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Milk Arrowroot AGMs

Pods, parking and moving on from the Milk Arrowroots – your AGM reimagined

Prime the hot-water urn, polish last year’s speech and crack open the packet of Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot biscuits.

It’s AGM season, on paper the most important time of year for public companies, though in practice usually not much more than a wasted opportunity to engage with your V.I.S. – the very important stakeholder otherwise known as your retail shareholder.

Granted, the annual meeting is for all shareholders – large and small – though convention dictates that bigger holders receive regular attention throughout the year, leaving the smaller end of the register as the mainstay who attend this annual gathering on a day in November.

(Technically, AGM season is already underway but the full flurry of meetings is reserved for November.)

The value or otherwise of AGMs has been debated for several years now. What is the point, smaller companies are particularly fond of asking, in forcing us to go through the time and money expense of holding an annual box-ticking meeting attended by only a handful of shareholders?

More and more large caps now take the excuse of the AGM to coincide the meeting with a shareholder briefing and Q&A session. This works a treat if you are the size of BHP, Wesfarmers or a bank – though I doubt it will be anything but a routine box-ticking exercise for the Big Four banks at their next AGMs.

For most companies this year’s AGM format is locked and loaded.

But as you go through your practice run – and let’s hope you do a practice run – consider the following five tips:

  1. How easily accessible is your AGM meeting venue? Is it easy to find, is nearby parking available, and does it cater for shareholders with accessibility challenges?
  2. Are there enough seats, is the lighting appropriate and is the sound system adequate? Without wanting to write off some of the older meeting venues around Perth, you may find it’s time to move on from the 1970s carpets and heavy curtains, dim mood lighting and rooms where it is impossible to hear from the back what is said at the front. Not least because the hot-water urn is so loud.
  3. Speaking of urns, how about you upgrade at least to a pod-coffee machine? And why not put on a tray of fresh muffins? The extra cost will be a pittance but help endear you to at least some of the shareholders, particularly if you are communicating that times are tough even though executive pay packets are up.
  4. Most importantly, are you ready to sell your story? In fact, do you have a story to sell? Don’t be put off by the low attendance at last year’s AGM. Re-work your corporate narrative, modify it to suit an audience of retail shareholders – that is, tell a story and spell out the vision and passion – and practice, practice and practice its delivery. Think of your AGM as an event in two parts – the mundane formalities (the formal bit) followed by an update briefing to shareholders (the informal bit) on your company’s progress, its ambitions and challenges, in a way that encourages engagement from the floor.
  5. And finally, hang around and get to know your shareholders. Don’t finish the formal part and hide near the lectern with your fellow directors. Introduce or reacquaint yourself with the people whose investments you are managing.

AGMs have been around forever and are here to stay. But that doesn’t mean the way you approach this annual mandated catch-up with shareholders has to remain stuck in the past.

Peter Klinger is Cannings Purple’s Director of Media Strategy. He has provided strategic communications advice on more than $1 billion worth of corporate transactions over the past year. Peter is a former Business Editor of The West Australian and has also worked for The Times (London) and the Financial Review. Contact Peter

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