Financial Services

In years gone by, there was an abundance of “storytellers” on Wall Street. Most notably, they were sell-side analysts who provided research coverage for companies both large and small. In the case of the latter, these consisted of companies with interesting and potentially breakthrough technologies and are often referred to as “story stocks.” Sell-side analyst coverage helped introduce these companies to wider audiences – retail and institutional investors as well as the media.

Since the financial crisis of 2008-09, equity research has witnessed a downward trend at investment banks, a trend that has been exacerbated by the decline in commission payments by asset managers. Small cap companies have been particularly hard hit as it has been estimated that more than half of the companies with market capitalizations under $250 million lack analyst coverage.

Given the “disintermediation” of Wall Street, the need for “storytelling” in the practice of investor relations has become critical. While the release of a company’s quarterly financial results remains a legal requirement, numbers alone represent only part of a company’s story and serve as “proof points” in the investment thesis. The story behind those numbers can enhance investors’ understanding of the company, its value and its market position. Financial storytelling goes beyond quantitative metrics of performance by showcasing management and their strategies.

Good corporate storytelling can help foster an emotional connection between investors and the company. It can “humanize” the enterprise and assist audiences in understanding that the company is more than just products and services while serving to enhance its reputation. By engaging in corporate storytelling, a company can deliver key message points about its intangibles such as customer satisfaction levels and Corporate Social Responsibility endeavors, among other things that don’t show up on the balance sheet.

The channels for corporate storytelling are vast thanks in large part to the Internet. For example, results from the 2014 BusinessWire Media Survey show that the online newsroom is still the foremost destination for journalists, after the organization’s main website. More than 60 percent of the 300 participating North American journalists are receptive to brand-written articles interspersed alongside editorial content in online newsrooms, the study found. The greatest areas of interest for branded content include industry trends, products and services, events, financial, customer-related and executive-related articles.

General Electric makes ample use of a variety of channels and techniques for its corporate storytelling activities. The Newsroom section of its website features news and a multimedia approach in support of the company’s various operations. Stories are told in human terms while demonstrating the company’s solutions for environmental issues. In addition to its own website, GE actively utilizes a variety of social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among them – to deliver its “stories.”

Corporate storytelling is critical for start-ups and emerging companies given their lack of Wall Street analyst coverage and media interest. Such companies often have interesting stories to tell, particularly those about their founding. Human interest stories about the company’s founders and their vision as well as their products can go a long way in generating investor support and attracting venture capital. In addition, having well-conceived approach to corporate storytelling can generate media interest.

As a result of the widespread use of digital media by important constituencies – investors, media, employees, customers, and so on – companies can enhance their reputations, gain critical investor interest, and foster deeper customer relationships through a commitment to corporate storytelling.

– Scott Tangney

thought leadership

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