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Highlights of Our February Event - Dollars & Sense: Effectively Communicating Financial Results

Dollars & Sense: Effectively Communicating Financial Results
Highlights of the February 6th Event

If you’re like most professional communicators, you hate working with financial figures, let alone having to write about them. We deal in words, not numbers. But numbers can tell a story too. And financial figures can be the key to unlocking the story of your organization…if you know how to look at them.

To make this topic less forbidding for communicators, the IABC NJ assembled a panel of experts in this area to share some insight on how they tackle this challenge. On Feb. 6, at The Library of Fairleigh Dickinson University, the panel presented various perspectives on communicating financial information to the press, the public, and internal employees, and answered many interesting questions from our engaged audience. On our panel included:

Bob Varettoni, Director of Corporate Communications, Verizon
Bob is Verizon’s chief media spokesperson on financial, strategic and governance issues and directs external communications support for other corporate functions. He also served on the IABC NJ Board for many years.

Melissa Daly, President of MFD Communications
Melissa is a consultant who has worked in financial and business communications for more than 20 years, including a stint at VP of Corporate Communications at Goldman Sachs. Her focus is on key message development and strategy around critical issues. Melissa is often quoted in the press and appears on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator.

Laura Enderle, Manager of Employee Communications at BASF, North America
Laura develops content for internal executive messaging, corporate strategy communications, employee newsletters and digital signage. She is an experienced writer and editor, who is also passionate about good design and visual communications.

One thing that was clear from these speakers is that there are many different ways to come at this challenge, including using visual communications, as Laura Enderle demonstrated. So what were some of the key takeaways from their talks that can help when you are faced with having to translate complex financial and data-driven details into effective and engaging messages? We try to distill the most salient points for you next:

  • First and foremost, don’t be intimated. It’s not rocket science. Accounting and legal have your back. You are the writer, not the source of the numbers. Something as important as a press release on financial results will be triple-checked by the financial experts before it leaves the door.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify…while this applies to almost all corporate communications, it’s especially important for financial messaging. Keep it conversational. You’re not writing an SEC filing.

    • What three points do you want to hit on? Be consistent with those and vary the supporting points as necessary. No matter how complex the whole picture may be, always bring it back to those three points.

  • Get familiar with your company’s 10-K/annual report, both the letter to shareholders and the agate-type financials, your company’s earnings releases, and SEC filings. These can be a treasure trove of information to help inform a communicator (once you get familiar with their type of content). Expect to get very cozy with these documents.

  • Avoid the spin-zone or create your own “no spin zone”. The corporate world is in the spotlight these days and big companies, especially, are favorite targets of politicians and others in the media. Don’t let them write your story. Stick to the facts and let the numbers tell the true story.

  • A picture says a thousand words…or perhaps a $1,000. Don’t under estimate the power of simple visual clues like a thumbs up or thumbs down, or an arrow pointing up.

    • BASF developed an easily customizable infographic for communicating quarterly earnings to its employees. With simple visuals like a thumbs up, along with other icons, they communicate information such as global sales, regional sales, market profit, sales and earning in different segments, as well as various KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that together indicate the overall health of the company. The infographic has been an extremely helpful tool that was well received by management and employees (and was a big hit with our audience).

  • When working with experts like CFOs your biggest challenge will be to keep them grounded. Their thoughts are filled with facts and figures and obscure financial terms and they will want to tell the audience all of them, at the same time. Coach your finance people on communications.

    • Work to pull those three key points mentioned earlier out of them, and show them how to connect those points to all the things they’re itching to say (or write) so that they can always bring it back to those, instead of going on tangents or getting too complex. This will help accomplish the second key point – simplify!

There was a lot more excellent wisdom shared during our panelists’ presentations, and some very thoughtful questions from our audience that brought out even more insight – too much to summarize here. We hope the above points give you a flavor of what was a very interesting event along with some helpful tips you can use.

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