Anniversary of Lehman downfall offers opportunity to look forward

September is here. One year after the fall of Lehman Brothers. We've been through the Credit Crunch, the Financial Meltdown and the Great Recession.

September is here. One year after the fall of Lehman Brothers. We've been through the Credit Crunch, the Financial Meltdown, and the Great Recession. This September, the Dow is up 30% from March. Corporations are raising new equity capital. Mergers and acquisitions have returned. IPOs are ready to follow. Asset-allocating investors are—gasp—hiking equities' allocation. So what does this mean for financial communications? Here are a few ideas:

After investors work through credit and liquidity, they next want to know, what will you look like when the Great Recession ends? Can you grow? Can you turn a tidy profit? Can you give holders a return on their investment?

So it's time to update the, “We've got a future” story. But don't throw out the slides about liquidity, leverage, sustainability, and, most critically, survivability. No one knows if our fledgling recovery is for real. The financial sector is still purging bad news from its balance sheets. The general economy's recovery is pretty tepid. The best story: “Upside if recovery, survival if not.”

In this environment, everyone is a de facto value investor. Growth is secondary, aggressive growth scarcely mentioned. The new metric of choice: Recurring revenue streams. These offer growth potential and margin improvement when things get better; in the meantime, they pay the bills. Speculative revenue streams get severely discounted. Consistent financial performance is today's prize.

Long-term investors sat out the meltdown, analysts had only short-termers (e.g., hedge funds) to talk to. Analyst bonuses now derive largely from trading volume. Analysts might not tell your long-term value story with gusto. Watch for the term “catalyst”: For analysts, it's anything that spurs trading volume, right away quick; for investors, it's anything that moves share price, right away quick.

Financial media won't be much help: Advertisers abandoned them in droves (some subscribers, too). Stripped down reporting staffs are told to grab reader attention. That means big news and bad news; there's plenty of both these days. But not much room for, “Company does pretty well with boring, intelligent plan.” Social media, so far, doesn't tell financial stories so well.

Who will tell your story, then? Probably, you will do it yourself. There's a new wave of Web site, e-mail, and electronic presentation techniques to support your storytelling. But this is prime-time for person-to-person contact, with the people you've missed for the last year, and the ones you've always been meaning to meet. Amazingly, a lot of them say they're ready to hear from you.

James T. MacGregor is vice chairman of The Abernathy MacGregor Group

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