Companies Casting Wider Web

February 25, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Web has become the information super highway and these days more and more businesses are using it as their official mode of transportation.

The Web is being used more and more for business transactions and activities with one of the latest trends being Web casts for financial announcements.

“I think the true benefit is in giving our company a personality,” said Kate Baxter, manager of investor relations for X-Rite Inc. “And it really opens up our readership and allows our top leadership to really reach out to individual shareholders. You can truly get to know the company and who is running it, and it is more personal.”

X-Rite is one of many local companies now offering Web casts to its investors and the community in general. Baxter noted that the company had previously been offering conference calls until she attended a conference in Chicago in March 2000.

Upon her return, Baxter mentioned to CEO Rich Cook and CFO and Vice President Duane Kluting the idea of Web casts.

“We were really lucky that our management is open to new ideas and willing to try things such as this,” Baxter said.

The process, she added, is really very simple — and cost effective. What X-Rite does is secure a toll free number, in conjunction with AT&T, and then the company doing the Web cast, which in X-Rite’s case is Vcall, dials into the number and puts the call on the Web.

Recently Vcall has advanced to where Baxter said she no longer needs to receive the number from AT&T, but instead calls Vcall directly, which now gives her the dial-in number.

Vcall, in particular, touts the offer of live and archived streaming audio and video Web casts of official investor relations events, including quarterly earnings conference calls, analyst conferences, annual shareholder meetings, merger announcements, product announcements and press conferences.

A schedule of all Web casts that Vcall is hosting is available on the Web site, www.vcall.com.

In addition to the accessibility of the Web cast, it is also cost effective. Baxter noted that the total for each conference call runs the company under $500. Breaking it down on a per-listener basis, X-Rite pays 22 cents per line, per minute.

“Now if there were 500 people that asked for my dial-in line, I could have a problem,” said Baxter. “However, we get about 200-250 people that wind up hitting the Web cast.”

That is quite a difference from the days when X-Rite was only serving about 10 people per conference call.

Not only is the Web cast offered in real time, it is also archived by Vcall and kept for interested parties to access when it is convenient. Accessing an archived Web cast is no additional cost to the company.

“They can hit it at home, later in the day. Some of those people could be employees, investors or people that just want to get to know the company,” said Baxter. “And that again is key. People want to know what the leadership really thinks. Is he excited? Is he happy? (These are) things that no matter how much we play with words, we can’t convey in a press release.”

Each Web cast is presented audibly and is given in a conversational manner, including comments from Cook, Kluting and president Mike Ferrara. Baxter added that each participant has about four pages of material from which to work.

“Everyone is sent a press release before the Web cast date and then the executives work from these pages of material just to make sure they hit everything,” said Baxter. “At the end we have a quick debriefing: ‘How did I sound?’ ‘You sounded bored, you sounded excited,’ and so on. Our particular board wants to hear those things so it is not a problem for us.”

X-Rite offers its live Web casts quarterly to report quarterly financials and to report on business in general.

When X-Rite began doing conference calls in the mid ’80s, Baxter recalled the opening line of the first ever conference call.

“The opening sentence of what we said was, ‘We are working with some space-age phone technology’ — and that was a conference phone,” said Baxter. “That was considered somewhat space age. Look what we are working with now.”           

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