Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jackson's Back - Fortune 500 Beware!

Eric Jackson is back! He's the activist shareholder behind Yahoo! Plan B and perhaps one of the reasons that Terry Semel was ousted from office. His tools: MySpace, YouTube, a blog, a wiki and never ending energy. Now he's back and has set his sites on Motorola, the fledging cell phone manufacturer. He specifically states on his Motorola Plan B website that Ed Zander of Motorola has led to 13.5% returns for the stock versus 35% for the S&P and 37% for Nokia. Through another social media tool,, he's been able to aggregate 422,430 shares of stock so far (the campaign is 3 days old). Dominic Jones from IRWebReportDaily has some interesting insights into the evolution of the web and how Jackson is taking things to the next level. With low commission online brokerages popping up, ownership in stock has risen to all time highs. Similarly, the web has brought together like minded folks in a type of shareholder activism. However, while people like Jackson are targeting the tech savvy, Jones still believes that true power lies in the "soccer moms" that can pull money out of their mutual funds as the ones with the true power. He cites the Disney debacle a few years ago as the first and strongest of these showings.

Wow. From an IR perspective this could be a logistical nightmare. Before all we had to worry about were the few fund managers and maybe now a few hedge fund managers that owned our stock. Now how do we answer every question out there that every mom and pop shareholder want answered yesterday? While most of these individual investors are not Eric Jackson, we don't know who will be and that's scary. So what's the answer to this?

I think transparency is the key to effective communications with the public and especially to the masses. Apple did it with their defective iPod battery and folks realized that although Steve Jobs is sometimes a god, he's still human. Dell didn't do it with their firey laptop batteries and they paid the PR price. Yahoo didn't admit its mistakes in losing Google, then Facebook, and Semel paid the price. Is blogging the way to go? Perhaps. Johnathan Schwartz from Sun Microsystems keeps a blog that sometimes gets him into trouble.

I think the general public will accept mistakes but they won't accept dishonesty or cover up. Admit mistakes and let your investors know about them before they leak out and there's a PR nightmare....

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