FIVE MINUTES WITH TOBY LOW
Toby Low, previously partner at communications agency Brunswick Creative, speaks to Communicate magazine about his new role as executive director at The Edge Picture Company, which specialises in corporate film.
After 12 years at Brunswick Creative, what inspired your move to The Edge Picture Company?
The Edge has been the best-known name in corporate film production for as long as I can remember and so when the chance to join them came up it was not something I could refuse. The team here is quite amazing and the quality of films they produce is a real testament to that. In broadcast they say that you have to work for the BBC at some stage – and it is probably the same with corporate film and The Edge!
What are you hoping to achieve in this new role?
For a long time, it has seemed to me that investor communications has failed to embrace the opportunities that technology has presented. To some extent COVID forced the industry to make the leap – but there is so much more that investor relations teams could be doing. The majority of FTSE 100 results day presentations still look like something from the 90s and it just doesn’t have to be that way. At The Edge I am really hoping to get IR directors and CEOs on board with the idea that there is life beyond PowerPoint and Excel.
The Edge Picture Company was acquired last year by Zinc Media. How do you think that will impact on the operations of The Edge?
I really think it can only be a good thing for us (and for the Zinc group of companies). It is early days for me, but I can already see that there is a whole new skill set here that we can draw inspiration from. When you are in the office with people producing some of the UKs best award-winning factual content it can only help our creativity. I would also hope that this can flow the other way too – corporate film has become more and more creative – and producing impactful short-form content is a real art. On a more practical level it also gives us access to the edit suites and cutting-edge tech at Zinc which will allow us to undertake even more complex projects.
What are the main trends and changes that the investor communications sector is facing?
COVID meant that IR teams realised that they could do a lot more virtually – but that also comes with challenges. The IR teams are also having to wrestle with the fact that their traditional audience – usually a fairly small group of analysts and investors that they know pretty well – is broadening to include all sorts of groups whose primary interest is not in the minutiae of the numbers. The ESG agenda driven by the likes of Black Rock means that non-financial measures are increasingly important – and this type of information is not necessarily best delivered in a table on a slide.
Do you think the investor communications industry seems open to the application of AI technology? Or is there still a wariness, for example around privacy?
I am very far from an expert in this field – but I do know that IR teams and their corporate comms agencies are using AI tools to analyse which words and phrases resonate with investors. If investors themselves are making buying and selling decisions based on AI tools then the businesses that want that investment would be stupid not to be looking at how to make themselves look attractive to those machines! So, although I don’t expect teams to be using ChatGPT to write the CEOs results presentation any time soon, it is being used around the edges in some places – an certainly in areas where investors are relying on machine learning to make buying and selling decisions.
What makes for impactful messaging across investor relations today, in your opinion?
I think that clarity of message is essential – and that those messages need to be delivered to the relevant audiences in the way that they want. I strongly believe that the showpiece CEO/CFO presentation should be seen as a ‘show’ – an opportunity to really inform the audience and give them a valuable snapshot into the performance of the company that goes beyond the numbers. Companies should be using the tried and trusted tricks used by live television to really bring the presentation to life – especially if a large part of the audience is virtual. Far too many companies deliver investor presentations that bear no relation to the brands that they have spent millions developing. At the same time, I am also conscious that some analysts just want the PowerPoint and the data in a spreadsheet that they can quickly import into their model. So, you need something for everyone.