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Dec 09, 2022

Last word: Getting Marvel-ously creative with shareholder literature

How to make your annual reports super-memorable

As the world prepares for yet another slate of Marvel films to hit our cineplexes and television screens, it is worth remembering that the home of spandex-clad heroes was also once the home of comic books.

Back in December 1991, Marvel Comics was a publishing juggernaut and raised more than $63 mn from shareholders when it debuted on the NYSE. When it came to updating investors on the firm’s progress, Gary Fishman – now managing director of Anreder & Company – teamed up with Marvel CEO Bill Bevins to produce a crossover title to end all others: an annual report, but in the form of a comic book.

Inside, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk (hilariously wearing an accountant’s green eyeshade) revealed the company’s net income, publishing revenues and earnings per share, all to SEC and lawyer approval.

Thanks to Fishman, a collection of these reports is now at home in Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. And for those considering a New Year’s update of their own shareholder literature, perhaps there is something to be learned. Below, we explore some of the ways companies could apply new inspiration to their annual reporting.

An appetizing prospect

‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,’ wrote Virginia Woolf. The same is true of your shareholders, so consumer goods firms might consider a feast to announce their latest financials.

But they should not stop there: edible reports are a natural extension. What better way to ensure your analysts are really absorbing your literature than to encourage them to actually digest it?

You may even consider different flavored profiles for different parts. Your ESG section should be plant-based, naturally, with a strong sense of ‘umami’, whereas the meat and potatoes of your balance sheet could be made of exactly that. And finish on a sweet note – but make sure that letter to your shareholders has an air of sophistication: think tiramisu rather than Hershey’s.

Amusing investors

Entertaining shareholders is often part of the annual reporting cycle, with dinners, happy hours and site visits regularly forming part of earnings results events. But what if you could turn the entertainment into the earnings itself? For theme park operators, this could be an easy solution.

Analysts often like to have a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the financials before getting stuck in, so why not offer them one at speed from the back of a swooping roller-coaster? You might consider mapping out the peaks and troughs of your financial year in the path it follows, or preparing a ‘big drop’ ride if the year has been dire. It may be wise to consider arrangements for those who get motion sick from any sudden turns of fortune, however…

Ball games

The publicly traded sports teams of the world – like the Atlanta Braves, Manchester United, Juventus or Borussia Dortmund – will be no strangers to the sheer emotion that can be conveyed during a sporting fixture. So why not play out some of your financial highlights with a choreographed, showpiece match?

Imagine it: jerseys with key financial metrics emblazoned on their backs, the symbolic moment when a player named after a new, innovative product score against another bearing a competitor’s, or a mind-bending play that perfectly communicates a wholesale change in corporate strategy.

Just make sure you try to avoid the emotions that come with a scoreless tie, else your investors be bored stiff or – worse – ready to riot.

Luxury touch

Of course, if you have the budget to spend it would be worth taking a (gold) leaf from the playbook of the LVMHs or Richemonts of this world. Shareholders would go wild for an annual report written entirely in diamanté, an SEC filing embroidered into a silk kimono or a note from your CEO laser-etched into a pair of crystal sunglasses.

We think most financial investigators would agree that these would be a good use of company funds and certainly tax-deductible – just make sure to keep a few back for yourself.

This article was first published in the Winter 2022 issue of IR Magazine. Click here to read the full issue.