CEO signatures

By | 02/01/2016

If you have covered financial communication and its tools and tactics – you at least have a rough understanding of what an annual report is (From Chapter 7: “a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year (…) intended to give shareholders and other interested people information on the company’s activities and performance.”)

Of course you’re probably not reading annual reports every day and they are certainly not the most accessible and understandable corporate communication out there – but still they are an interesting learning tool for future corporate communicators. And: they are all available for free out there – either for order as printed copy from every company or increasingly also as a digital version on the company’s website. I love to use these reports to study financial communication in my classes hands-on, particularly as over the past few years they have become something like the business card of a company and a key corporate communication tool.

Having said that, I’d like to highlight a recent trend in annual reports. As the audience for these reports has widened to not only include investors and media but simply the general public as well, companies try to make such reports a bit more personal. So these reports lately see a lot of CEO handwriting. Take for example these three letters to the investors from German DAX companies Bayer, Volkswagen and Daimler taken from the 2014 annual reports:

http://www.annualreport2014.bayer.com/en/chairmans-letter.aspx

http://www.volkswagenag.com/content/vwcorp/content/en/investor_relations/share/Letter_to_shareholders.html

http://gb2014.daimler.com/an-unsere-aktionaere/brief-des-vorstandsvorsitzenden

What do you think is the rationale of using the handwriting in such a prominent place here? Well certainly it is meant to position the CEO and thereby the whole company as being close to the reader, so the investors (and in Bayer’s case friends of the company). So I would usually argue that the use of real handwriting in a communication piece gives a piece first of all a personal touch and thereby engages with the audience. But it also shifts communication onto a slightly more informal level (like a letter between friends), which also implies a higher integrity and more honest communication.

But of course they also express something about the CEO. So there are handwriting experts out there that try to analyze the handwriting in more detail and even try to connect these findings to company performance. Have a look for example at this interesting piece by Prof. Nick Seybert in the Harvard Business Review.

What do you think about the use of handwriting here? What do the different writing styles mean for you? I’d invite everyone to share opinion as comment below!

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