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Reframe Your Story, Unlock Hidden Shareholder Value

Telling your company story well can unlock tremendous value. 

Tele Danmark Message Map
A 1-Page Message Map helped Tele Danmark unlock billions in hidden shareholder value.

By reframing its story, one public company unlocked $2.9 billion in shareholder value. The tool they used: a 1-PageTM Message Map to help them tell their story better.

This story comes from my former employer, Ameritech. In the 1990s, it made a series of investments in European telecom companies.

In October 1997, Ameritech invested $3.2 billion for a 34% stake in TeleDanmark, the national telecom company in Denmark. With a planned stock buy-back, Ameritech’s stake would grow to 42%, while the rest of the company’s shares continued to be publicly traded.

As head of media relations for Ameritech, I drove development of a Message Map, news release, talking points and Q&A to announce the investment. I helped Ameritech CEO Dick Notebaert prepare for his news conference and news interviews on the investment – which went swimmingly.

At first, investors and analysts were completely underwhelmed by the deal. In fact, a story in The Wall Street Journal story said in paragraph two:

“The price, which is 34% over the Danish company’s closing price on Friday, surprised some analysts. The Chicago-based Bell company is ‘paying a premium price for low growth,’ according to Chris McFadden, an analyst for Merrill Lynch & Co. in London.”

Tele Danmark logoAfter the deal closed, Dick asked me to help Tele Danmark executives tell their story better. We would use the same messaging tool Ameritech used – a Message Map.

I traveled to Copenhagen with Tripp Frohlichstein of Media Masters, co-inventor of Message Maps. We worked all day with Tele Danmark’s CEO, CFO and vice president of communications on a new message. By the end of the day, we’d developed a 1-Page Message Map for TeleDanmark.

The story that an American telecom company had invested in a Danish telecom company had already been told.

Tele Danmark’s new message shone a bright light on hidden value.

  • Due to a healthy Danish economy, its new digital network and abundant opportunities to improve productivity, Tele Danmark was in fact a growth story.
  • Ameritech’s investment in Tele Danmark had made it the largest U.S. investor in European telecom, with an $8 billion portfolio.
  • The European telecom market was growing 13% a year, much faster than the U.S. market at that time. The European market was forecast to grow to $578 billion by 2001.

So we framed a bigger story about Europe. Ameritech and Tele Danmark had created a partnership for growth in Denmark and Europe. Tele Danmark would become our gateway to northern Europe, a springboard for growth.

In fact, Tele Danmark already had investments in 9 countries, including cellular and competitive telecom companies. Those investments complemented Ameritech’s investments in Belgium, Hungary, Norway and elsewhere.

To help shareholders visualize the European growth opportunity, in the Ameritech annual report we included a map showing all our European investments.

Domestically, Tele Danmark would take steps to strengthen its core domestic telecom business. It would capitalize on its new digital network by increasing productivity and selling new software-defined features (made possible by its new network). And Tele Danmark would focus on improving productivity, which lagged U.S. levels.

How did Tele Danmark’s reframed message work?

Fantastic, thanks to Tele Danmark executives who used the Message Map to reframe the story. They delivered a concise, compelling, crystal-clear message to customers, shareholders and employees. And they kept their message absolutely consistent for over a year.

Tele Danmark had yet to make any significant operational changes. But telling its story much better helped the company almost double the stock price and unlock $2.9 billion in shareholder value. Ameritech’s Tele Danmark stake grew from $3.2 billion to $6.1 billion.

A Message Map can’t create all that value by itself. Reframing your message works best in tandem with strong leaders executing a solid strategy.

Ameritech executives did a great job in uncovering value at Tele Danmark, negotiating a deal to acquire the stake, operating the company smoothly — and telling the story better.

But without a Message Map to focus its story, Tele Danmark might have gotten stuck with the “low growth” label.

Imagine. How much value could your company unlock by telling its investor story better?