I first shared my thoughts about timing corporate communications back in December of 2016. The world looked very different then. We were still in the midst of the longest economic bull run in history. We were still shaking hands, going into the office, and not thinking twice about getting on a plane.
Yes, the corporate world looks very different today as we navigate the choppy waters of COVID-19. But best practices for when and how to make big announcements remain largely the same.
While it’s important to get the messaging right, when and how you say it matters as much—if not more than—what you say. So, let’s consider the big questions to ask before you drop a big announcement.
1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?
Markets may be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, but you can assume that the existing federal regulatory rules of your industry still apply. There are rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and the law relevant to your industry concerning timing corporate communications.
Also, make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest developments affecting your industry and any SEC statements about how they’re responding to the pandemic. This is especially crucial for firms subject to rules governed by The Division of Trading and Markets.
Example: Material Announcements
Speaking of regulatory restrictions, Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) requires all publicly traded companies to release material information to all investors at the same time. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or a town hall meeting. Staying in touch with investors is critical.
In addition, to stay clear of Reg FD violations, remind directors, officers, and other corporate insiders that they should refrain from trading in the company’s securities until any risks that would be material to investors have been disclosed. The unknowns of COVID-19 put us in a fluid situation, so it’s even more important to stay vigilant here.
However, as always, if word of a material event or material information is inadvertently leaked to some investors or analysts (i.e., an “unintentional selective disclosure”), as soon as a senior company official learns of the disclosure, she is required to disclose the information publicly. Companies must make the announcement either (a) within 24 hours or (b) by the start of the next day’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
2. What are your competitors doing?
I know that you’re juggling a gazillion balls. But one of those balls has to be keeping an eye on the competition. I’m not asking you to be obsessed with your competitors—that’s not likely to be helpful either. Still, how much of a splash your announcement makes, whether positive or negative, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. So do pay attention.
If you have good news to share, you want to time the announcement carefully to capture as many likes, comments, and eyeballs as you can. With bad news, you want to be as transparent and complete as possible in your initial communications to avoid continually referencing the issue and detracting from your broader corporate strategy.
Example: Product or Service Launch
Let’s say you have pivoted and are ready to roll out a new offering that will address an emerging need in your market. Sure, you are excited about the product or service. But if you rush to make the announcement without a solid strategy, you risk being overshadowed.
For example, suppose you suspect your competition might be working on a similar offering. Should you rush to beat them to market? While you might manage to steal their thunder by announcing early, you also need to think through the consequences of such a play. Could you lose credibility by putting out a product or service that hasn’t been thoroughly tested? Do you have a plan for dealing with a shouting match should your competitor start one?
While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit to make that big announcement can pay off. This is doubly true if your industry is experiencing extra volatility during this time.
In addition, if waiting to announce gives you time to gather crucial information about what your customer needs, this will ultimately result in a more successful launch. The benefits to rushing corporate communications here are few, while the costs can absolutely be a reputation killer.
3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?
Communicating in a way that expresses empathy toward employees is key. Again, this isn’t just about the language of your messaging. It’s about timing corporate communications too. Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. Your employees and staff don’t deserve to hear bad news from external sources or through the rumor mill.
Example: Corporate Restructuring
When making an announcement like a corporate restructuring, it’s important not to take your staff for granted. Relationships internal to your company are as important, or even more important, than external partnerships if you want to come out of this reorganization with your corporate culture intact. If you focus on the interests of one group to the detriment of others being affected, you risk looking callous and insensitive.
So, follow this general rule: put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. If layoffs are part of the strategy, be as transparent as you can about how you came to decisions about whom to let go and what this means for the company as well as individuals.
As with any external message, be mindful of how your internal announcement will affect your audience. Don’t let emotions get in the way. If you are the head of a division, the corporate restructuring might be bad news for you as well. But when you make the announcement to your team, be considerate of their feelings in hearing the news for the first time.
Having the right overall strategy for timing corporate communications takes a blend of planning, finding the right words, and practicing authentic human engagement. At Audacia Strategies, we have helped companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.
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