The Wall Street writer must adhere to the principle of New York Stock Exchange Rule 405, “Know Your Customer”. In Wall Street the “Customer” is the broker, the money manager, the analyst, the investor, the competitor, the possible partner. The goals of all corporate communication should be accuracy, clarity, transparency, and simplicity.
Corporate communication is format, as well as deadline, driven. The usual formats available are the press release, the annual report, the slide presentation, conference calls, etc. A news release will be viewed either as an email or read from a communications terminal linked to the Internet, and on dedicated channels such as Dow Jones, Bloomberg, and Reuters. The release should present the facts of the news item without embellishment. If the news is positive and includes numbers, those numbers should appear somewhere in the title of the release. If the title has a numerical component the entire release stands a better chance of being picked up by Dow Jones and posted on their news stream. A quote by someone from senior management can be used to place the news item in a meaningful context. Whether positive or negative, an executive voice should be used to contextualize the news. Any boilerplate reference to the Company itself should be reserved for the end of the release, just before the disclaimer. This “blurb” should also include a hyperlink to the Company’s website. Whenever possible the narrative component of a news release should fit onto one page and should leave the reader with a complete mental snapshot.
Slide presentations should be in PowerPoint format, and are generally 20-30 slides/pages long. A common mistake in the construction of PowerPoint/Slide presentations is using too much narrative. There should be more information in graphic form and less narrative. Invariably the presenter reads the narrative which appears before the viewer in the slide. This has a patronizing effect. A slide is a visual medium and should be treated as such with liberal use of graphs, charts and other images.
A presidents’ letter or similar document will appear as hard copy in the front of annual reports. Marketing material for products or services is usually combined with graphics, and the vehicle will be brochures or structured CDs. In each instance the responsibility of the writer is to deliver a message without overwhelming the audience with too much information, too many subjects, or visual chaos. In the case of verbal presentations such as conference calls and speeches, it is important to have a transcript of the presentation available for filing purposes where disclosure is an issue. Such transcripts can be filed with the SEC on Form 8-K in satisfaction of full disclosure requirements.
Reporting companies required to file quarterly financial results, accompanied by notes and narrative context, have the opportunity to further the readers’ knowledge about the evolution of the enterprise in how the company’s financial results are explained, whether the material is positive, neutral or negative. The writer’s job is to package it as coherently as possible. Successful corporate communications should achieve clarity and transparency.
In a sense good corporate writing is plied on a field, and the boundaries of the field can be marked off. In “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell, the author of “1984” noted: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Writing is one of the ways the mind organizes and strengthens itself. Writers, due to their engagement with senior management, have the potential to significantly influence aspects of the company’s business at every level in which they are engaged. Transparency is a program, clarity is a skill. Consider all of the above when engaging a writer’s services, it is one of the most important decisions you and your company will make.
As Cicero noted, "It is doubted whether a man ever brings his full force on a subject until he writes upon it."
1: any of various flies that bite or annoy livestock 2: usu. purposely annoying or provoking person; especially one that stimulates or provokes to activity and especially to the analysis and defense of ideas by persistent criticism, especially of an irritatingly pointed kind.
Webster's Third New International Dictionary
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