Earnings Season: Let Pictures Tell the Story

Today Sprint Nextel Corp. reported earnings for 2009. At publicly traded companies like Sprint, the media relations people work hand-in-hand with the investor relations people to make sure the financial results are reported accurately and in a way that investors and the media can understand. My colleague James Fisher, who works most closely with reporters who have questions about our financial results, does a very good job of answering media questions about Sprint’s financial performance.

The reporters, most of whom don’t have a finance background, are under tremendous deadline pressure to quickly interpret complex financial statements which often include complicated accounting notes. To help them quickly grasp what the numbers are saying, James has started sharing a few simple bar graphs with media on deadline.

The chart on the right is what he sent out this morning.

I think this does several things:

  • It alleviates some of the deadline pressure media face.
  • It ensures reporters aren’t missing important trends in our business. (They may not deem these trends important, but it’s harder for a reporter to ignore them when we point them out in graphical form.)
  • It give reporters some context for some of the questions from the investor community which occur during the conference call. This call is held within 30 minutes of the earnings release crossing the wire and reporters are not allowed to ask questions during this time — the get to speak to James and our executives after the call. To understand my point about context, listen to any earnings call; there’s always a few oddball questions from an analyst who is intimately familiar with the business and doesn’t want to ask the CEO or CFO a general question about financial guidance. (They already know the answer to that question — they’d prefer to get down into the weeds.)

When James sends out these charts, he also includes a brief note with the highlights from the news release announcing quarterly earnings. Since James has started including this as part of his earnings routine, we’ve seen fewer mistakes made by the reporters writing without a financial background (and fewer corrections to stories). We’ve also seen reporters ask the financial analysts who cover Sprint questions about these trends.

While this doesn’t convince media and analysts to ignore poor financial results — they’re too smart for that — it does help tell our company’s story in a clear, simple and convincing way. I recommend this to my fellow media relations professionals. And for your journalists who cover publicly traded companies, I suggest you request this type of information from the PR people you work with — it will make your job easier.


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