Mark Hynes - thoughts on corporate disclosure

Opinions on changing rules, changing best practices, and their effect on investor relations officers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who ‘owns’ the corporate story?

Mention the word ‘disclosure’ to a corporate communicator or IR person, and different images pop into people’s minds, all depending on exactly where in the spectrum they fit. For some it is ‘inside information’ being delivered in real time to the market, for others it’s the details in the back end of annual report. For still others, the technology of how it is achieved that is the key.
2 things prompted this thought.

First the (excellent) IR Society conference, which included an optional session on reporting in a digital age. Much of the discussion centred on the annual report, and its journey towards being online. (Sidebar; one attendee commented that fewer companies were maintaining HTML annual reports on their websites; why should this be? Isn’t it the way of the future after all? My view was that there still concerns about the distinctions between the audited and non audited sections of the report. Others considered that tools to create a personalised PDF report – remember the Daily Me? – was more important than HTML).

Second, a useful new research from Citigate DR on the state of play in the IR world. The words that jump out for me are “long term”. From last year’s caution about predicting the future, and hence lack of guidance, the survey finds a sharp rise in the numbers of companies now prepared to offer, in some cases in hard numbers, views about their prospects.

For me, this begs a question: who ‘owns’ the company reporting story? How do we achieve consistency between the messaging, especially about the future, that appears in the different reporting events? For example, is a trading update consistent with the investor presentations AND the annual report? Is the long term story – and guidance – provided throughout the year harmonised?

And do the technical tools of disclosure – the web, video, social media, iPhone apps, XBRL, structured databases, results tweets... all convey a consistent impression for investors?

If so, how does this happen?


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