Along with 33 examples, four points on messaging, three style rules and one pink cowboy hat
IR videos have become their own genre, with stylistic variations from big-budget Hollywood and quirky independent to guy-in-his-office-talking-into-his-iPhone. CEO videos are today’s version of the annual shareholder’s letter, and they’re increasingly produced to show along with earnings results. Closely related is the annual highlight reel, with sub-genres including employee tell-alls and feel-good sustainability stories.
Some corporate videos have even emerged into mainstream consciousness, achieving near-viral status, like clips of GE’s Jeff Immelt or Warren Buffett singing ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ for Coca-Cola’s annual meeting.
‘Video is on the rise, without a doubt,’ says Michelle Marks, principal at New York’s Ideas on Purpose, a creative and digital strategy agency. ‘Super-interested stakeholders may read reports, but there’s a big portion of the audience that wants to be entertained at the same time.’
Text may be better for communicating fine detail, but video packs a different kind of punch. ‘Video can interpret complex issues in a succinct form, with the added benefit of emotional content and believability,’ says Tony Zuck, president and chief strategy officer at Zu, a digital agency in Saskatoon, Canada.
‘Companies should use video much more to show investors their compelling investment story, not just tell them,’ says Mark Laudi, former CNBC anchor and now CEO of Hong Bao Media and chairman of Brendan Wood Asia.
But should you be producing videos? Opinions are mixed. ‘I always thought IR would have a faster uptake with video,’ admits Vern Oakley from New Jersey-based Tribe Pictures, whose highly polished productions include videos for Stanley Black & Decker and others. Oakley is teaching a new course, ‘Strategy and storytelling’, for the graduate program in corporate communications at New York’s Baruch College/CUNY. ‘In a regulated field like IR, people are waiting for someone to lead, to test what can or can’t be done,’ he says. ‘It’s a conservative atmosphere.’
Cynicism and sales pitches
In May the UK’s Financial Reporting Council (FRC) released ‘Digital present’, a report based on interviews with both companies and investors, which notes the proliferation of results videos. But while IROs and CFOs say they provide rich, useful content, the buy side is less enthused. ‘Many investors are cynical about the use of video by companies,’ the report states. ‘They consider them to be sales pitches that can present a one-sided picture of the company or topic. Others feel they are ‘dumbed down’ as they are trying to serve multiple audiences.’
Marcus Sultzer, Asia-Pacific CEO for Munich-based digital corporate communications agency EQS Group, says Asia has been slow to adopt video for IR because of budget constraints and the generally lower importance of IR websites compared with Europe and the US, even though – as in the UK – live results briefings are the norm in Hong Kong, and video webcasts are fairly common.
Sultzer anticipates more take-up, especially considering the prevalence of Asian retail investors, and he notes the search engine optimization benefits of video. But he cautions that Asian investor relations websites need to catch up in other ways, including basics like timely disclosure. ‘Video content can enhance communications, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for not publishing other IR-relevant information on time,’ he says.
The consensus is that investors do watch corporate videos – more than half of retail investors, according to the FRC – and institutions admit to indulging in a little screen time, too, though they’re more likely to be looking at body language than listening to the details. ‘In reality, video is a cost-effective mechanism for transferring information quickly and memorably,’ sums up Marc Moninski, a communications consultant for London-based corporate communications agency Friend.
Cost is the area many IROs balk at, considering a professional video crew doesn’t get out of bed for much less than $10,000 – and budgets can shoot up from there, depending on a video’s complexity, length and where it’s shot, topping out at around $500,000. Even the simplest talking-head video at the end of the quarter can be pricey, not to mention all the preparation and senior management time.
But Moninski says to forget your preconceptions: video may not be as expensive as you fear, and the cost can often be justified by the efficiency of getting the message across. Plus, there are benefits like saving senior management’s time and creating footage that can be reused for other purposes.
Best practice tips for video
1. Keep it short. It’s reckoned that today’s attention span for video is a minute and a half, after which viewership starts dropping off dramatically. ‘There’s no doubt storytelling has accelerated in the last five years,’ Oakley says. ‘Under three minutes is the right length for a video; two minutes is better.’
Ibrey Woodall, vice president of Business Wire’s web communications services, says anything over two minutes should be cut up into segments. Cameco’s CEO Corner is a good example.
2. Be creative. Think beyond the talking-head CEO. IR videos come in a multitude of styles, from slideshows and animation to employee interviews and video of operations or products. For example, Friend advised clients like Pearson and Marks & Spencer to make videos that give a good flavor of the company without any talking at all.
Marks and Spencer's annual report 2015
The caveat: ‘You have to match the creative with the theme,’ Oakley says, so the subject of the video plus the look, graphics and titles should all tie back to your fundamental investment thesis.
3. Make it visual for video. There’s no point putting someone on camera reading results when print would do the job better. Video does better at communicating brand, culture and strategy. ‘Always think about the format carefully and remember that while video is great at introducing a single, strong message, it is less effective at introducing detail or more complicated concepts,’ Moninski advises.
4. Use B-roll. B-roll is any non-interview footage shown with the audio from the main interview, and it’s your chance to show off employees, operations and products. It’s also your chance to envy companies like GE, whose B-roll vaults seem limitless, or British Land, whose London property portfolio looks so good, the company doesn’t even need to show the chief executive.
5. Think about mobile. The amount of web browsing done on phones and tablets instead of computers is staggering, and 2015 has been the year of the responsive online annual report (so the images and text automatically change size and arrangement depending on the size of the screen). Every video has to work on a phone screen. Will the graphics be legible? Will interview subjects be big enough in the frame? Will sweeping vistas be lost on viewers?
6. Look beyond the C-suite. Just as investors want to talk to people beyond the C-suite, they want them in videos, too. Besides, not every CEO should be on camera: ‘A really nice guy, great in person, but you put him on camera and it’s like pressing the snooze button’, it’s been said of one. You probably already know which kind your chief executive is, though you may still have to skirt around a big ego to make a video that doesn’t have him or her at its center.
7. Don’t discount a director. Oakley’s strength, clients say, is molding even the most wooden executives into credible video stars. He conducts a lot of CEO video interviews himself, and he never starts the camera rolling without adequate prep time. ‘We create a sacred space for CEOs to be who they are,’ he explains. ‘I try to clear the room and create a sense of intimacy, getting them to communicate the key messages in a personal, heartfelt way – to take the mask off and reveal the human in front of the camera. When that happens, information becomes compelling and highly watchable.’
How much you can use video depends on how media-savvy management is, says Laudi: ‘Getting executives comfortable in front of the camera is the vital starting point to get them thinking about how to use video most effectively for investor outreach.’
ARC Resources at the conference table
8. Avoid the teleprompter. Using a teleprompter is a skill that takes practice, and even actors have trouble (just watch any Oscars ceremony). An interview gets much better results than the CEO simply reading from a script. Another option is to show the CEO with other executives around a conference table or speaking in front of a group. ‘Don’t ask all softball questions, and be current,’ advises Zuck.
9. Include a call to action. Make sure the video pushes the viewer toward more engagement with the company – for example, linking back to the earnings release, annual report or sustainability report, depending on the purpose, Woodall recommends.
10. Put videos where they will be seen. The problem with all the beautiful videos, photos and words poured into online annuals is that they often end up buried several clicks deep and don’t get seen. ‘If you build it, they do not come,’ Marks says.
Or as Moninski suggests, ‘Don’t assume it will go viral. Why not incorporate video into an email newsletter, as well as having it sit in the IR section of your website?’ A video can also be good for the top-line story at an AGM, to set the stage during a roadshow or break up an event like an investor day.
PotashCorp's YouTube channel
11. Share on YouTube. Using YouTube to host your videos is smart because it promotes sharing, which expands your video’s reach and improves its search rankings. Pfizer posts videos on YouTube, and from there they can be embedded in the annual review, employee sites or other places.
‘YouTube is a place of discovery – the second-biggest place for searches after Google. It’s also much more economical than serving up your own videos,’ says Zuck, who recommends companies carefully organize their own YouTube channels.
12. Measure your impact. Most companies are already monitoring readership numbers and other factors for their websites and online annuals – and video should be no exception. Moninski adds that anecdotal feedback should also be collected, and not just from viewers but also from participants in the videos, to assess their value and make improvements.
Three style rules
Four points on messaging
Private companies have more fun
Everything’s a movie
SEO: setting the bait
The great debate
Experts agree on most tips in this article, but opinions are divided on two points:
IR videos should have high production values
For: Even regular results videos like Restoration Hardware’s or Burberry’s can have a cinematic quality, and most annual report videos are highly polished. ‘You send a message with the way you present your company,’ says Michelle Marks, principal at New York’s Ideas on Purpose. ‘It’s a reflection of your brand.’
Vern Oakley from Tribe Pictures concedes that some live events could be shot on an iPhone and it wouldn’t matter to the audience. ‘But when you’re crafting a story, it takes more professionalism,’ he says.
As attention spans shorten, the direction for video is becoming more professional, not less, Oakley adds. For example, new pre-flight safety videos are far more professional and entertaining than they used to be. ‘The IR space is going to get a lot more interesting kinds of videos, too,’ he continues. ‘How do you connect? How do you break through? Well told, entertaining stories are the way to do it.’
Against: ‘Highly produced videos can seem less credible to audiences that are sometimes skeptical of corporations,’ counters Tony Zuck, president and chief strategy officer at Zu. There is still a place for highly produced corporate videos, ‘but if you’re doing a Q&A video at the end of the quarter, high production values could be an impediment, making it less likely that a busy CEO could do it every quarter.’
Zuck lays out a minimum standard: a consistent setting from quarter to quarter, and decent sound and lighting. A junior staffer could do the basic editing and ‘punching up’ that’s needed.
Videos should have a broad audience and a long shelf life
For: ‘Every IR video we’ve ever made has been repurposed in various ways: for recruiting or introducing senior executive speeches,’ Oakley says. ‘Often they become the basis of stock footage libraries to be reused, including in marketing.’
Pfizer has produced several videos for its integrated reports recently and directs them at various audiences, Marks points out.
Against: ‘The temptation may be to produce a single video that meets the needs of employees, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders, but too much compromise can lead to ineffective and bland video content,’ says Marc Moninski, a communications consultant for corporate communications agency Friend. He echoes the Financial Reporting Council’s advice to target an investment audience ‘rather than trying to serve multiple audiences with a generic corporate video that ultimately fails to provide the information investors require.’
T-Mobile on the bleeding edge
See & hear
Wait: you’re reading about video. Wouldn’t it be better to watch? Visit our dedicated video page for a guided tour of the world’s best IR videos plus an annual report click-through with Michelle Marks from Ideas on Purpose.
This article appeared in the fall 2015 print issue of IR Magazine