Strategy & planningCase studies

AkzoNobel: Integrated communications … led by Investor Relations

  • AkzoNobel's sustainable investor relations practices are defined by two factors
  • They are fully integrated with sustainability communications across the business - which requires collaboration between different departments
  • They are driven and directed by the investor relations department - wherever those communications relate to investors

AkzoNobel is a paints and coatings company based in the Netherlands with a long history of engagement with investors on sustainability issues.

Having completed the company's '15 by 20' strategy, bringing it into line with peers when it comes to margin performance, , the company now needs to communicate to investors how it can pivot towards growth' while continuing to improve profitability as part of its 'Grow & Deliver' strategy.

Also, the company has identified over the past three years, how the percentage of investors identified as having an interest in ESG increased from 11% to c. 40% in 2020 - mostly driven by reclassification of institutions / funds already holding AkzoNobel - underlining the 'mainstreaming' of sustainable investment.

The company, therefore determined to communicate sustainability messages alongside and integrated with its core financial message.

Integrated with other sustainability communications

AkzoNobel's sustainable business strategy - named “People. Planet. Paint.” - articulates how the company aims to empower its people, reduce its impact on the planet and consistently innovate to deliver sustainable solutions for its customers.

First and foremost, it was recognised that the sustainability message given to investors needed to be consistent with this central principle and also with all other sustainability communications from the company.

AkzoNobel Infographic

"Alignment and consistent narrative” are achieved by bringing together different stakeholders (including the sustainability team, the communications team and the investor relations team) to develop sustainability messages - as all have responsibility for communication to different stakeholders.

Integrated on the company's IR website pages

The first evidence of integration comes from the investor relations pages which prominently feature - on the investor relations page - links to all of the information that a sustainable investor might need about the company - including to sustainability reporting and to external benchmarks.

Integrated with financial results and 'mainstream' investor meetings

Whenever it presents financial results, AkzoNobel updates analysts on progress against its People. Planet. Paint. objectives and its targets for 2025 - 2030.  By publishing ESG data regularly and doing so alongside financial data normalises sustainability communications as something of relevance to all investors.

In addition to these integrated communications to 'mainstream' investors, the company also participates in:

AkzoNobel Infographic

  • Two or more ESG-focused conferences each year - typically one in the Spring and one in the Autumn
  • … and provides a number of supplements to the Annual Report to serve the specific needs of sustainable investors and ESG ratings agencies

Preparation required

Ahead of any direct investor communications, the investor relations team leads an internal practice session with the different members of the company who may be present at the investor meeting.  For example, before an investor call, the IR manager may be joined by the chief technology officer and a sustainability manager.  The purpose of this session is to determine who will present on which subject and to prepare for question sessions.  The company has found that identifying in advance which of the presenting team is best positioned to provide answers to investors leads to “higher quality discussions”.

Also, ahead of any meeting, the investor relations manager will prepare notes on:

  • When and where did we last meet this particular investment firm?
  • When and where did we last meet this particular individual?
  • What topics were they most interested in?

AkzoNobel Infographic

The first two questions are importantly different - as the company recognises that not all sustainable investors are alike.  Different analysts and investors from different cities - running different funds (even if they are all badged as 'sustainable') may have very different interests and subjects on which they want to engage the company.

Integrated with prepared presentation decks

To support ongoing communication with companies across a wide range of sustainability issues, the company has developed a library of presentation “decks” on sustainable investment topics - each covering the different topics that may arise.

There is a “foundation deck” covering the sustainability exposure and practices of the whole company.  However, for an investor with particular interest in, for example, carbon reduction, a presentation deck can easily be tailored and prepared.

Investor Relations in charge

Of course, integration doesn't just happen and it can't be mandated by policy.  Integration needs to be actively managed and, speaking to AkzoNobel, it was clear to us that such management - when related to investors is undertaken on a highly proactive basis from within the IR department.

So, there is a focal point for sustainability-related investor communications who sits within the IR team and is the key liaison when it comes to ESG investor communications. This enables efficient alignment between the different teams, both internally and externally. On the other hand, the whole IR team has to be up-to-speed with all sustainability issues as they form an ever-increasing part of regular investor meetings.s