Disclosure of revenue profiles by reports published in 2017

As with a previous post, to study revenue profiles I zeroed in on a set of 14 survey-research reports published by law firms in 2017. 1 That post considers how fully and consistently the firms shared profile information on their participants’ industries. Here the focus turns to how that group of reports disclosed aggregated categories of their participants’ annual revenue.

To start with discouraging news, eight reports tell readers absolutely nothing about the revenue of their respondent population (one chose, oddly, to give three market cap categories). This tell-nothing decision by eight law firms is regrettable because readers of their reports are severely handicapped in judging how credible the report is and, more specifically, how well its findings apply to the reader’s organization. The omission of this profile (demographic) data also suggests that the firms did not analyze their findings by revenue categories.

Turning to the remaining six reports, four give only a single revenue indicator, such as “almost half the respondents reported revenue of greater than $1 billion.” In the plot below, those reports show only two bars: one for the amount of revenue stated and up and one slightly less than the amount stated and down. Thus, based on the single indicator, I created a binary categorization of revenue.The reports of Norton Fulbright and Hogan Lovells exemplify splendidly what survey reports should do. They broke their respondents into three or six revenue categories, respectively. As royalty, they deserve to have purple bars, compared to the yellow bars of the other firms. In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I slightly modified some of the range data as given so that the the plot has more uniformity.

It is clear that the revenue categories applied by the firms that used categories cover an extremely wide range, from less than $99 million to more than $20 billion. Moreover, each firm conjured up its own category boundaries, with almost no standardization across the reports (except what I imposed). Three reports used “more than $ billion”, but that was the only shared category. As with demographic reporting on industries, everyone in the legal profession would gain if there were more disclosure of revenue demographics and more consistent use of similar bands.

Notes:

  1. The post explains how the reports were chosen and which firms were represented in the data set.

Disclosure of respondents’ revenue through multiple choice questions

In comparison to the demographic attributes reviewed so far (i.e., the disclosure and explanation of respondents’ positions, geographies, and industries), respondent revenue turns out to be not only the least elaborated but also the least standardized. This relatively poor showing may have happened because the respondents didn’t know or didn’t want to disclose their organization’s revenue, so the surveying law firm felt the data it collected was too fragmented. It might also have been that the firms did not think that corporate revenue would make a systematic difference in the answers given nor would it aid in the analysis of the data. On the darker side of interpreting the poor showing of revenue categories and percentages, it might be that the firms sensed that their mix of participants displayed unimpressive revenue.

In any event, my examination of 16 survey reports found that three categories cover the variability of disclosure.

Clear and full breakdown: A trio of law firm reports help readers gauge the annual turnover and distribution of the survey respondents’ organizations by breaking out their revenue into three-to-six category ranges. Across the three firms, their ranges started at less than $500,000 but went up to more than $20 billion. Of the fifteen different ranges used, only one of them — $5 billion to $10 billion — appeared more than once. For each range, these three firms included the percentage of respondents whose revenue fell within the range.

Some facts but incomplete breakdown: Six firms stated something about revenue in their report but unlike the three firms described above they did not provide a full breakout with ranges or percentages. For example, one firm wrote ‘Almost half of the survey respondents work for businesses with annual revenues of $1 billion or more’ and in a footnote added ‘The average respondent in this data set has revenue of $750 million.’ Plots in the report show the firm recognized five revenue categories: Less than $50M, $50M-$500M, $5000M-$1BN, $1BN-$6BN, and Over $6BN. Another firm offered, unhelpfully, that the companies represented ‘were of a variety of sizes’ and then broke them out by market capitalization (Large cap at 23% [more than $4 billion in market capitalization], mid cap at 21% [$1 to $4 billion] and small cap [less than $1 billion]). Two more instances: ‘Survey participants’ companies had an average annual revenue of $18.2 billion and median annual revenue of $4.7 billion’ and ‘A majority of companies (82) had revenues of Euro 1 billion or more.’

No facts about revenue. Disappointingly, the seven remaining reports provided no information whatsoever about the annual revenue of their respondents’ organizations. It is possible, to be sure, that corporate revenue has no bearing on the findings produced by the survey and summarized in the report. But that seems to me unlikely to be true.

The pie chart below visualizes the three categories described above.