Still shot from Solid Gold Cadillac
Still shot from Solid Gold Cadillac

Last week, I stumbled across a black and white film called The Solid Gold Cadillac starring Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas.

And like so many movies it got me thinking about communications, particularly the importance of shareholder and client relations.

In case you haven’t seen it, the 1956 film, based on a hit Broadway play, has Holliday playing a minority shareholder taking on the board while the founder is in Washington working for the President. To keep her from asking too many questions, the board makes her Director of Shareholder Relations. And now for the spoiler … all ends well. The board think they’ve silenced Ms Holliday’s characters and her 10 shares but thanks to the success of her shareholder relations program, she and the founder have enough proxies to replace the entire board. It ends with some very grateful shareholders giving the happy couple – yes they get married – a solid gold Cadillac.

It begs the question, when did you get your last solid gold Cadillac from a client or shareholder? And how can you ensure they keep coming or at least the compliments, referrals and custom keep flowing.

It also reminded me of a wonderful non-fictional shareholder relations story; the relationship the world’s third richest man Warren Bufffett has developed with his shareholders and the wonderful letters he writes to them each year.

So what is shareholder or investor relations?

Wikipedia says: “Investor Relations is a strategic management responsibility that integrates finance, communication, marketing and securities law compliance to enable the most effective two-way communication between a company, the financial community, and other constituencies…The term describes the department of a company devoted to handling inquiries from shareholders and investors, as well as others who might be interested in a company’s stock or financial stability.

While not every organisation has shareholders they all have stakeholders – customers, clients, members, donors, students or supporters – who all have communication needs.

And stakeholder relations is not only for Fortune 500 companies with millions of stakeholders; any organisation – big or small – can learn from the stakeholder relations experiences of the Solid Gold Cadillac and Warren Buffett:

  • Move away from corporate speak and develop a personal approach to your correspondence and communication – don’t be afraid to be a little humorous
  • Randomly pick a stakeholder from your database and send them a letter; ask them what they think about the company and why they’re still involved – you’ll be amazed at the response
  • Be open and honest about your successes and your failures – own up, take responsibility and move on
  • Remember, every shareholder and customer is as important as the next, no matter how few shares or products/services they buy.

Finally, all the way through the movie I thought she would end up on the board and do a darn sight better job than her male counterparts. It’s interesting given the ongoing discussion about the low number of women on boards in Australia.

Enjoy your Cadillac,

the c word