“The growth ring of Witualna Polska’s EBITDA core does not give in, in terms of width, to the first two years of the now expiring three-year term of the current management board” – this is the first sentence of the annual report of Wirtualna Polska Capital Group.
The entire letter of the management board president, Jacek Świderski, opening the 2016 report, is written in a light-hearted, witty tone, encountered in magazine columns rather than in reports of multi-million corporations. In addition to matters related to the company itself, the text also touches upon areas like technological and social changes in the world. WP president also refers to the plague of fake news and post-truth, as well as the new role that the media need to assume today.
Annual reports are frequently depicted as “prudent PR” practices. Company representatives say positive things only “not to scare” anyone, they avoid sharper phrases, because “this is not appropriate on this position”, and the entire text of the communication is built upon the “language of benefits.”
There are two sides of this approach. By formulating a shallow, colourless communication, the company flows with the mainstream and stands out with nothing. Being average is safe. This is why reports are written in this way – they are predictable and boring.
The result of this approach is that many such statements, either for the press or for investors, say absolutely nothing. Whether or not the company is undergoing “dynamic development” or “is conquering subsequent market segments” may equally well be read in the results table.
The paradox of the WP annual report is that the company, by publishing a bold, or even avant-garde, if you will, opening letter from the president, risks absolutely nothing. Results which matter to the investors are presented in the tables and speak for themselves. The President shows he is a man of character and independent opinion.
Famous research by Albert Mehrabian stresses the importance of non-verbal communication in human relations. It is about evaluating the credibility of attitude, the tone of voice, simply speaking, the form which determines the attractiveness of the message. It is true that the lectures of one of Polish best-known professors, Jerzy Bralczyk, attract massive audiences and professor Bralczyk himself is often invited to speak at events because he knows how to communicate in an attractive form. Therefore, he is one of few linguists regularly heard at business events.
In his famous book, Jack Trout, a branding guru, wrote “differentiate or die”. It is important to evoke emotions in the audience and build loyalty. Investor relations are not different in this context, which is notoriously forgotten.
A creative form of an annual report, with carefully designed graphics, dynamic language and, obviously, a well-prepared presentation, support building good relations. They present the company not as a set of heartless tables and empty speech of the management board but as an organization with a vision and purpose, run by leaders and people of character. Some people have already grasped it long ago. Annual reports in an interesting, graphically attractive form may even be found on Pinterest.
When Steve Ballmer started his meeting with Microsoft investors, he shouted, danced and encouraged the crowd to cheer the company. For years Steve Jobs’ trademark was a black turtleneck and blue jeans. At the end of each speech, before presenting the most revolutionary product, the audience could hear the iconic “one more thing”.
Such behaviours are not something we can see in the Polish investor relations culture. They are characteristic, witty in a way, meeting with them was something to remember. Some Polish investor relations “specialists” found the WP letter “clown behaviour”. If they are experts in building such relations for their customers, maybe we should browse their reports and draw our own conclusions?