Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers
Earnings calls are a critical part of any ROI strategy. In fact, they’re probably the most critical part. Hiring an excellent conference call service provider is a good step to take, as they are professionals in this area and, ostensibly, will have the expertise and experience to do it well.
But even when working with a qualified service provider, you will also want to stay on top of things to make sure it all goes as smoothly as possible. Here are 10 tips from the white paper Flawless Earnings Calls: Pump Up the Volume of Your Earnings Events, written and released by InterCall.
1. Start early
Starting your preparations for an effective earnings call at the end of the previous quarter is not unheard of. Hash out what your key messages will be, get them approved and write your press release and script well in advance so you’re not racing against deadlines to get them written. You don’t even need final numbers to get these written. They can be plugged in later when you get them and the script can be updated accordingly.
A quick checklist for successful earnings calls:
- Plan the call ahead of time.
- Put together the invitation list.
- Develop your content.
- Schedule the call with your provider.
- Get the phone in numbers well in advance.
- Request a branded telephone number that reflects your company name or products, as this makes it easy to remember and can help with branding.
If your call provider offers the service, work with the earnings call specialist to help you with the logistics to make sure everything flows smoothly. Obviously the middle of the call is the least opportune time for glitches and unwelcome surprises.
Choosing the right time to send out invitations can be a bit tricky. You don’t want to send them too early lest it fall off people’s radars and sending them too late will mean potentially conflicting with people’s set schedules, likely annoying them also.
It’s best to send them out at least a week ahead of time and maximum two weeks ahead of time. Ten days ahead of time seems right around perfect, with a friendly reminder sent out to key attendees the day before the event.
2. Develop and focus on key messages
At events like this where numbers are being thrown around like cream pies at a clown convention (I guess, I’ve never actually been to one) it can be difficult to retain the information that’s flying around fast and furiously. So it’s best to have a few key messages (probably five max.) that you want attendees to take away and reinforcing those messages throughout the call.
You can make sure everyone is on the same page by providing speakers with cheat sheets with the key messages so they can reference them and the CEO should take a moment at the end of the call to reiterate your key messages. The final thing people hear is what sticks with them. The point is to not let your investors define you and if they come away from your earnings call with muddled or too many messages to deal with, they’ll just make up their own.
Of course, having said all that, you also shouldn’t just repeat your key messages while ignoring everything else. Don’t forget to listen to investor and sell side feedback and address any concerns they bring up.
3. Make it interesting
An interesting and memorable earnings call might seem like an oxymoron but it needn’t be.
If you are concise (and don’t underestimate the importance of that word) and you put your business results into the meaningful context of the current market and the company’s future goals, you will go a long way to making the call at least interesting. Identify the important trends your company should know about and let investors know how those trends will likely affect the company.
Investors want to know that management is in control and knows what’s going on. And they almost certainly want to be able to ascertain that within a short amount of time.
Some practical logistics tips:
- During the call, read prepared remarks from a screen at eye level and avoid looking down at a script.
- Have speakers stand while talking. This increases the power of their voice.
- Have speakers convey enthusiasm and avoid reading the script monotonously (which means practicing and getting feedback on their performances).
- Use a conference provider that will allow you to see who is on the call and what questions they’ve asked so that management can address investors by name while answering their questions during the Q&A.
- Prioritize questions as they come in so the most important ones have the best chance of being answered.
4. Make sure you’re giving them something new
Your call will seem kind of pointless if you just rehash information that is already available to people. Give them new information. This is the best medium for helping your investors to point out how trends and other external events affect the company. You may even want to get in touch with a few of your key attendees ahead of time and query them about what they’d like to see addressed.
If you’re going to be live tweeting during the call, don’t just offer information that’s in the scripted remarks or the earnings release. If you’re just tweeting what people can get elsewhere, there won’t be much point in following your Twitter feed. Have your tweets prepared ahead of time and push them out individually rather than putting them on autotweet. (Is that a word yet?)
5. Use visuals
Slides and video are a great way to illustrate things and make your key messages easier to remember and help to make things simpler to understand in general. But only if they’re used correctly. That means keeping them uncluttered, using white space effectively and keeping them to one or a few key points using only key words and numbers. Remember they aren’t there to explain things, they are there to help the speakers explain things.
You can post the slides and video to your IR website after the call to make them available (along with a downloadable call transcript and/or a recording of it) for those who could not attend the call. Many service providers have security measures that will allow you to choose who has varying levels of access to the material.
6. Time your call strategically
The big fish can schedule their earnings calls whenever they want because they know they’ll draw an audience. Smaller fish need to monitor these dates and try and find a gap they can fill in to ensure they’re attracting the people they invite instead of the junior associates who might come as replacements. So, if your company is more Nemo than Jaws, keep that in mind.
7. Establish a Triple R
Regular reporting routine, that’s what it stands for. It makes for consistency and makes scheduling simpler. If you have a regular time and day for announcements, people will know when to expect them. This goes for your earnings calls, too. Try to keep them around the same times of the year each time so people will eventually learn to anticipate them.
It’s not just for high school drama class. Do a dry run, making sure to have the scripted material read aloud to see what it sounds like and have a mock Q&A session (asking the toughest possible questions you can think of). Record the whole thing, play it back and analyze it to see what areas you can improve.
Have an agenda, stick to it as best you can and make sure whoever is introducing the speakers knows ahead of time how to pronounce their names. A good trick is to do what the professional broadcasters do and have a phonetic spelling of difficult to pronounce names written after them. For example, my name would be written as Rob Swystun (Swiss-tun).
And make sure all the technology works and that the people who are going to use it actually know how to do that. There’s nothing quite so awkward as waiting while an otherwise highly respected CEO fumbles around trying to get a video or slideshow to play while mumbling about “getting this darned thing to work.”
Look for potential noisemakers that could disrupt a call (a noisy air conditioner, for example) and make sure they aren’t able to disrupt anything. And have that H2O handy for everybody. Nobody wants to be mid-speech with a dry throat.
9. Anticipate the Q&A
The most important and least controllable part of the whole call is the Q&A. The moderator, as mentioned earlier, should be able to prioritize questions so that if there are an abundance the most important ones — and that does not mean the most comfortable or easiest to answer — get answered.
Going back to the previous point, where you ask the most difficult questions during your rehearsal, you’ll want to have these covered so that you have answers at the ready. It’s best not to have any answers fully scripted, though, as you want to avoid seeming like you’re just reading a scripted answer. It’s better to jot down some talking points for each answer to draw from. How much you have answers prepared will depend also on how comfortable the person giving the answer is with talking off the cuff.
If someone catches you with a question that you just didn’t anticipate and you don’t have a ready answer for, don’t go “politician” and start spewing hot air at random. Give it some thought and craft even a brief answer. A few seconds of dead air is not the end of the world, it just indicates to people that you’re thinking about what to say. (This is why politicians almost never pause before answering questions.)
10. Follow up
Consider sending out a survey to call attendees after the call to have them evaluate how it was handled. You can mention briefly near the end of the call that you’re doing this so they are expecting it. You probably won’t want to do it after every call lest it get annoying but at east once per year for evaluation sake.
Conduct your own in-house postmortem, paying close attention to the content and presentation and if there are more efficient ways of doing it.
Ask the following questions during your postmortem:
- How many attendees actively participated in the Q&A and who were they?
- Were you ready for investors’ questions?
- Were the questions and comments appropriate or did your attendees seem to have missed your key messages?
- Did most attend the entire session?
- If not, at what point(s) did they drop off?
Send a link to the call recording and other material to registrants who did not attend so they can experience the call at their convenience.
Follow these top ten tips and your earnings call will be consistently good and smooth.