There are times when concepts belong in a graphic for context, but not being data points in and of themselves, they aren’t chartable. On these occasions, a simple drawing accompanied by a very brief and clear description of the target concept can be a welcome addition to an earnings infographic. Remember that as a story teller, it’s not always possible or necessary to convey meaning through financial charts. If you’re working with operational metrics or non-GAAP data specifically, you’re already accustomed to thinking outside the box. But for those times when no kind of visual can convey the meaning you want, sometimes drawings in infographics can make up the gap.
A Cautionary Tale
Keep in mind that this technique has the potential to come off as pandering if the information is too simple. In the heyday of the first gold market boom, companies were known to circulate out-of-proportion “cartoons” of their prospective deposits to investors in ways that would be ridiculed today, and earn them an SEC probe for good measure.
If used without enough illustrated data, or if the information has no relevance to the data, purposeless illustration can be a letdown at best. To a researcher, an infographic bereft of data is the IR equivalent of a free waterskiing excursion that ends up being a pitch for a condo timeshare. Stick with the numbers, though, and the context graphics can be powerful.
Where your data fits
Faced with the challenge of showing how their core business – satellite communication technology – is part of the rapidly growing and highly relevant smart grid, iDirect produced a simple graphic showing the potential applications of their technology in that context. Without the smart grid data in the bottom half of the graphic, the top panel is little more than a cartoon. By including illustrated research data with the integration diagrams, they’ve started a reader’s imagination, and attached their technology to a growth market that it isn’t often associated with.
As iDirect’s graphic implants itself and its satellite communications services as players in the smart grid market, likely making it a hot IPO one day, more readily identifiable parts of the smart grid market aren’t getting through as well, perhaps for lack of illustration. American Superconductor makes the types of cables that eliminate line-loss, the types of controllers necessary to tie alternative energy sources to the grid (and the smart grid) and various other forms of industrial energy management equipment and software necessary to enable the rollout of next century infrastructure. Yet, the only graphic on their IR fact sheet  showcases a Non-GAAP net loss quarter-over-quarter.
Should you show losses?
Operating losses aren’t uncommon amongst growth-phase companies. Analysts could see those losses as a necessary element of a company positioning themselves to take part in what could be one of the greatest infrastructure buildouts since the US interstate highway system. An IRO or investor relations firm might choose to make that clear with an operational illustration alongside the financial graph. The total miles of superconducting cable that they’ve laid, or the line-loss that has been saved by those installations would be interesting. Even something as seemingly boring as their order backlog, and the rate at which they expect to work through it. All of these are valid operational data points that your investor content strategy can highlight.
AMSC’s own annual report cites market research that values the market for HTS products at nearly $400.0 million and forecasts growth to over $2.0 billion by 2019. That would be a very interesting point of data context for a quarter-over-quarter net loss. Despite being in a very operational position, all AMSC can seem to get press for is having their technology stolen by their partners.  Businesses are prone to unfortunate developments, and if a company doesn’t proactively highlight the most interesting and compelling parts of their business, they risk their complications becoming more newsworthy, and receiving more media coverage and value.