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PondelWilkinson Takes Home Three Awards

Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PondelWilkinson received three awards last week at the Public Relations Society of America, Los Angeles Chapter’s PRISM awards.  The awards recognize outstanding programs and materials created by public relations professionals.

The firm won three awards for the following categories:  Media Relations; Editorials and Op-Ed Columns; and Annual Reports. Pictured above is George Medici and Evan Pondel.

PW’s CEO to Serve as Panelist at Forum for Corporate Directors on February 23

R Pondel small

A focus on board involvement with investors. Roger Pondel of PondelWilkinson will be participating on a panel discussion at the Forum for Corporate Directors exploring the dynamic between board members and investors.

In today’s volatile stock market and increasingly activist investor environment, it is vital that board members fully understand the unfiltered views of investors as they govern theirrespective companies. James Moloney, partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, will moderate a panel on this critical topic February 23, at the 7 a.m. breakfast meeting of the Forum for Corporate Directors, at the Pacific Club, 4110 MacArthur Blvd, Newport Beach.

Directors who are aware of their investors’ perceptions and expectations are far better equipped to clarify, remedy and reinforce their companies’ messages. The panel will feature Glenn Welling, Founder and CIO of Engaged Capital; Glenn Schafer, Chairman of the Board of Janus Capital Group and Lead Director of Genesis HealthCare; and Roger Pondel, CEO of investor relations consultancy PondelWilkinson.

For more information and reservations, email michelle@fcdoc.org or visit http://fcdoc.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PW Clients Mistic and Rentrak Score Top Honors at PRSA Awards

PondelWilkinson clients Mistic and Rentrak recently received top honors at this year’s PRSA-LA PRism awards.PRSA awards

A client since 2013, electronic cigarettes brand Mistic® was recognized with the 2014 PRism Award for news release writing for its 2014 American E-Cigarette Etiquette Survey. Earlier this year, PR Week did a feature highlighting PondelWilkinson’s work on Mistic’s IndyCar campaign.

“This year’s award represents the second time this year that the Mistic team has been recognized by the PR industry,” said Todd Millard, Mistic co-founder and COO. “Not coincidentally, George Medici and the team at PondelWilkinson have been a key partner in working with our leadership to develop and implement Mistic’s strategic PR program, which has helped us in our on-going efforts to expand awareness of our company and products.”

Rentrak (NASDAQ:RENT), the entertainment and marketing industries’ premier provider of worldwide consumer viewership information, received the 2014 PRism Award  of Excellence for Annual Report – Corporate. The award was especially gratifying for the PondelWilkinson account team, who have worked with Rentrak for more than six years.

“It was a great honor to work with Rentrak’s talented marketing team on this year’s annual report,” said Laurie Berman, managing director for PondelWilkinson. “I enjoyed collaborating with the team to develop messaging that complemented the original report design they created in-house. Working together, we created an annual report that not only was visually impactful, but meaningfully communicated Rentrak’s corporate progress and achievements to its stakeholders.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s PRSA PRism winners!

– E.E. Wang, ewang@pondel.com

Glassdoor: Half Full or Half Empty?

glassdoorDuring the last couple of years, a website called “Glassdoor” has steadily garnered more credibility as a Yelp-like resource for job seekers, as well as a recruiting arm for employers. The former is what really drives attention to the site because you can easily search for information about average salaries, benefits, and CEO approval ratings at almost any company you can imagine.  The information is supplied by current and former employees and can be quite illuminating when formulating an opinion about a particular company.

For example, Walmart has been reviewed more than 8,700 times on Glassdoor, with 44 percent of reviewers recommending the retail giant as an employer, 47 percent approving of the CEO, and 31 percent having a positive business outlook about the company. Walmart’s overall rating: 2.8 stars out of five.

And then there is Facebook, which has an overall rating of 4.5 stars, with 89 percent of reviewers recommending the company as an employer, and a staggering CEO approval rating of 96 percent. Not sure about you, but if I had to pick one of these employers simply based on Glassdoor reviews, I’d go with Walmart. Not.

The point is, Glassdoor has become a powerful force in shaping a company’s online reputation, and it is not only job seekers who are leveraging the information – try customers, potential business partners, and, yes, investors. Think about the implications of a publicly traded company growing like gangbusters and then a former or even existing employee posts some sort of harrowing tale about the sausage being made.  So now what?

You call PondelWilkinson. OK, maybe that sounds too self-serving.  Yes, we can help put together a communications strategy on how best to deal with errant Glassdoor reviews, but more importantly, companies cannot ignore Glassdoor.  For good or for worse, it is shaping reputations faster than a viral video of a laughing snowy owl.  And it is not going away.  As of last month, Glassdoor had more than 6.5 million company reviews.

Quick tips for dealing with Glassdoor:

  • For starters, take a look at what people are saying about your company. Some of the information may be constructive and some of it, complete rubbish. Glassdoor apparently reviews all content before it is posted, but if something looks completely off, you should contact the site immediately.
  • Consider engaging in the conversation. Companies are able to respond to what is being said about them, but be forewarned, this could be a slippery slope once a precedent is set that you will actually engage with folks.
  • If you feel positive about your company and you know others do, too, post away and drive your company’s ratings up.

Interestingly, Glassdoor does profile itself on the site. The company has an overall rating of 4.7 stars, and CEO Robert Hohman’s approval rating is 98 percent.

Guess Mark Zuckerberg has some competition.

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Here’s Lookin’ Atchya

“Yorp photou don’t want to hear from us, since nothing good is going to come out of it.”

If those sound like fightin’ words, they are. They were spoken by Jay D. Hanson, one of five members leading the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), www.pcaobus.org, affectionately referred to in corporate circles as “Peek-a-Boo.”   Like in “Peek-a-boo, I see you.”

Hanson spoke recently to an almost standing-room-only crowd at a half-day conference for audit committee members and CFOs of publicly traded companies, sponsored by PondelWilkinson in conjunction with the University of California, Irvine.

The PCAOB was established by Congress in 2002, following passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), to oversee audits of public companies. SOX required that auditors of U.S. public companies be subject to external and independent oversight for the first time in history. Previously, the profession was self-regulated. The Board was created in response to the increasing number of accounting “restatements” (corrections of past financial statements) by public companies during the 1990s, plus the high profile accounting scandals and record-setting bankruptcies by large public companies, notably those in 2002 involving WorldCom and Enron.

“We cannot put people in jail, but we can end careers. We often ask candid questions that make executives squirm.” Hanson said. “Our focus is on internal controls. The most prevalent problems involve guidance, revenue recognition and fair value issues. It is surprising how many CEOs admit they have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to these matters.

“Particularly for small and medium-size companies, being on an audit committee is the hardest job in the boardroom today. Members increasingly are being targeted for lawsuits. And don’t forget cyber threats, as we all see more regularly on the news, impacting millions of people,” Hanson added, seemingly out of context as a thought he did not want to forget to convey. He duly noted that CFOs and audit committee members can also be seen as responsible for such maladies as well.

The Board’s mission is to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit reports. It also oversees the audits of broker-dealers, including compliance reports filed pursuant to federal securities laws, to promote investor protection. All PCAOB rules and standards must be approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and although the Board has no authority over public companies, PCAOB work has wide implications for public companies and their audit committees.

Hanson’s parting advice: “Go beyond minimal requirements and make good use of these three verbs: explain, clarify and disclose.”

Other sponsors of the conference included independent auditing firm Squar Milner; law firm Paul Hastings; financial printer RR Donnelley; and insurance brokerage AON.

– Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

Ad Tech’s Implications for PR and IR

1101110321_400Los Angeles is an epicenter for all things trendy, so it should come as no surprise that the City of Angels is also a hotbed for “Ad Tech” or advertising technology companies. Ad Tech has surfaced as a formidable force in the marketing world, enabling advertisers to slice and dice data to prognosticate trigger points for consumers.

Indeed, advertising and technology have long been consummate bedfellows, but does the rise of the ad tech industry have implications for PR and, perhaps even, IR worlds?

The metrics used in ad tech seem relatively objective, while the variables that factor into the success of PR and IR are often subjective. And yet, PR and IR firms are consistently asked to measure success. It is a conundrum that will likely continue to thwart PR and IR firms with greater frequency, as metrics from contiguous industries, such as ad tech, dominate the collective consciousness of the marketing world.

There are certain variables that PR and IR folks use to gauge success, including media coverage, the number of new analysts covering a company, and attracting new followers on Twitter and LinkedIn. But again, in the ad tech world there is usually a direct correlation between a successful advertising campaign and sales. This isn’t necessarily true for PR and IR.

What is true is that setting realistic expectations apply to all industries, and if you can present a program with achievable goals, it shouldn’t matter what the data say, as long as they support the expectations set forth at the beginning of an engagement.

–  Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Business Folk

Most, if not all, annual reports for 2013 have been published by now, and as investors attempt to glean what went right and what went wrong by wading through pages upon pages of corporate detritus, often the most readable section is that containing the shareholder letter.

Warren Buffet is arguably the most famous writer of shareholder letters because of his folksy, straight-to-the point style.  Buffet is so darn good at writing shareholder letters that myriad chairmen and chief executive officers attempt to emulate his knack for prose. The problem is, Buffet writes in his own voice, and trying to inject his vernacular into your shareholder letter could smack of inauthenticity, or even worse, someone might call you a poser.

Instead of invoking Buffet when trying to conjure up some down-home writing, l’d rather refer to his style as “business folk.”  Yes, it sounds like a music genre for MBAs.  But writing in the style of “business folk” seems a lot less intimidating than trying to emulate a genius.

Following are additional word-buffing tips:

    • Avoid clichés and creative analogies.  Yes, it is tempting to use catch phrases and descriptors to tell the company’s story, but words can easily become distracting, and soon enough the reader loses focus.

 

    • Write as quickly as possible.  This ensures you are writing what you know and staying on point.  It also helps lay a foundation that you can wordsmith later.

 

    • Use metrics that help demonstrate themes.  Numbers are great because they are hard facts, but they also pose challenges because they don’t always tell the full story.  Try to use numbers that help shareholders understand the overall direction of the company.

 

    • Describe the company’s strategic direction.  Many executives underestimate the power of writing and misuse the activity, particularly in shareholder letters, to recapitulate old news.  Effective writing presents a roadmap that can help manage expectations, as well as demonstrate leadership.

 

    • Read what you write out loud to determine if it actually sounds like something you would say.  If you employ a lot of three-syllable words in your daily conversations, then maybe your writing should contain three-syllable words.  (Note: If expletives factor into your daily conversations, then you should edit those out.)

 

    • Use subheads to break up thoughts.  It is easy for readers to get lost in corporate minutiae, which is why it is helpful to have guideposts.  Subheads help hammer home themes we want investor audiences to remember.

 

    • Make sure whatever you write is in reader-friendly formats both online and in print.

 

    • Words are more important than flashy design.  Sure, an interactive quarterly report is nice, but it’s the words that will help investors determine if you have “a wonderful company at a fair price (rather) than a fair company at a wonderful price,” according to a quote from Warren Buffet’s shareholder letter in 1989.

 

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Director Tenure Tops List of Expected 2014 Boardroom Topics

We recently debuted our “heard around the water cooler”  series.  Following is the first installment:IR photo
 
Director tenure topped the list of topics that board members of publicly traded companies are expected to discuss in 2014, according to the Boardroom Water Cooler survey conducted in January by PondelWilkinson Inc., a corporate public relations and investor relations consultancy.
 
Institutional investors are beginning to advocate the concept of “board refreshment,” as a groundswell of concerns surface related to directors who have been in place for significant periods of time.
 
“The conversation clearly has shifted from age-related bias to tenure,” said Laurie Berman, managing director of PondelWilkinson. “Age notwithstanding, there is growing belief that the longer a director has served, the less independent he or she becomes from management, which is contradictory to fundamental governance mandates.
 
“Perhaps for some of the same reasons that term limits exist for political leaders, we soon may see an enactment of board member term limits as part of the increasing democratization of publicly owned companies,” Berman said.
 
The second most popular topic around the boardroom water cooler is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s mixed vote in September 2013 in favor of requiring companies to disclose the pay gap between employees and the CEO.
 
Originally mandated four years ago by the Dodd-Frank Act, if the rule passes, public companies would have to disclose the median of the annual total compensation of all of its employees, excluding the CEO, against the annual total compensation of its CEO, and the ratio of the two amounts.
 
“This proposal follows closely on the heels of the ‘say-on-pay’ advisory votes already in place,” said Evan Pondel, president of PondelWilkinson. “However, since the SEC was not unanimous in its vote, the proposal will likely be subject to strong challenges. Its underlying theme closely tracks the momentum that is building in Washington and elsewhere around income inequality,” Pondel added.
 
Survey results also point to heightened 2014 boardroom discussions about:

 

  • Cybersecurity and wrestling with increasing threats to intellectual property and information systems, such as the Target retail chain recently experienced;
  • Big data and taking full advantage of emerging technology to drive profitable growth;
  • Effective use of social media to enhance brand awareness, along with customer and shareholder loyalty;
  • Interest rates and how management should take advantage soon of what may be historically low rates before it is too late, regardless of current financing needs;
  • How best to comply with the newly required Form SD requiring disclosure beginning in May 2014 of the level of due diligence a company exercised to determine whether its products and products in its supply chain contain conflict minerals;
  • Maintaining valuation after a robust 2013;
  • How to deal with what may be a period of increased shareholder activism and a mindset that activists should be listened to, rather than avoided, and could actually bring good ideas; and
  • The importance of listening to small individual investors as well.

 
The anecdotal survey was compiled by the firm’s staff, who queried public company directors, CEOs and CFOs, sell-side analysts and institutional and individual investors.

Q&A with L.A. Business Journal Reporter

Business reporters play an important role in helping investors identify opportunities. PondelWilkinson caught up with James Rufus Koren, staff reporter of the Los Angeles Business Journal, to shed light on factors that influence his coverage of the banking and finance world.

 

James Rufus Koren, reporter with L.A. Business Journal

James Rufus Koren, reporter with L.A. Business Journal

1. How are social media influencing your coverage of companies?

 

I don’t know that it has changed the game that terribly much because of the type of niche business publication we are. We don’t do a lot of breaking news. We are looking for the analysis story; the exclusive deep read on what’s going on.  I also don’t find social media the best way to get information about banks. The three sentences at the bottom of a 10K are usually much more insightful. That said, if we are looking for a lead, I will search through Twitter to see if anyone is tweeting about a company or I’ll read blogs to see if anyone is talking about a company.

 

2. What characteristics make for a compelling story in the Los Angeles Business Journal?

 

Growth, change and new strategies that speak to the local economy are interesting to me. Big names are also interesting. For example, if Charlie Munger is doing something, we will probably be more interested than if Evan Pondel is doing something (laughter). But often times, what interests me may not interest another reporter. I like to explore parts of the banking and finance world that are not well understood. I look for things that I don’t understand and then try to take a crack at it.

 

3. How would you define an ideal source?

 

An ideal source is someone who is deeply in the know not just about their company or their particular corner of the world but also has a broader knowledge base and a big Rolodex. It’s very helpful when someone can say, ‘hey there is something interesting going on here that you should look at,’ such as a particular sector of the economy. An ideal source is someone who will give you information without the expectation that it will result in something immediate, or something positive for them.

 

4. How do you like to be approached about prospective stories?

 

In general, email is the easiest, but the ideal approach is developing a relationship with me. If you have been helpful in arranging interviews, I am more likely to follow up on story ideas. Sending gifts does not ensure a good story. A number of interesting things come into this office. Thankfully, no one has sent me a fish wrapped in a newspaper.

 

5. Where do you foresee the future of business journalism going?

 

I actually see business journalism continuing to connect with people in more real ways than other kinds of journalism. Many people have a hard time seeing the direct impact of stories about state and local politics, but people who read business stories want information so they can make wise decisions about their money.

 

6. How do you react when a call is not returned?

 

It depends on the information I left in a message. In general, I interpret it as the person has nothing to say for themselves, or that I have things pegged well enough in a story and the person cannot benefit from getting in touch with me. Also, as a business journalist, I understand the limitations of public companies and that certain things cannot be disclosed.

 

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

 

Influence Ebbs for Proxy Advisers

JP Morgan

Influence is waning from firms whose mission, in part, is to recommend how investors should vote in corporate elections, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.  In one striking example, the roles of chairman and chief executive officer remained as one at J.P. Morgan Chase after a widely publicized contest, even though the two largest proxy advisers were in favor of splitting it.
 
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. and Glass Lewis & Co. have long been key influencers when it comes to recommending votes, but with nearly 30 percent more proxy contests in May than last year, issuers have become a lot savvier about engaging investors before entering proxy season.
 
And rightly so.
 
The WSJ citing ISS said investors were able to secure board seats 73 percent of the time this season, compared with 56 percent last year. Nevertheless, issuers that are showing their muscle are starting to win, as was the case with J.P. Morgan.
 
It’s always easy to come up with a “should-a, could-a” list following proxy season.  But one prevailing concept should stick with issuers year round:  a well-devised investor communications and engagement plan helps ensure that management’s side of the story gets heard.  And if such a plan is implemented long enough in advance, investors will take the time to listen and come to their own conclusions long before the ballots are cast.

 

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com
 
 
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