Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barack Obama on why media matters

This, from today's Crikey.

It's a couple of days old now, but it's something that has gone strangely undereported in the Australian press. Barack Obama's address to the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner featured the usual attempt -- a funny one -- at First Standup, but the President also went on to make some serious points about journalism and its relationship to effective democracy.

They were points worth repeating:

"We meet tonight at a moment of extraordinary challenge for this nation and for the world, but it's also a time of real hardship for the field of journalism.And like so many other businesses in this global age, you've seen sweeping changes and technology and communications that lead to a sense of uncertainty and anxiety about what the future will hold.

Across the country, there are extraordinary, hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, recent weeks, recent months. And I know that each newspaper and media outlet is wrestling with how to respond to these changes, and some are struggling simply to stay open.

And it won't be easy. Not every ending will be a happy one. But it's also true that your ultimate success as an industry is essential to the success of our democracy. It's what makes this thing work. You know, Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter.

Clearly, Thomas Jefferson never had cable news to contend with -- (laughter) -- but his central point remains: A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America. (Applause.)

So I may not -- I may not agree with everything you write or report. I may even complain ... from time to time about how you do your jobs, but I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. [Now why don't more CEOs see it that way?]

You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people do our jobs better by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of. And that kind of reporting is worth preserving -- not just for your sake, but for the public's. We count on you to help us make sense of a complex world and tell the stories of our lives the way they happen, and we look for you for truth, even if it's always an approximation."

An articulate, balanced and realistic assessment of the critical role of media in today's world - this is NOT the world where all journos are purer than driven snow, and not the world where all people in power are beyond question.

It is however the world in which many people in power, media and PRs try hard to do what they think best. Sometimes we all need reminding there is in fact a greater good we all serve, or, if we've lost our way, should aim to serve.

Few better than this President to remind us.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What the big 4 banks are up to on Twitter

To twitter or not to twitter?

Westpac, nab, ANZ are there. And recent media coverage on Commonwealth shows it is definitely monitoring the site.

As a Westpac customer, I’d follow them on twitter; alas, it’s not to be. While Westpac is following nab on twitter, its own updates are protected, meaning no one can follow them unless they are approved by Westpac.

However, you have to credit ANZ. They’ve developed something really useful; a budget planner tweet that follows more people than it has following it. Sounds like a bank that is keen to listen as well as it talks!

Not only does anzmoneymanager interact well with it’s mostly Gen Y target market, it also delivers a valuable, free online service. More importantly, for financial services industry sceptics to note, the ANZ twitter presence delivers leads to another site,, as well as ‘buzz’.

The author and her firm are not currently engaged by any of the brands mentioned.

GFC + social media = new religion

How financial services players are turning to social media

With all the hubbub about twitter in conventional media, financial services execs seem suddenly to have found religion. Or at least, the curiosity to search for their social media spirituality.

Shrinking budgets and greater public scrutiny - thanks to the global financial crisis (GFC) - have helped send many of our financial services clients, and their audiences, online.

As investors open superannuation emails or statements, many feel cold hard fear. The fear is that they’ve lost a large amount of their life’s savings with anxiety over whether their super will recover. In such a time, some institutions stand out as using social media well - to contact, educate, reassure or interact with nervous clients and customers. Success of these efforts will partly be judged in the long-term by how many investors stick with their investment strategy, riding out the cycle.

Within the finance sector, Australian banks, perhaps, have least to lose by taking their PR and marketing online. This could be why they’ve made significant steps to do so, fast followed by others such as fund managers and financial planning firms.

So what’s new in financial services online communication since the GFC hit home?
Interactive newsletters and investor reports, weekly email investment updates, bank blogs, regular fund manager video updates or podcasts, ever-better online media centres and far, far better content. There’s a growing realisation that home-grown content must be as good, or better, than what mass media produce. This is particularly important as online communication deals direct with a real, live and sometimes vocal public.

Beyond monitoring social media, the financial services industry is more active in protecting and managing their reputations online. The GFC has been responsible, in some part, for a more sudden shift online.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Annual Reports & Shareholder Reviews - avoiding the 'house of pain'

Here are some practical tips for those involved in the annual report & shareholder review process, written by one with some scar tissue on the subject. While some aspects of the reporting process are outside corporate affairs or investor relations control, many things can be done to make the process more efficient and produce a higher quality product.

Want the 30 second version? This week I'll also post Top 5 things in best annual reports and Top 5 annual report shortcuts.

The annual report house of pain
This is when:
- a process starts without clear criteria
- everyone is an expert on language, images, design and content
- hence no-one agrees
- deadlines are missed
- things are done at the last minute and of course...
- quality suffers.

Throw in a 4am finish and you have a living hell.

Typically at some point in this nightmare (usually too late) the CEO will decide that they really doesn’t like a particular image and they want it changed. Or the General Counsel will suggest the language and punctuation needs their personal stamp on it. And who can blame them? There were probably no clear criteria set out for the visual identify or language style guide of the document to start with.

It sounds simple, but some clear objectives and criteria for the annual document suite can make judging success far easier. How to decide what success looks like for this year’s report?

Simply look around at your peers, previous experience, and best practice sources then take the draft objectives for the document and criteria (for messages, images and overall meaning) to your CEO and then Chairman. This needs to happen BEFORE anything else. How do we brief designers, writers or contributors if we don’t know what our criteria are for a successful report in the first place? How can the effectiveness of the reports be judged if no one set out objectives? The answer “poorly” and “I don’t know”.

Similarly, if you don’t have a style guide, you better get one fast before the documents are written. If you don’t have a style guide everything is up for debate - which word to use, how abbreviations are referenced, and where the comma goes, and on...and on...and on.

Audience analysis
Annual reports and shareholder reviews are for shareholders... but are read and interpreted by everyone from analysts to customers, employees, suppliers and high school economics students. We may care more, or less, about some of these audiences but we do need to know who matters most. We also, I argue, need data about what the most critical audience or two currently thinks about the company.

Typically at least one part of an annual report or review is a message driven document. Companies invested significant sums in creating and delivering messages to audiences. This is almost pointless if you don’t have facts (not your ‘gut feel’) about what those critical audiences think, THEN create messages and deliver them in a way that works for, or influences, the current mindset of the most important audiences.

Right now, whether talking to retail or institutional investors, humility goes a long way. How do we know? Because it makes sense but it’s also backed up by data from investor research telling us just how annoyed some shareholders and investors are.

Ultimately I have no doubt most annual reports have great ‘bones’. However some are limp, lifeless things with no clear logic in the presentation of information.

Starting with good structure, before anyone begins to draft and two things happen. First the document writes itself. Phew. Second, no one can find a word out of place because the logic and simplicity of a good structure is that every word fits in the right spot with crossword-like precision.

Overall document structure
This you can glean from convention - competitor reports, your own previous years’ reports, best practice guides such as the AICD or Australasian Reporting Awards and of course any major focus for the year. This document structure is increasingly a content hierarchy rather than a typical fishbone ‘table of contents’.

And please, if you are doing an online version, do not create an ‘online table of contents’ that mimics the printed document. It’s not good use of readers’ time and it wastes a perfect opportunity to actually communicate a message. BHP Billiton [URL] is a great example of how to use this space for messages rather than a bland listing of contents that sit behind the first report or review landing page.

Formula for each section
The format for each report section can also be gleaned from convention. The Chairman’s letter, video or transcript may differ in structure to a divisional report but there is a basic common format.

It’s this:
1. The result, compared to the previous corresponding period.
2. The things that led to that result – company driven or from the external environment
3. How it compares to a relevant reference - others in the market, the overall market or more on previous years’.
4. How this result will be repeated, improved on, or avoided in the year to come.

Tip – the best reports talk to streakers, strollers and scholars - see here for more: