Annual report 2.0ish

Tim Dyson, CEO of the Next Fifteen Group and therefore my old boss, points to something that he believes to be a world’s first; a company annual report that is also a blog.  It’s for his own company, of course.  I’ll always take a look at the Next Fifteen annual report as (a) I think, somewhere, I still own some shares (though they’re well underwater, wherever they are) (b) I know for a fact that my mum owns some shares and (c) I’m always keen to see how much Dyson gets paid.

I’m not totally convinced about how innovative the social media annual report is…it’s rather like an online annual report (which the company’s done before) with a bit of blogging literally added onto the side.  I mean, it’s not like you can comment on the chairman’s statement or other specific parts of the annual report itself (now wouldn’t that be cool…”so Tim, why did David Dewhurst get a performance related bonus but you didn’t?  What did he do that was so much better..?”)

But I’m happy to agree with Dyson when he says that more and more companies will be producing their annual reports in this way.  That hand on the front page is a bit odd though…I thought it might be some fancy biometric jobby and now my screen’s covered in sticky hand-prints.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with one of the members of the Egg plc PR team about – as I saw it – a new PR discipline which I rather cunningly called “consumer financial”.  The premise was that, as millions of individuals now own shares and are increasingly involved in managing their own share portfolios, quoted companies needed specific communications activities geared towards this audience.  Sure, they’d need all the standard financial info and regulatory announcements, but the tone and approach would be very different to those communications, say, pushed to institutional investors in the City.  While the numbers clearly matter very much to members of the “consumer financial” audience, they’re also, I believe, more inclined to want to understand the culture and ethics of the company in which they have invested.  I see the Next Fifteen annual report/blog mash-up as fitting right into this category.

As I said though, the blogging bit seems a little added on to me.  There are posts from key directors in the Next Fifteen Group, such as Dyson himself, “Social media – the new big thing in PR” (hmm…) Grant Currie of Inferno (a good mate of mine) and Aedhmar Hynes of Text 100.  They’ve kick-started the conversation by commenting on each other’s posts and roping in a few clients, but you can’t blame them for that (in fact Hynes’ post – about virtual worlds, natch – has two comments, one from Cisco, a client, and the other from a bloke called Tony Hynes.  No relation, I’m presuming…or is it?)

What’ll be interesting for me is how well they manage to keep the blog element of the report alive.  Neither Dyson or Hynes have exactly been the most prolific bloggers, and Currie’s contributions to the Inferno blog have been, ummm, sporadic.

Still, credit to them.  I do think it’s original and more companies will do something similar.  Of course, it would have been really cool if Next Fifteen itself had a digital team as part of the group that could’ve developed the social media annual report concept; I could have seen that leading to a load of new business.  But it doesn’t, so used a company called CGI Squared instead.

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13 thoughts on “Annual report 2.0ish

  1. Spaceman Spiff says:

    This just looks like another stage-managed attempt by Tim, et al to make them look like they are cooler and hipper than they really are?

    There isn’t a single real comment on their blogs – they are either from each other or from their own clients. No interesting questions from shareholders (who surely are the ones this is meant to be aimed at?), etc. Public Disclosure: I’m a shareholder, too.

    As far as your question about how they manage to keep the blog alive? It’s not alive right now… it’s just PR puff put into a blog format (which was mainly what Hynes’ blog was, when it was running)

    So, Tim references something in his blog to show how clever he is in another blog, that is stuffed with his own staff writing things about how clever they are. Seems pretty much like an old Annual Report – just with more hyperlinks and buttons than before.

  2. James Warren says:

    I’m with the spiffing cosmonaut on this one. Was going to post about it myself, but too busy (so am taking as much time to write this comment – work that out). Yes, this is about as authentic as PR Week’s international agency of the year award. Manufactured comments, each post having one miraculously appear shortly after it was posted. As any fule know, this just doesn’t happen with blog posts – some get comments, some don’t. But for all of them to generate a comment almost immediately…? And each from an uber-senior client or employee? Profoundly magnficient woman though she is, Ali Campbell isn’t the most prolific blog commenter I’ve ever come across… and yet! Within hours of Grant’s post, she posts a comment. It’s all too contrived for me, I’m afraid. Rightly or wrongly it just makes me think they are not genuine conversations.

    Disclaimer: I too have a few Next Fifteen shares.

  3. Mark says:

    Quite agree – I don’t think I made my own cynicism about the blog comments very obvious in my post. But yes, they’ve clearly set up a few ‘conversations’ – though that’s not to say that the comments don’t reflect Ali’s (or other’s) true views.

    But perhaps we should test it out by commenting on a few of the posts ourselves and seeing how well they respond, if at all..?

    Funny though – it seems that there’s more Next Fifteen shareholders on this blog than its own…

  4. Spaceman Spiff says:

    I’ve tried to post something on Hynes’ blog but it hasn’t been allowed (maybe because it dared to question the value of her hype around SecondLife?).

    See if you can get anything other than puff posted up there… I doubt you can.

  5. grantie says:

    bleat bleat winge winge… “how dare a company enter the hallowed ground of the blogosphere and actually try to start some discussions with shareholders and other interested parties? What an outrage!”

    For my part – i wrote a blog entry. Before it went on the site, I used a different form of communication technology (called ‘the email’) to tell a client about the post and ask them if they would be interested in posting a reply, to, you know, start the conversation, once it appeared. (i often find that monologues get a bit boring (i should know, have you seen my reply numbers on the Inferno blog?!?) and you’re right, i didn’t necessarily think Ali would just stumble across the N15 blog and think ‘ooh yes, i must post on that’. So I invited her to have a look…).

    Is that ‘manufacturing’ a conversation? Or is it simply trying to start one, by inviting someone else to provide an opinion? When you started blogging, did not one of you email some people to tell them? And invite them to get involved? Is that contrivance or common sense?

    When you start a blog do you advise, then, that you just do it and hope for the best? An interesting approach certainly, but i’d prefer to use some other communications channels to perhaps raise a bit of awareness about it first and then hopefully let it develop from there… it might prove of interest, it might not, but it certainly isn’t ‘contrived’, sycophantic or misguided. It’s an attempt to start a conversation about some stuff we’re passionate about (and i know you lot are too, given some of the ‘discussions’ we have in the pub every time we meet!).

    i invited a client to comment. i specifically told her what i was going to say and then told her when it was posted. Ali was kind enough to go and comment. i didn’t realise that broke the h-etiquette laws of blogging, i am obviously a naive and stupid man… i shall get my coat…

  6. Mark says:

    “Oooooooohhh,” (hands held together, fingers facing down, then raised to signify lifting of handbag) “get her”…is my considered response.

  7. grantie says:

    shhh now, i am riding my high horse and the web-wind is in my hair…

  8. tim dyson says:

    delighted to see there is some interest in what we’ve done here. I don’t think our blog is earth shattering but you’ve got to admit the idea of trying to bring the old fashioned world of IR into the real world has some merit. I’m looking in to why Spaceman Spiff’s comment on the site never got through. If it had any offensive language in it I’m afriad the moderator may have deleted it. If so I’ll see if we can bleep it out and put it up anyway (assuming we kept a record).

  9. Mark says:

    Oh, absolutely interested Tim. As I mentioned in the post, I’d love to see the next iteration actually ‘blogify’ the annual report itself…at the moment there’s obviously a disconnect between the formal content of the annual report and the blog bits.

    It’d obviously be a brave step, but initially I don’t think it would be hugely challenging to, say, allow comments on the Chairman’s statement, or your’s and David’s. That’d be interesting – and might actually generate some comments from investors.

    But do promise me that you won’t be holding the AGM in Second Life.

  10. james warren says:

    Grantie, chap. I don’t think anybody said it was outrageous, did they? My point was that the implementation just *felt* a tad contrived. Of course you let people know what you’re doing, but there’s a fine line between choreographing conversations and letting them develop naturally – the perfect responses to all five blog posts from senior clients/staff just came across as a bit too orchestrated. And that caused my immediate reaction to be a negative one. Which is a shame because I do concede that it’s a nice innovative idea and I would love to think that someday all annual reports will be like this (I’ve already shared it with our financial practice).

  11. tim dyson says:

    we won’t be doing the AGM in Second Life. Also if someone wants to make comments on any of the content in the Annual Report or even ask a more general question they can use the blogging comment aspect to do so. Much in the way that this comment section is being used. We do have some challenges in how we handle comments from a purely legal POV in that we need to avoid ‘forward looking statements’ so that we are not seen to inform only certain people about how we are trading or likely to trade. This is a challenge I’m actually going to blog about later today.

  12. Spaceman Spiff says:

    Tim/Grantie:

    Bleat Bleat winge winge? (by the way, it’s ‘whinge’) I guess that’s how you deal with criticism?

    So, you’re claiming it’s not stage managed? Your clients just decided to contribute because they thought these are vital issues that needed to be discussed? If so, then I hope they’ll be reading your replies and will keep coming back to further the debate?

    Out of interest, how many of your clients did you contact about the blog? Was it purely coincidental that there’s one client per blog? How come none of your other clients think it’s important to contribute to the debate?

    Are you saying it’s purely a coincidence that the only other posts on the blogs are those from N15 employees? Few of whom actually identify themselves as such – have a look at Margot Raggett’s – all the comments are from her staff.

    And how come there are no dissenting voices? Isn’t that something key to this whole idea?

    Just because TWL has hung up his keyboard, doesn’t mean you can try to become the next Edelman. Merely cloaking yourself in a blog doesn’t mean you ‘get’ the ideas behind them.

    All that you’ve done is to raise expectations that you might be willing to have an open and honest dialog with your shareholders, but instead gave them stage-managed PR puff.

    If you’d just left the annual report as it is, then, yes, maybe we would be a bit bored… but at least we wouldn’t think you’re trying to use us your shareholders to get a bit of PR out of us.

    The best blogs are those that treat their readers with respect, and allow some level of debate and discussion. Unfortunately yours does none of that.

    P.S. Mark – I actually think the problem is there is too much of a connection between the report and the blog. The ‘blogs’ are too close to being a formal marketing statement instead of an open discussion offering some unique insight.

    Ho hum

  13. Mark says:

    Yes, see what you mean. What I’d like to see is a Social Media Annual Report…forget sticking a few blog posts next to a static online version, just open the whole thing up to comment.

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