Back in the room
Al Loehnis muses on the best ways to optimise capital markets events for both live and virtual audiences
Capital Markets Days are back in earnest. After a year in which fewer than 1 in 10 of the UK’s largest companies hosted a CMD, we are entering a catch-up period which will see many companies putting on events to communicate their strategy for a post-pandemic world. Our research shows that for nearly half of these companies it will be the first such event they have put on for at least five years.
After a long period in which physical meetings have been largely off-limits, there is an understandable desire to host in-person events. But while many investors will want to attend in person, this is by no means universal. Working from home remains the norm – and the preference – for many, and the twin pressures of sustainability and cost mean that corporate travel budgets are likely to remain suppressed for some time.
So a question facing companies putting on an investor event is how to optimise an event for both live and virtual audiences? Can you find a ‘middle way’ which doesn’t leave half the audience suffering FOMO at best and a second-rate experience at worst? The results so far have been mixed.
Sitting through virtual events over the last 18 months has shone a light on one of the key failings we encountered even before lockdown: many CMD events are too long, too wide-ranging and they lack clear and effective key messaging as a result. One recent FTSE100 company event saw nearly 20 speakers over the course of an afternoon, with an accompanying presentation running to more than 240 slides. Less is generally more.
By contrast, GM hosted a half-day event in the US recently, which was compressed into around 50 slides, with all the main data and key messaging available in a one-page infographic. The event was produced in a way that really engaged the online audience, with speakers using autocue rather than reading from notes behind a lectern and presenting to the cameras and the audience in a balanced way. The set design, staging, lighting, sound and graphics all generate a sense that the online audience was front of mind not an afterthought. TV production values like these are increasingly the norm for the best investor events.
This approach is not for every company, both for resource reasons and because the nature of their business may not lend itself to the Hollywood treatment. Many are choosing instead to rethink the way in which they achieve the twin aims of providing investor education and face-to-face engagement between senior management teams, analysts and investors.
Rather than hosting complex all-encompassing events every few years, we are seeing more and more companies elect for a regular programme of shorter events, each focusing on a specific topic or a division. These are likely to be virtual only, vastly reducing the cost and complexity of organising the events and ensuring a level playing field for all investors.
Yes, you do lose some of the value of in-person events, but these can be overstated: do you really see the whites of management’s eyes better from 30 yards in an auditorium than you do from a screen? Relationship-building between management teams and investors is of course a vital part of an IR programme. But these are arguably better achieved in other ways than during coffee-breaks, through the roulette of a lunchtime seating plan, or over a drink at the end of a long day before a rush-hour commute home from a CMD event.
Whether you are presenting to a physical audience over the course of a day, or to a virtual audience in 90 minutes, the ingredients for success remain the same: focus relentlessly on your key messaging; find ways to show as well as tell your story; and ensure that your speakers are well rehearsed and prepared, whatever the medium they are presenting through.
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