As we pick out the shrapnel of Covid-19 from our skin at Wardour we realise more and more how it’s going to affect every part of business life: and not always in a bad way. Nowhere is that truer than in the world of corporate reporting and investor comms.
As creative content agency, corporate reporting has always been a key strand of what we offer at Wardour. We are not a reporting factory and tend to get chosen by clients who see their reports as part of some bigger communications (and even marketing) plan. Over the years a lot of enlightened organisations have taken that route and we have delivered annual reports for everyone from William Hill to Logica to Renewi, taking in ten years of editorial consultancy at Unilever, and a similar brief at M&S.
This emphasis on the editorial – the content and messaging – is important to us, even when we are appointed just as the design and process management agency for a reporting suite. And given what’s going on in the world at the moment we reckon storytelling is going to be increasingly important to IR clients too.
Storytelling is so critical to every piece of communication: it makes messaging navigable and engaging. But often it seems to be undervalued in the world of stakeholder comms. In some ways we understand why, stakeholder reports now are an endless maze of regulatory requirements. And at the same time you have the same regulators and best practice bodies wanting brevity (and the board too for cost reasons). How can you tell a clear story in such an environment?
Back in late March, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), allowed companies an extra two months to publish their annual reports. Of course, it makes total sense. Getting on top of the numbers in the middle of a global pandemic is tough going. However, any sign of weakness in a company doesn’t make for a good investor story and even in its guidance page, the FCA had to stress: “We urge market participants not to draw undue adverse inferences when companies make use of the extra time our temporary relief gives them.”
Certainly, from FDs I’ve spoken to, the opportunity to use the additional weeks is not one they are keen on taking up. Whether or not companies do make use of this FCA relief in the short term, in the longer term nearly all businesses are going to face a challenge. With a few very notable exceptions (hello Netflix), the virus is knocking the wind out of most businesses five-year plans. And looked at in isolation, the numbers for many corporates will be poor to say the least.
But of course, for most businesses, the hope is that the fundamentals of what made them a success in 2019 will remain true in 2021: things like great leadership, good products, social purpose, an ability to innovate, strong teams and more besides.
Which leaves the leap of faith to get investors and analysts from the here of ‘coronavirus knockdown’ to the there of ‘all systems go’. Companies will have to work harder to get the message across that they can weather the storm because the numbers won’t do the talking for them.
And so, we predict a resurgence of interest in strong corporate storytelling in the annual report and investor comms in general. Sure, meeting regulatory requirements will remain important, but convincing investors and analysts to stay on board while the rebuild happens is more important still.
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