For the first time in memory Microsoft is barring press from its annual meeting of financial analysts, which is taking place Thursday at the company’s headquarters in Redmond.
The company couldn’t have chosen a worse year to provide more limited access to details of its strategy and outlook. Microsoft is undergoing an epic transformation — reorganizing and resetting its strategy, changing executives and expanding into global manufacturing and distribution.
Interest in the company is at a high point, following Chief Executive Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire, as is confusion about the direction the company is heading.
Yes, there will be a webcast of the analyst meeting.
But much of the information exchange at the meeting happens in hallways, during meals and at receptions where executives mingle and chat about the business with analysts who fly across the country to better understand the company and the mindset of its leaders.
Microsoft’s been honorably transparent and candid at these events until now. It makes you wonder if the company has something to hide or is less confident about its strategy and outlook.
Or maybe it’s just trying to be like other tech companies. Over the past year or so Microsoft has become more secretive in general, particularly about product roadmaps and its perspective on industry trends.
Financial disclosures are regulated and the company has to disseminate material information broadly. A webcast may meet the letter of these disclosure requirements but it’s a narrow, edited glimpse of what’s really happening at a meeting.
Outraged reporters have been haggling with Microsoft’s PR team, to no avail.
Asked why the change, the company’s top spokesman, Frank Shaw, told me that it decided “to optimize the event for financial analysts.”
“This is their one opportunity to collectively meet with our senior leadership team, and we decided a more intimate setting was a better choice,” he said via email. “We are strongly committed to ensuring that all content is available to the public, which is why, as in years past, everything will be webcast live at Microsoft.com/investor.”
I doubt that all the content will be available online.
Analysts are so keen on the “bonus material” offered at these meetings, they rush to the side of Ballmer and his lieutenants in between presentations. Doughnut-shaped crowds form around the executives, with analysts pressed together, straining to hear every word.
Watching a webcast of this event will be like seeing a great concert via a YouTube clip on a smartphone. You really had to be there….