From retail punters to the largest money managers, few investors research a company without first paying its corporate website a visit. The good news for European companies is that their sites are now considered top-notch. Eight of the top ten companies in this year’s Financial Times/Bowen Craggs corporate website index are European, with German industrial group Siemens at number one. In terms of serving investors, six European firms feature in the top ten, with UK oil company BP in the lead position.
“If you had done this study in 2000, you would have found American companies dominating the top slots,” says David Bowen, a consultant with Bowen Craggs.
Why are European sites pulling ahead? By providing information in a “thoughtful, rather than chuck-it-all-in, way,” says Bowen. Consider Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods firm which was ranked number nine in the IR index this year. In addition to publishing its 2007 annual report in an interactive HTML format (rather than only as a static PDF download) for the first time, it now offers results presentations as podcasts and webcasts, and allows visitors to the site to sign up for email alerts and RSS feeds for Unilever news.
John Rothenberg, Unilever’s head of IR, says that among the overarching principles guiding the improvements are “simplification, speed, cost-effectiveness and sustainability.” More fundamentally, the IR team asks itself whether any change will “deliver a better understanding of Unilever’s strategy and our ability to deliver against it.”
The fact that companies such as Unilever are now asking so much of their websites is a sign of how far IR on the web has come. After all, not long ago, simply having a website at all was considered cutting edge.