’s attitude to all of its other stakeholders.
Think about that for moment. If a company claims that it is focused on good governance but it ignores its annual meeting, how much weight do you put on its governance claims?
If it has a CEO blog but ignores how it treats its annual meeting, is that blog for real or just window dressing? And if a company has a customer idea board but ignores its shareholders, is it really interested in what customers have to say or is it just a publicity stunt?
No, if a company doesn’t give a damn about its annual meeting of shareholders — the people with the power to throw out the board and management — what exactly does it give a damn about?
Its employees? Its customers? Regulators, the law, the environment?
As for my client, she didn’t like what I was saying because it means more work for a department that is already stretched thin. But come next year I fully expect they’ll do much more around their annual meeting on the web.