strategic narrative

Stuck on Your Messaging? Start With Your Strategic Narrative

You’ve probably heard that a brand is not a logo. A brand is also not a website. It’s not even the unique value proposition (please forgive the “marketing geek” lingo) of your primary product or service. Rather, your brand is a strategic narrative communicated through your marketing message.

Successful companies focus on figuring out their strategic narrative—that big-picture story that grounds the work they do—and then look for innovative ways to express their message. Beyond this, they weave crucial talking points throughout their internal communications so that authentic messaging becomes embedded in the culture.

In other words, successful companies see marketing as more than a department occupying office space somewhere. Marketing done right expresses the heart and soul of what makes your business unique. What this means, though, is this strategic narrative actually precedes your marketing message.

So, let’s talk about that strategic narrative, shall we?

Developing Your Strategic Narrative

If your head is spinning a bit right now, don’t panic! Your marketing department can help you develop your strategic narrative. I simply want you to consider the difference between a strategic narrative and a marketing message.

Your strategic narrative is your company’s story:

  • It has a beginning (your company’s “origin story”),
  • A middle (where we are and what we stand for now), and
  • A vision for the future (where we’re headed and how we’ll get there).

The narrative also explains what matters to the company. Your company values propel the story forward together with what’s unique about the organization and how those values support to customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

When employees and leaders understand each other, they unite around this common strategic narrative. Ideally, at every level, everyone involved should want to be a part of the story and help to write chapters through their experiences.

For example, here’s part of the strategic narrative for Audacia Strategies: we help firms take bold (and audacious!) steps to transform their businesses. And because we know that asking our clients to come up with bold communications often means stepping outside of their comfort zones, we promise to be there every step of the way. We want to be known as the team that isn’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and jump into the ring with you.

In addition, the narrative represents more than one particular version of the story. A robust corporate narrative helps employees and managers understand their roles. When changes are necessary, the narrative explains those changes. When faced with a crisis, the narrative should guide the response.

So how do you develop a strategic narrative?

Start with key questions.

You have to be able to answer these or…well, maybe this isn’t the right business for you:

  • What customer or market problem do we solve? And why?
  • What customer or market pain do we alleviate?
  • How is our solution or service better than anyone else’s at addressing #1, #2?
  • No really. Be honest. What makes you truly different from your competitors?
    • Note: If your answer here sounds at all like what your competitors say (check out their website, talk to them at events, do other kinds of reconnaissance), start again.
  • Gut check: If your ideal customer heard your message and your closest competitor’s message side-by-side could she tell the difference?
    • Note: We’ve slipped into discussing the marketing message here because that’s how you communicate your narrative. But here’s precisely where the narrative is useful. When you have a clear corporate story to tell, it is an excellent resource for developing your unique value proposition and messaging.

Bonus round: What do you stand for? Why are you in business? What motivates or drives your organization? Remember, your narrative doesn’t have to involve “motherhood and apple pie” to be significant, but it should speak to a more profound answer to why you are in business.

Exercise: What are the one or two words or simple phrases (no more than three words) that you want to define your organization? Think about what you would want happy clients to tell others about your business. Keep it simple.

Keep your audience in mind.

It’s natural when working on a marketing message to consider our target audience and ideal customer personas. But it’s easy, especially in the early stages of developing your strategic narrative, to forget about the audience and just tell your story. Even though you will want your story to be able to be shared from different perspectives, those perspectives all should speak to your primary audience, the client (AKA the hero of your narrative).  

Who is your target market? Get super clear here. Divide your audience into as many different segments as makes sense based on their unique problems, challenges, and pains. Think about brands you respect and their corporate stories. Do you deliver a lower price and greater convenience (e.g., Walmart)? Do you offer high quality and luxury (e.g., Aston-Martin)?

When you’ve figured out who you want your narrative to engage with, make your ideal client the star of the show. It doesn’t hurt to literally tell your story like a fairy tale. Seriously. Don’t spare the “Once upon a time’s” or “Happily ever after’s.” These can be left out of marketing copy.

Once you have your narrative—you need an elevator pitch.

To get into character here, imagine this scenario: you have 30 seconds in an elevator with your dream client—what do you say?

Start with a generic version of your elevator pitch, but then plan to tailor your message to different audiences (think of this like your LinkedIn Summary or a cover letter for your resume—is that even a thing anymore?).

The basics:

  • Introduce yourself (your name and title, if appropriate).
  • Introduce your business and why it’s unique.
  • Give one quick, meaningful statistic (e.g., we save our customers over 10% per year on average), bonus points for putting that key statistic in context.
  • Make an ask (offer your business card, suggest a follow-up meeting, etc.).

Make sure your elevator pitch aligns with your strategic narrative. Think of the story as inspiration or a jumping off point. This works for online introductions as well!

Final Thoughts

Companies sometimes make the mistake of tasking the marketing and communications department with messaging before coming up with a strategic narrative. The result?—An inauthentic marketing message with a disjointed company culture.

Successful companies understand that messaging grows out of the narrative. If your organization keeps returning to this question: What’s our message? It may be time to think harder about your strategic narrative. The loveable marketing geeks at Audacia Strategies are happy to discuss the art of the corporate narrative. Are you in?

Photo credit: tsyhun / 123RF Stock Photo

murder board

Murder Board—It’s Not As Bad As It Sounds. How to Use Criticism to Prepare Your Team

When you have what seems like a game-changing idea, what do you do? You probably start by doing some low-stakes, crowdsourced testing. You tell trusted friends and family before taking the idea to friendly colleagues. Eventually, you get around to proposing the idea to those who can help you implement it.

When you go through this early testing phase, you’re looking mostly for validation. This can bolster your confidence, which is great if you’ve hit on a truly great idea. But how often have you watched an idea fizzle and die a slow death all the while wishing you had killed it sooner? This is one reason to seek not only validation, but criticism in the early stages.

In the investor relations and corporate communications world, we have a name for doing this in a formal setting: Murder Board. What is it and how does it work?

Murder Board in Context

The term murder board originated in the U.S. military, specifically from the Pentagon, but is also used in academic, journalistic, government appointment, and business contexts.

Here are a few recent examples:

Political Hearings: As soon as Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee, Ronny Jackson, was scheduled to go before Congress for his confirmation hearing, officials began intense preparations, including murder board sessions. Reportedly, these sessions went on pretty aggressively during the past few weeks, but have probably slowed a bit now that the Senate has postponed the hearing.

PR Crises: When Mark Zuckerburg went on his recent apology tour after agreeing to testify in front of Congress, he was put through the wringer by a team of lawyers and outside consultants. In addition to a “crash course” in charm, Zuckerberg received a real grilling during murder board sessions. Essentially, his team created as identical an environment as possible and went through a series of real run-throughs of what’s likely to occur. These lengthy sessions were strictly private and videotaped for review and critique.

Also, known as a “red team,” the murder board team’s main job is to poke holes. In the military, the red team tries to penetrate your defenses. In the high tech world, the red team tries to hack into your system. In short, the murder board finds the problems, risks, and bugs that the insiders miss. In high stakes situations, murder board sessions can save you from making a terrible mistake.

Why Is It important?

Murder board sessions might seem like overkill. It’s easy, especially for less experienced spokespeople, to believe that they are prepared for Q&A. But until they have practiced responding to questions under pressure, your preparation is not complete. So, make sure you impress upon your team the importance of setting up a murder board.

1. Prepares you for real-world experience and Q&A.

It’s helpful to consider worse-case scenarios before facing one in real life, so you can strategize as a team. Otherwise, you risk your spokesperson going off script and saying something that makes matters worse. I want my executives and clients to face the toughest questions for the first time in the room with me, not in front of an investor, a client, or a camera. The preparation will remind your spokesperson to focus on the facts and not speculation.

2. Stress tests company-held beliefs.

When pitching an idea or trying out new messaging, It’s always hard to be objective. This is as true of individuals as it is of teams. When you really want to step outside of the echo-chamber of your firm, a murder board with external voices can help.

Use a murder board to test beliefs about:

  • Company preparedness—especially good for crisis communications
  • Messaging—Is your message really resonating?
  • Customer relations—What do we actually know about our customer?
  • The organization—Does our message really hang together? Where are the confusing parts?

3. Stress tests your sales team and sales message.

Role play scenarios with your sales team ahead of a high-stakes pitch. Ask questions such as: How could the meeting go off the rails? What are the toughest questions the client could ask? What are the worst responses to our message we could imagine? Murder board sessions will ensure your team arrives prepared and ready to keep the meeting productive.

4. Gets you away from group think.

The most important part of the murder board process is bringing in a fresh perspective, often that of the client or stakeholder. Forcing a team to consider worst case scenarios requires them to think critically and figure out how to defend their position. Alternatively, forcing them to consider the client or stakeholder view, helps identify any gaps or missing angles that need strengthening.

Murder board sessions are simply the most powerful way to ensure that your media relations, investor relations, or sales team are ready for high stakes interactions. If any of these teams are “winging” high stakes meetings, their lack of preparation could put the whole firm at risk. So, let’s talk about when and how to use a murder board.

When to Use a Murder Board

A murder board can be used for any written or oral communications. It’s all about ideas and messaging. Here are three areas where a murder board can be most beneficial for improving communications.

1. Preparing for crisis situations.

If your firm has never had to deal with a full-on crisis, consider yourself fortunate. But also realize that your big crisis could be lurking just around the corner. It’s always a good idea to have a plan for dealing with a crisis and murder board sessions can play an important role in such a plan.

Assemble your damage control murder board and have them begin identifying issues and vulnerabilities within the company. It’s best if you can assemble a team who understands both the media and your firm’s weak spot. Next, have the team work on questions and ideal answers. These should be the toughest questions they can come up with and the best possible answers based on the facts. Finally, refine the answers and work to prep spokespeople.

2. Preparing for investors.

Murder boards are also great prep for analyst meetings, especially one-on-one meetings where executives need to be on top of their game. Here you’ll want to focus on both the message as well as recalling key company metrics.

For this one you’ll want to call in your toughest internal financial analysts and encourage them to live out their wildest inner Shark Tank dreams. Assemble your investor relations murder board and have them begin coming up with “tricky” questions regarding different angles on the numbers.

For example, suppose your firm calls for 10% year-to-year growth with sounds amazing, unless your biggest competitor comes out with an expected 15% growth rate. Now you’re behind in the investor’s eyes. What does it mean for your business and key competitive differentiators?

3. Preparing for customers.

Customers can be one of the toughest audiences. Murder board sessions are great training for sales teams. Use these sessions to prep them for their sales calls, a big pitch, or proposal presentation.

Assemble your customer relations murder board by having sales people role play with each other. Have newer salespeople play the “customer” role first to test the more experienced team members. Besides the benefits of being prepared for hard questions, this kind of exercise forces salespeople to put themselves in their customer’s shoes.

Final Thoughts

A murder board is an effective way to test your firm’s communications skills in a close to real-world situation. For high stakes interactions, there is no better preparation. Remind your team, though, that this is NOT a hazing experiment designed to throw off another team member. The point is to prepare your team, better understand your messaging, and better relate to key stakeholders.

One way to ensure that you get an objective perspective is to bring in an expert from outside your firm. Audacia Strategies can be that expert voice. We’ve prepared teams for investor meetings, crisis communications, and high stakes business transformations. We’ll help you put on your game face!

Photo credit: racorn / 123RF Stock Photo

Audacia’s IPO Roadmap to a Successful Initial Public Offering (Part Three): You Did It! Now What? How to Navigate Life after the IPO.

Congratulations! Your company is public. With your IPO, your firm has joined the ranks of Amazon, Apple, Boeing, Facebook, and now Spotify. Now let’s talk about life after the IPO.

All of those long hours you put in at the office paid off. Your advance work contributed to a great market introduction. You developed a strong investment case and an IPO story. You identified your key stakeholders. You created disclosure and guidance strategies (and policies to go along with those). You have a solid IR team in place and an informative website. So, your job is done, right?

Well…nope. Sorry.

You’ll want to grab a venti coffee for this…the IPO is only the beginning. Now the hard work of life after the IPO begins.

Yes! There Really is Life After the IPO.

Don’t get me wrong, going public is an achievement in itself. By all means, take your victory lap. But also realize that having an IPO opens you up to a whole new level of public scrutiny. This isn’t bad news, though.

Now that you have overcome the IPO hurdle, it’s time to follow through on the commitments you made during the IPO. That investment case and IPO story? Now it’s time to execute and deliver against those proof points we developed a few weeks ago (see Part 1).

And, just because you’re listed on the NASDAQ or NYSE doesn’t mean that you can stop telling your story. If anything, you amp up your communications. But where? With whom? How?

Investor Targeting

You likely just finished a road show that was managed by your investment bankers as part of the IPO process. During that road show, you probably spoke to 10s or 100s of institutional investors. And you likely experienced firsthand, on the day your stock listed, that it’s not uncommon for a new stock (a new issuer) to have a lot of initial volatility in its shareholder base.

In my experience, it takes 9-12 months for a shareholder base to stabilize after an IPO. This means that to grow your shareholder base and build shareholder value, you need to have a good sense of the right investors for your stock and a good solid investor targeting strategy.

Where to start? A few ideas to get you started on your investor targeting strategy:

  • Comparable Company Ownership Analysis: Take a hard look at the shareholders of your peer group. Who holds your peers but not you? Might they be a good fit for your stock?
  • Industry Investors: Get to know the key institutions, advisors, and funds that invest in your industry. While many investors are generalists, if they’ve put in the time to learn your industry, generally they will look to expand their portfolio in that area.
  • Investment Style (with a caveat): Institutional investors are often broadly characterized by investment style (e.g., growth, value, deep value, etc.). Consider where your investment thesis best fits within these styles, but also keep in mind that many portfolios have specific metrics to narrow their focus (e.g., investing only in small-cap firms or companies that meet specific Sustainability metrics, etc.). It pays to do your homework.

Also, remember that many investors will find you on their own. During life after the IPO, your phone will likely ring off the hook with investors of all styles and approaches. It’s important to remain accessible and provide consistent information to all investors, whether they are on your target list or not.

Every shareholder owns a piece of your business and deserves your attention and respect. That said, it’s also important to make time in your schedule to prioritize the investors in your strategy.

Outreach

Once you have your target list of investors, you’ll want to put together your outreach strategy. This is an important part of making sure that your story is “out there” and your message well understood by current and potential investors, research analysts, and financial media.

It’s also important to develop relationships with investors, analysts, reporters, and others. Many investors will not invest in a company without having met the CEO and CFO at least once.

How can you reach these stakeholders and keep your current investors up-to-date?

1. Conferences: You’ll likely be inundated by opportunities to attend bank/brokerage conferences, association or industry-sponsored conferences, “pay-to-play” conferences, etc. Choose wisely and try to keep a variety of events on your schedule so that you’re not meeting with the same investors over and over.

2. Road Shows: Non-deal road shows (AKA traveling to meet investors without a specific transaction associated with the discussion) are a great way to meet new investors. Often sell side analysts will coordinate these trips for you with their clients. However, with a bit of research and coordination, you can also put together your own trip. In the U.S., major investor hubs include: NYC, Boston, San Francisco, L.A., and Chicago.

3. One-off events: Is your CFO is heading to NYC to speak with ratings agencies? Set up a dinner with sell side analysts or book a meeting with one of your top shareholders too. Invite investor groups or analysts to visit your headquarters and/or major operations locations. Be creative with schedules and try to keep a relatively open door policy. Don’t waste your C-Suite’s time (or your own). But, to the extent that you can, remain accessible and transparent.

By now, you’re so versed in telling your story that building these relationships is the easy part. Relax and trust in your process. The right investors will engage over time.

Expectations and Reality

This is the big one.

You’ve set up your investment thesis, your guidance strategy is in place, you’ve told your corporate narrative so many times that you can tell it in your sleep. What have you really been doing? You’ve been setting expectations—hopefully, reasonable expectations (note: highly encouraged) for your life after the IPO.

Now, it’s time to deliver. Remember, you’re playing in the big leagues now. So, act like it.

As a publicly traded company your quarterly earnings reports will always be closely watched. But your first year and especially, that first quarter, are utterly critical. Why?

Well, for starters, you’ve built a very small reserve of credibility and goodwill with your stakeholders. If you miss expectations out of the gate, that credibility evaporates quickly. Once lost, you will have an uphill battle to rebuild credibility and trust—the only way to rebuild is to meet expectations. And the only way to avoid this pain, is to meet expectations in the first place.

So, make sure you’re keeping tabs on operations and market conditions, fine tune your corporate narrative, and continue to manage expectations appropriately.

Once you’ve made it past that first year of life after the IPO, you can finally trade in that venti coffee for a bottle of champagne and take several victory laps. In fact, if you work with Audacia Strategies to launch your successful IPO, the first bottle of champagne is on us!

Parting Thoughts

The key to a successful life after the IPO can be broken down into four simple steps:

  1. Set reasonable expectations.
  2. Tell stakeholders about them.
  3. Execute on those expectations.
  4. Tell stakeholders about that.

When your company goes public, you step into the spotlight. Yes, the stakes are higher during life after the IPO. But it’s nothing you can’t handle. You’ve got this!

If you missed Part One and Part Two of this series on how to launch a successful IPO, be sure to go back and review.

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building an IR program

Audacia’s IPO Roadmap to a Successful Initial Public Offering (Part Two): How to Build an IR Program

A successful initial public offering requires syncing up several moving parts. If doing a product launch feels like playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” an IPO feels like playing “Beethoven’s 9th.” Of course, to play a symphony, you need an orchestra. For your successful IPO, that means building an IR program.

If you missed Part One, we discussed how to develop your IPO story. Once you have your story, it’s time to get operational. So, this week we’ll look at answers to the following questions:

How do you structure your IR program?

Who are the key partners and players?

What are the key tools and policies that will set you up for success?

Without further ado, let’s talk building an IR program.

First, Know Your Goals.

We’ve discussed what IR is and isn’t before. The main purpose of IR is to ensure a company’s publicly traded stock is fairly valued by disseminating key information that investors use to make smart buying and selling decisions. IR departments communicate with investors (obviously), research analysts, regulatory and oversight organizations, customers, suppliers, media, and the broader financial community.

A solid investor relations plan will help guide your IPO discussions and ease your transition to a public company. The most important job? Establishing and building corporate credibility with your stakeholders through transparent and consistent communication.

Second, Gather Your Tribe.

Once your goals are clear, you can start to build your dream team of IR professionals. Hopefully, you have established and maintained strong business relationships over the years. Don’t be shy about calling on these contacts now.

Consult the following key partners and players:

Internal relationships: financial planning and analysis (make this a priority!) and finance team, general counsel’s office, external legal counsel, communications team, treasurer, business unit leads, product/service SMEs, and the C-suite.

External Relationships: service providers (Bloomberg, Nasdaq, IPREO, etc.), brokerages (JPMorgan, Jeffries, Goldman Sachs, etc.), stock surveillance (if using), public relations (if using and partnered with your internal communications team), your audit team (e.g., Deloitte, PWC, E&Y, etc.), and investment bankers.

Tools for Building an IR Program

We cover the basics below. Although we could get into using CRM systems, integrated blast email services, etc., for today, let’s keep it simple. Shall we?

Website: Your IR website is perhaps the most important tool for building an IR program and a non-negotiable requirement. Not only is your IR website often investors’ first introduction to your company and a perfect vehicle for disseminating your investment story, it’s also absolutely critical for conforming with compliance and disclosure requirements. I could go on about websites and their importance—a topic for another day!

Here are key recommendations to keep in mind for your IR website:

    • Make investor content easy to access—consider the user experience when designing your site.
    • Provide content that accurately describes your compelling investment thesis.
    • Keep the most requested information easy to find and download, i.e., earnings materials, investor presentations, etc.
    • Make contact information readily available. If you plan to be active on social media, include those links as well.
    • Make it mobile responsive—always good website etiquette!
    • Include governance information—officer and director information, committee charters and ethics documents, committee memberships, etc.
    • Keep a running list of company news/press releases.
    • Ensure that data feeds from the SEC and streaming stock quotes are accurate and timely.

IR platform: This type of tool will help to track consensus estimates on your firm and others, trading patterns, analyze your shareholder base, research and target new investors, review ownership trends, etc. These services also generally offer access to event transcripts, earnings materials, and industry, market and company analyses.

Many providers offer this type of service at varying price points. So, shop around. To operate efficiently and quickly it’s important to have situational awareness of your firm’s position among peers and within the market. These tools help you to track just that.

  • Examples include: Nasdaq, IPREO, Bloomberg, and others.

Stock Surveillance: While not a requirement—it can be pricey—this type of information can be incredibly helpful to understand the ebbs and flows within your shareholder base. It can also be a lifesaver when your CEO sticks her head in your office and says, “what the heck is going on with our stock today?!”

Stock surveillance is a service that focuses on tracking and analyzing movement in your company’s institutional shareholder base. Service providers will use a combination of publicly available data as well as proprietary and research-based methodologies and technologies.

There is a mix of art and science in this tool. It can be controversial, but I’ve found it to be very helpful in providing situational awareness. It is particularly important during times of crisis (market or company).

Key Policies for Staying on the Straight and Narrow

Every public company must decide whether and to what extent to give the market guidance about future operating results. The decision whether to give guidance and how much guidance to give is an intensely individual one. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in this area. The only universal truths are (1) a public company should have a policy on guidance and (2) the policy should be the subject of careful thought. As you continue building an IR program, keep the following policies in mind.

1. Reg FD

We’ve discussed Reg FD policy a few times. Specifically see:

Here are the highlights: Regulation FD is a fair disclosure rule, not an anti-fraud rule. This means that only conduct that is intentional or reckless can be considered a violation. Both companies and individual personnel can be held responsible and are subject to SEC enforcement actions.

Such enforcement actions can include injunctions, fines, and obligations to disclose the violation.

For more information about Reg FD and the SEC’s enforcement of the law, check out this list of frequently asked questions. But always remember that nothing you read online, including this article, is a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

2. Disclosure Policy

Your disclosure policy outlines the information your company will communicate on an ongoing basis and demonstrates your commitment to transparency. Avoid making the policy too narrow. It could come back to bite you during any potential litigation. Decide in advance who will be taking calls from various audiences. Spokespeople should respond to all calls as soon as possible, but most definitely within 24 hours.

This policy generally designates company spokespersons, approved channels of disclosure (website, SEC filings, social media, if your firm chooses to do so), handling of earnings and forward-looking guidance, and quiet periods.

A note on quiet periods:

The purpose of a quiet period is for a public company to avoid making comments about information that could cause investors to change their position on the company’s stock. There are no official guidelines on quiet periods. Practices vary by company requirement—for example, a Mega-cap firm that is part of the Dow may consider its quiet period to begin 2 weeks before the end of the fiscal quarter and conclude with their earnings report after quarter close.

However, a small-cap firm that is lightly covered may need to continue to take calls—even if they cannot answer some of the investor questions. In general, during a quiet period most companies either (a) allow no formal or informal communications at all (AKA all calls go to voicemail) or (b) allow limited communication and interaction with investors/analysts by:

  • Answering only fact-based inquiries
  • Sharing information only on overall long-term business and market trends
  • Announcing if it expects financial results to differ materially from earlier forecasts

Again, it’s hard to generalize here. Having a policy tailored to your IPO ensures that everyone knows the plan and has a common starting point.

3. Stock Trading Policy

The SEC has recently stepped up its efforts to detect suspicious trading. Sophisticated data analysis tools track shady patterns such as “improbably” successful trading across different securities over time. Many firms also make use of behavior analytics to uncover activities that could potentially lead to a range of trading illegalities.

Your stock trading policy should contain information for directors, officers, and employees to prevent insider trading. This article contains a list of best practices from someone charged with and convicted of insider trading. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Concluding Thoughts

As with so many aspects of taking your company public, preparation is critical to success in building an IR program. So make sure that you have positioned your company to be successful in IR. An effective IR program will be critical to avoid stumbling out of the gate with investors and will help you to build shareholder value for the long-term.

Audacia Strategies can assist your company in building an IR program. We offer everything from investment case development to talking points for IR executives to financial guidance and forward-looking positioning. Let us know how we can help!

Next up: Congrats! You’re Public. Now What?

Photo credit: Andriy Popov

IPO roadmap

Audacia’s IPO Roadmap to a Successful Initial Public Offering (Part One): Developing Your IPO Story

Okay, your firm is ready to “go public.” Congrats! So… now what?

There are several competing theories about what makes a company IPO-ready. Some bankers and VCs cling to the “$100 million revenue” benchmark like religion. Others look to predictability, visibility, or growth measures. Still others bank on formulas for assessing vulnerability in the market.

We’re not here to adjudicate among these theories, though. If you are planning an IPO, we know that you and your team have done the hard work to prepare. And, while there’s a lot to prepare for during this time, I’m here to remind you that the IPO is not the end game. Going public is more like moving from college sports to going pro. That’s where Audacia Strategies comes into play. Our IPO roadmap will show you how to hit the ground running before AND after your company goes public.

Once you’ve decided to take your company public, you’ll find there are several moving parts. So we’re breaking this one down into a series of blog articles on developing your IPO story, building an IR team, and living with your IPO. Let’s get into it!

First Up: Developing Your IPO Story.

Perhaps you’re running a wildly successful startup…

Perhaps you’ve been in business for years and are finally experiencing your overnight success…

Or perhaps your firm will spinout of a larger firm…

Regardless of your path, you’ve likely been prepping your S-1 filing for months (at least)—eating late night pizza and spending more time with lawyers, auditors, and bankers than your family and friends. Now that the dream is becoming a reality, it’s time to get serious about how to share your story.

1. Determine your audience.

During an IPO you’ll have multiple filings that describe your business, your risks, and your opportunities. While you’ll likely be talking to several different audiences at this stage, it’s important to develop a coherent story that brings everything together.

Depending on the type of business, your audiences for your IPO roadmap could include the following:

  • Institutional investors: Shortly before your listing date, your bankers will coordinate a roadshow for your management team to meet institutional investors in person (and sometimes via video teleconference).
  • Credit ratings agencies: If you are issuing public debt, you’ll also have discussions with the credit ratings agencies. In the US, the three primary rating agencies are Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings. These agencies assess the creditworthiness of the debt securities and their issuers.
  • Sell side analysts: You’ll also want to cultivate relationships with sell side analysts who will cover your firm for their brokerage.

Each of these audiences will have different priorities and will want to focus on different areas of the business. You need to be aware of and prepared for these different stops along the IPO roadmap. But the overarching investment thesis for your business should remain consistent.

2. Create a narrative arc that answers the question “why buy this stock?”

Tell your unique story: Do NOT steal language from peers that have recently gone public. Yes, this actually happens.

If you’re thinking about going public, your firm has likely been in business long enough to have identified and proven its value proposition. This is the time to continue to refine that message and share it. Explain what makes your businesses different from your peers and competitors. Why are you better?

Go beyond table stakes (e.g., a strong management team, “customer intimacy” of your sales team, etc.) and get to meaningful differentiators—unique products or services, industry-changing technology, patents, contracts, etc. You get the picture.

Investors have thousands of options in the public markets. Tell them why your firm is worthy of their dollars. For more tips on telling your corporate story, see our previous post.

3. Establish credibility and proof points.

We’ve may have mentioned it once or twice before, but it’s worth repeating—credibility is key. And during an IPO, credibility is quite literally going to be your stock-in-trade.

If you can—show rather than tell. Use your (audited!) numbers to show your track record of delivering solid performance—bonus points if your firm can demonstrate resilience during challenging economic times. Go beyond the income statement! Balance sheet strength and liquidity matter as well and cash flow always counts.

Establish reasonable proof points that will demonstrate the success of your strategy as you follow your IPO roadmap. Not all investors will buy into your stock on Day One. But if they watch your firm for a year after the IPO, they should be able to see the proof points of your story play out in your firm’s performance.

Remember that companies trade on future value, so be intentional in explaining your long-term investment thesis and why your business model will generate results over the long-term.

Be transparent. Your S-1 will exhaustively list the potential risks that could face your firm and you can expect potential investors to zero-in on those and ask about them. Risks could include current legal issues, location in markets that could see political or social unrest, reliance on materials that have significant pricing swings, etc. Be sure that your messaging explains why your business strategy mitigates potential risks.

4. Set reasonable expectations.

Set your guidance strategy early. You will want the information provided during the roadshow to be consistent with that given during subsequent investor meetings, conferences and earnings announcements. Inconsistency will call into question your management’s credibility and challenge your firm’s valuation.

Alas—there is no Google-able response to “What should be my guidance strategy?” And, like a tattoo, guidance expectations once set are very painful to remove.

But here are some guidelines I use when developing an IPO roadmap for clients:

When considering guidance, earnings, revenue, and cash flow projections are table stakes. You should also consider qualitative measures—providing “color” or directional information on key metrics driving your firm. Examples might include: perspective on your customers’ buying habits, impact of the economy on supply chain, and sales pipeline development.

Of course, to develop your guidance strategy you first need to assess how much visibility you have into your company’s financial results. IPOs are exciting and you should absolutely exhibit enthusiasm for your firm’s future prospects. However, if your financial forecasts are less than clear, you may wish to keep your guidance broad until you develop greater insight into the near-term business fluctuations.  

Finally, set expectations with the following in mind: your first earnings announcements following IPO will be closely watched to see how the company’s performance matches expectations set during the roadshow and how the management team characterizes the firm’s performance.

5. Stay consistent.

Consistency may be the single most important factor when telling your IPO story. It’s easy to get tunnel vision with all of the financial filings and discussions during an IPO process. But don’t forget that the company is communicating with the public in other venues—media relations, public affairs, government relations, sales teams are all speaking with key stakeholders.

So, it’s worth the time to review press releases, websites, fact sheets, blogs, social media posts, and even executive biographies to ensure consistent disclosure.

Take the time to set up internal processes to review existing communications and maintain a consistent message across all communications channels as part of your IPO roadmap. Investors, customers, and journalists can (and do) conduct due diligence on companies. In the era of the Internet and social media, all communications are instantly available across your audiences. They aren’t likely to easily forgive and forget.

Once you’ve decided to go public, the fun—and by “fun” I obviously mean “serious work”— really begins. But you know that. You wouldn’t be here if you shied away from taking bold action and bold action requires serious work. It also involves coordinating moving parts. And, we don’t mean to brag, but at Audacia that’s kind of our superpower.

Contact us and schedule your free consultation to find out more about your IPO Roadmap.

Next up: How to Build an IR Program to Support Your IPO

Photo credit: berezko / 123RF Stock Photo

building business relationships

4 Powerful Tactics for Building Business Relationships with Real ROI

There are lots of useful articles out there about building external relationships in business. There’s this one about building strong customer relationships by being authentic. And this one about how you’ve got to give to get. And this one reminding us that mutual trust is key to building business relationships.  

This is all to the good. Cultivating strong relationships outside of your organization is certainly part of a solid communications strategy. And don’t get me wrong—I love talking strategy over a cup of coffee with experienced professionals!

But with all of this focus on building business relationships outside of your organization, the importance of building strong internal relationships gets lost. So let’s talk about how building business relationships within your company can have real ROI and tactics for building these relationships across your organization.

Why Tactics for Building Internal Business Relationships?

At first glance, it might not be immediately obvious how building business relationships within your organization can contribute to developing messaging aimed at customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Isn’t communications the marketing department’s territory? But if we continue to think about external communications as belonging exclusively to marketing or PR departments, we miss out on a lot.

On a practical level, all employees are an important piece of your PR strategy. Strong, transparent internal communications tends to produce happier employees who are more likely to paint their employers in a positive light when talking to those outside of your organization.

How many times have you listened to a friend complain about not feeling heard at work? Or a family member express frustration about a supervisor not taking the time to ask for his team’s perspective on a project? How does it make you feel about the company he or she works for?

Not only can strong internal communication help keep employees satisfied and speaking positively about your brand, but it also supports short- and long-term crisis management. When you make a conscious effort to develop a culture of open communication, everyone, not just c-level executives, feel empowered and motivated to contribute to managing any crisis that could arise.

In addition, there is so much institutional knowledge within our own organizations that not promoting stronger internal relationships is like leaving money on the table. This really is one of the saddest aspects of the kind of siloing I see in many firms. The next time your department faces a seemingly intractable challenge, why not bring it up with others outside of your department. You might be surprised by the insights you gain from introducing a new perspective.

One word of caution though, if you pay lip service to the idea of building business relationships internally simply to make others “feel heard,” your employees will see right through to your true motives. Instead, you’ll want to develop an authentic internal communications strategy.

Here are 4 powerful tactics for authentically connecting across your organization:

1. Get out.

Get out of the office and get into the field. Yes, even if you are the VP of finance. Why? Building relationships across and down in the organization helps you better understand how your business works, key drivers, customer relationships, and competitive sensitivities from those who know it most closely.

Even if you feel that you have been doing well enough communicating with your immediate team and meeting benchmarks, there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty. So plan to visit your main supplier and learn about their process. Sit in on a sales meeting. Schedule a tour of your top distribution facility and talk to the men and women who do the physical work to bring your product to market.

While you may be receiving feedback now from some of these individuals through other channels, how sure are you that the information isn’t distilled or even distorted by those serving as gatekeepers? Valuable information that can increase productivity and increase customer loyalty may be just a conversation away. So, get out into the field!

2. Bring gifts.

When you get out into the field, bring gifts. I’m not talking about corporate swag here. By gifts, I mean information and insight. Put yourself in the shoes of employees on the frontlines. Why should they care about what you do?

Remember that often those you need to connect with view the corporate office as the “ivory tower.” They see corporate as not being directly responsible for driving revenue and profit. Whether these perceptions are accurate or not, there is no doubt that the pressures they face are very different from the pressures you face. Showing sensitivity to these differences will be well received.

Here are some specific insights I’ve found useful:

  • If you’re publicly traded, give a presentation about how the market views your firm and how what they (the field team) do makes a difference to that perception. Tell them about how the corporate financials come together, why it’s important to have accurate financial planning, and how each business unit can play a role in the planning process.
  • If your firm is not publicly traded, bring competitive intelligence. Give a review of current corporate positioning and key market drivers. Often at the field level you have specialists and employees working shoulder to shoulder with the customer. They don’t see the forest. They are in the trees. So, bring the “forest” to them.

3. Tag Team/shadow.

In addition to sending executives out into the field, consider informally or formally bringing in others from across the organization to participate in traditional “corporate” activities. Pitch these as invitations to work on special projects and opportunities to learn a new side of the business.

For instance, either informally or formally, bring in someone different to shadow and participate in the development of your quarterly earnings process or the preparation for a large event. Ideally, they would be a part of the information gathering, materials development, executive prep, and final event (e.g., sitting in on an earnings call, traveling to an investor conference with you and your executive team, or attending the corporate event/trade show/etc.).

4. Widen the circle.

Develop relationships across the organization, for example, in other offices, sites, and functional areas. By the way, this tactic applies to all sizes of businesses in any industry. Open lines of internal communication by reaching out and offering to speak with their teams about your role or share what you see from the investor relations side.

To be a valued advisor in your role, no matter where you sit in the organization, it’s critical to understand how your organization works. This means having a sense for how the numbers come together; how services and products are delivered; how you, as an organization, engage with potential and current customers; how you manage the external view of the company, etc.

If you approach the above tactics with the goal of better understanding your organization and how the various moving parts come together to deliver high-quality results, you will come across as genuine. Your employees will respond to you in kind and your brand identity will come across as more cohesive.

At Audacia Strategies, we love the art and science of building business relationships. We know how to build a comprehensive communications strategy that combines external communications, such as grassroots social media efforts, with internal communications that lay the foundation for long lasting customer and employee loyalty. Our philosophy is that companies shouldn’t let any valuable resources go to waste.

Let our team help your organization with a strategy for building winning relationships that reward your time and effort. Schedule a mutually beneficial consultation today and let’s start building this relationship!

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

successful business growth strategy

Hindsight is 20/20!—Don’t Strategize for 2018 Without Revisiting the Lessons of 2017.

It’s a New Year, so we’re all busily strategizing for what’s to come. But to develop a truly successful business growth strategy, it’s also important to recognize the value of reflecting on the past. The wisdom here is captured by Henry Ford, when he says, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I’ve always tended toward action more than reflection both in life and in business. This is both a strength and a weakness. It means that I have to remind myself not to jump into a new “shiny” project just because my enthusiasm for a current project is waning. So with all the exciting ideas bubbling up at the beginning of the year, it’s crucial for me to keep myself grounded.

And I discovered that the best way to stay grounded and focused in my successful business growth strategy for 2018 is to start with the lessons 2017 have taught me.

If you’re anything like me, this approach could help you too. Start by writing down the big lessons of the past year and then go back to your 2018 goals with the clarity of hindsight. You’ll be amazed at what you see!

Key Lessons of 2017

Here’s what I’ve learned and how some of these lessons are shaping my plans for 2018:

1. Preparation Counts.

I worked with several clients in 2017 who were ready to Fire. Shoot. And then, Aim. For companies poised to grow, this is always tempting. But 2017 confirmed for me that doing the legwork to develop a plan and identifying your target market, goals, and objectives really pays off. Rather than simply spraying your resources around and hoping that something “sticks,” this measured approach works so much better.

The clients who took the time to do the work saw results that aligned with their goals, whether that was introducing a new CEO, launching a new line of business, or even determining that it was NOT the time to move forward with a new marketing strategy.

That said, give yourself a break. Know that you do have to move forward and make decisions. Not every plan needs to be 50 pages, single-spaced with cross-referenced research. Yes, planning is key, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good enough. Sometimes we hide behind planning and we never get to the doing. Here’s where my tendency for action is a real benefit.

How do you know when it’s enough? When do you have enough in place to make the first step, the first decision, the first statement? Always remember that no plan is etched in stone. There’s something to be said about failing quickly, so get out there. Do a pilot, A/B test your message, make your colleague listen to that sales pitch. Take action!

2. Add Strategy to Your Schedule.

This is one important lesson I learned in 2017 and one thing I’m focusing on in 2018. My business coach, Kimby Berger, President of HerCorner, first brought this to my attention when she asked, “Is your strategy in your schedule?” That question has been echoing in my mind ever since.

Building time to strategize into your weekly schedule is one of the best investments in the long-term growth of your business you can make. Whether that means blocking time for competitive analysis every week, reviewing your Google analytics, updating your content calendar—whatever that is—put it into your schedule and protect it in the same way you protect client meetings.

Strategize with your clients too. Clients often resist “yet another weekly meeting”—I know the feeling! But the key is to make sure these meetings have a purpose. For instance, would it be beneficial to review benchmarking data, discuss social media strategy, make sure that everyone is on the same page with messaging around a new product? Going around the horn to hear from the team is important, but beyond that, make sure meetings have purpose relevant to a successful business growth strategy.

3. Say It!! Say It!!!

Fans of Back to School may recognize the reference to Sam Kinison, playing Professor Ferguson, yelling in the face of Rodney Dangerfield in the classroom. And while I certainly don’t recommend taking anything like that approach in a professional setting, we can all relate to the frustration of wanting someone to get to the point and just say what he means already.

The lesson then: say the right words at the right time in the right place. But not too many and not too flowery. Everyone can see through the B.S. So just say what you mean. Own who you are and what you are doing.

We are working with a great client who was trying too hard to be all things and to use all the buzzwords in their website. The result? It’s difficult to figure out who they are and what they do. Now we’re stripping it all down and taking it back to basics. Our mantra: Just say it!

This is part of the successful business growth strategy for Audacia Strategies too. In fact, it’s one of our core values: “Simple is Better.” You don’t get any extra points for using more words than your competitors. We say what we mean—simply, clearly. In business communications, straight talk is so much better than poetry.

4. Try New Things.

Another lesson from 2017 that is informing my 2018 plans, both in life and in business is a focus on stepping outside of my comfort zone to try new things—I’ve always been a yoga-pilates kind of gal, so I’m making an effort to try some boot camp-style classes. It’s not the least bit comfortable, but the mindset shift has been immediate.

If I can step outside of my comfort zone, you can too! Try some new tools and techniques. One of our clients is using short videos—think Carpool Karaoke—to introduce employees to key company initiatives in a fun way. It has been incredibly well received (hooray for fewer broadcast messages and more human discussions!).

Another client considered raising funds through an ICO (Initial Coin Offering)—they ended up not doing it, but they allowed themselves to go down that path before making the decision. In so doing, they received valuable feedback that has reshaped their successful business growth strategy.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I love numbers! So I know how hard it is to try new things when we don’t have strong data to back up the decisions we make, especially when we’ve got to convince other stakeholders to go along with us. And I know lesson #4 seems to contradict #1, but there’s nothing wrong with allowing some “unknown” into your plan. Identify your key “unknowns,” gather the data that you can, and just try. Without trying new things, you can’t open new channels, new markets, or even entertain new ideas.

Closing Thoughts…

The key to using the past to inform the future is to take the time to learn the right lessons and apply those in the right ways. Unfortunately, this is no easy task.

If you tried branching out into a different social media channel to build a new audience in 2017, for example, and you didn’t see the return you were hoping for, this doesn’t mean that social channel will never work for you. It may mean that this channel calls for a different strategy or a different technique for building your list. Before giving up on a strategy entirely, make sure you have fully vetted it. This could include consulting with relevant experts to check your conclusions against their experiences.

Creating a successful business growth strategy is a lot like cooking up a dish to impress your friends. When a dish doesn’t turn out quite right the first time, your conclusion probably shouldn’t be that the recipe is flawed. You’ll want to consider whether you followed the recipe exactly, whether you used the right ingredients, and you may even want to consult with the best cook you know before you abandon the recipe for good.

What lessons did 2017 teach you? Is a big business transformation on the menu for your team in 2018? Audacia Strategies can help you find the right recipe for staying on track with your successful business growth strategy all year long. Contact us today!

Photo credit: stockasso / 123RF Stock Photo

damaged goods

Damaged Goods: The Top Gun Problem and Crisis Communications

If you’ve been following our blog series on damaged goods and crisis communications, you have considered how to handle a firm or your company during a crisis. Hopefully, the probing questions and recommendations have convinced you that you need a crisis communications plan both for assessing the damage and for controlling the damage.

And just for good measure, in this post, we discuss one type of damage that can arise from poorly managing a crisis—damaged credibility as a result of over-promising. Let’s look at some examples of damaged goods and consider how to avoid over-promising during a crisis.

Damage Caused by Over-promising

As a successful professional, you’ve heard about under-promising and over-delivering. While we understand this principle intellectually, during the chaos of a crisis, our fight or flight defense mechanisms (AKA the lizard brain) can takeover and we’ll do or say almost anything to to change the narrative.

Here’s why over-promising is a really bad idea whether or not your company is in the middle of a crisis:

The Top Gun Problem: Consider what IR professionals like to call the Top Gun problem: “your ego is writing checks your body (or in this case, your business) can’t cash.” I received an analyst note the other day that should be exhibit A for companies that are considering over-promising and the long-term damage to credibility that can follow.

The analyst was discussing a new spin-off transaction lead by a CEO who recently completed another major spin-off in the same industry. Here’s what the analyst wrote:

“We think [Company A’s] management team set overly ambitious, inflated, and sometimes outright untrue targets during the separation…while [Company A’s SpinCo] is doing their best with the hand they were dealt, we think [Previous CEO of Company A] is setting up [the next SpinCo] and potential investors for a similarly hard road.”

Oof. Now that hurts.

In short, a reputation for over-promising can turn your company into damaged goods for future deals. Yes, this all goes back to the credibility issue we’ve talked about before. Keep in mind too that over-promising is one indicator that skilled analysts are looking for as they report back to investors. While it may not be a deal-breaker, over-promising can certainly impact your company’s perceived valuation.

How Not to Deal with Sucky Earnings: Or consider what might happen when a financial advisor, who after conducting several weeks or months of research finds a stock he believes is primed to deliver his clients tremendous gains. While he knows there are no guarantees in the stock market, all evidence points to nothing but growth, so his optimism is high.

If he tells his clients the stock should deliver 15 to 20 points of ROI over the next few months, but knows that 10 to 12 points is more realistic, he has over-promised. Now consider what happens if a crisis occurs and the stock only delivers 5 points or even drops because of an unanticipated supply chain issue. By over-promising he sets himself up for failure.

It can be really tempting in the case of sucky earnings to double-down and over-promise (again) in order to calm investors’ concerns. But over-promising in the first place has harmed your credibility and left the impression that your firm is damaged goods, so you risk digging yourself an even deeper hole if you continue down this path. Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that we rarely have control over all aspects of a crisis situation. So there are cases where CEOs walk into a challenging situation and are forced to do the best they can with what they have. This is completely understandable. However, there is a difference between wittingly and unwittingly overpromising and this is precisely where honesty is a CEO’s best friend.

How to Avoid Over-promising During a Crisis

One of the best things you can do during a crisis is figure out how to avoid over-promising. If you keep the following 5 simple tips in mind, you’ll go a long way toward keeping that lizard brain in check.

1. Triage

During a crisis, not everything can be handled at the same time. Your credibility and how your company comes out on the other side depends on making crucial decisions about prioritizing different aspects of the crisis. When the building’s on fire, it does no good to worry about last month’s financial statements.

Over-promising can occur when teams try to fix an entire crisis by, for example, blaming the victim or scapegoating. Papa John’s recently found themselves in trouble for this when, during an earnings call, they blamed their slow earnings on the NFL’s controversial player protests. Essentially, Papa John’s was promising better earnings after all this “nonsense” ended—classic case of the Top Gun problem.

Triage is one area where hiring an investor relations professional with experience specific to crisis communications can make a huge difference. In the same way that medical professionals arriving on the scene of an emergency know exactly how to sort victims for the optimal outcome, the right professional can help you figure out which problems need immediate attention.

2. Be Transparent

Credibility hinges on performance. And during a crisis, your company needs to outperform expectations just to repair credibility and get back to zero. Repairing the damaged goods reputation is all about re-setting those expectations and re-building the perceptions that have been compromised during the crisis.

The perception of performance hinges on setting appropriate expectations. So, if investors are making demands that you know to be unreasonable, push back. It’s better to be honest from the get-go than to find your company in a jam later on.

Be honest and up-front about issues that you know could arise and get in the way of fulfilling your promise. This will allow you to control the narrative and address issues on your terms.

The goal here is to get to the point that you can set or reset rational expectations for corporate performance.

3. Continue to monitor the situation closely.

Once you have put out your official statement, the work of righting the ship is just beginning. Next you have to put the implementation plan in motion making sure that whatever promises were made actually are accomplished. The absolute worst outcome after a crisis is for a new crisis to develop as a result of mishandling the original crisis.

This is why it’s so important for your crisis communications team to continue to monitor the situation and make sure the promised milestones are being accomplished. If you run into roadblocks along the way, you’ll be in a good position to transparently (see #2) address issues and constantly adjust expectations.

4. Keep Internal Communications Open

This tip is key to making sure your staff or spokespeople don’t undercut you or each other. Unwitting over-promising can happen because well-meaning team members feel pressure to respond to questions from investors or media that they aren’t really qualified to answer. They may try to pass the buck to other departments or make promises on behalf of the whole company, which they don’t have the authority to offer.

It’s critical to maintain an open dialog within your company regarding what can and can’t be done, especially during a credibility crisis. CEOs also need to be mindful of making promises that put unnecessary stress on the entire team. Having strong internal communications is the biggest part of successful crisis communications.

Concluding Thoughts

When a brand experiences a hit to its credibility, there is a strong temptation to over-promise in an effort to deflect criticism or to repair its damaged goods reputation ASAP. But overcoming the appeal of over-promising and trusting your crisis communications plan is more likely to get you the results you’re after.

Follow the above recommendations and the only question left will be what to say when investors realize you’ve over delivered on your promises. Whatever you say, don’t leave the impression that you’re punching below your weight. Say that you always do your best and sometimes your best even surprises you. If you practice skilled crisis communications, your audience will remember how you delivered in the end and this final impression will replace the original crisis as the dominant perception.

Do you have a question about crisis communications? Want to get on our consultation schedule? We’re booking 2018 clients now. Start your year off right!

This is part 3 of our 3-part series on damaged goods and crisis communications. If you missed part 1 on damage assessment and part 2 on damage control, read them here and here. It totally counts as being productive!

Photo credit: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo

 

crisis communications

Damaged Goods: Control the Damage Before the Damage Controls You.

This post is the latest in our series on crisis communications and “damaged goods.” If you missed our first article, take a look back at our tips for assessing the damage (don’t worry, I’ll wait). Once you know what type of crisis you’re dealing with and how deep it runs, you will be ready to figure out how to control, or at least contain, the damage.

Of course, we can’t emphasize enough the need for a strong crisis communications plan. Truly, this series was born out of hearing too many horror stories from IR and PR professionals. In listening to those stories, it becomes clear that one of the most toxic beliefs in the world of communications is the belief that a firm is “crisis-proof.”

What’s the first rule of crisis communications? As soon as you think you’ve got everything figured out, that’s exactly when a crisis hits.

Crisis Communications and Complacency

Immediately following the economic recession, many companies, especially in the financial sector, were motivated to develop easily deployable crisis strategies. Since then, an attitude of complacency has settled in though. Too many firms, especially smaller companies and startups, are unprepared for an incident that could harm their brand, reputation, public image, and earnings. Think of your crisis communications plan and implementation team as insurance against the worst case scenario.

In the digital age, every crisis demands rapid assessment and real-time engagement with consumers. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle means every minute that goes by without an official response will be filled with public speculation. While repairing the damage later is not impossible, it’s certainly true that the quicker you can issue a statement, the better chance you have of controlling the damage.

Use Digital Tools to Control the Damage

This atmosphere is challenging for companies in many ways, but especially when it comes to framing the story or managing the narrative during the early stages of a crisis. Still, the same tools used to spread the damaging information far and wide can be used to stay ahead of the damage.

Here are some ways in which social media tools can be used to control the damage during a crisis:

Enhanced Situational Awareness: Social media platforms can deliver decision makers invaluable information about unfolding events that would have previously taken hours or even days to filter through. The next time you witness a serious breaking news event, such as a fire or serious car accident, try searching for it on Twitter. It’s likely that you will find photos, videos, comments, etc. about the situation. This is the exact information, your company will want to use to guide your team as you craft preliminary messages to push out to stakeholders during a crisis. Use these types of events to design drills for training your crisis management team.

Enlisting the Help of Tech-Savvy Advocates: In addition to getting immediate, on-the-ground access to unfolding events, smart companies use social media to mobilize supporters. For example, suppose a competitor is engaging in a smear-campaign against your firm (I know! Perish the thought). If you have a way to quickly reach out to subject-matter experts with technical knowledge who can jump in and help you direct the conversation, you will have a great opportunity to regain control, while discrediting the dishonest party. Brainstorm with your team about this as part of your crisis strategy.

Allowing for a More Agile Response: Corporations and larger organizations are often slower to respond during a crisis than their small counterparts. Many levels of hierarchy, as well as external counsel, may have to weigh in before an official response can be released. The result is often a slow response, a muddled message, a failure to take responsibility, or an inability to control the conversation.

Simply consider a few of the crises on Forbes’ list of the biggest PR nightmares of 2017:

  • United Airlines’ Removal of a Passenger.
  • Fox’s Firing of Bill O’Reilly.
  • Pepsi’s ad featuring a model leaving a photoshoot to join a protest.

And this list was published in May. Since then, we’ve had the Experian credit breach, as well as several career-ending sexual harassment and sexual assault revelations. Anyone of these events would make for an excellent case study in how not to contain damage.

What all of these organizations have in common is that they ended up behind the curve and in many cases still have not recovered. Instead, have an army of advocates waiting in the wings who can issue well-planned talking points to buy you more time before the release of the official statement.

Just as these failures to control the narrative run rampant among corporations, there are also trends that show up across companies who consistently plan and manage crises well.

Responding Well During a Crisis

In addition to leveraging the above digital tools to control the damage during a crisis, companies that respond well have some or all of the following traits:

  • A dedicated crisis manager or team that owns crisis communications tasks.
  • An up-to-date plan including holding statements, other types of crucial messaging, internal communications processes, digital strategies, rehearsed scenarios, and an identified spokesperson(s).
  • An engaged CEO who is media aware (and ideally, media trained for crisis situations) and understands how to connect with communities, elected officials, regulators, and media influencers.
  • Established internal and external relationships.
  • An investor relations team, community relations team, and/or public relations team ready to be deployed whenever an incident happens.

Dealing with a crisis in a way that can control or contain any potential damage requires a strategy with strong and focused messaging that can evolve with the situation. Success also depends upon having an experienced spokesperson and other company contacts with crisis communications expertise. In addition, coming up with well-developed scenarios about anything that could go wrong with your company will help you and your team prepare.

As the clock ticks down on 2017, we’re all looking forward in anticipation of using what we’ve learned to make life and business go better. Ultimately, good crisis planning, preparation, and implementation is invaluable for your firm and your stakeholders. There’s no time like the present to set things straight.

At Audacia Strategies, we help our clients navigate crises from anticipated market turbulence to unexpected earnings drops and everything in between. We have experience prepping CEOs and spokespeople for on-the-fly communications during a crisis too. We’re here to be your port during the storm. Contact us today and together we’ll figure out how to control any actual or potential damage.

Reg FD

5 Ways to Prevent Unintended Disclosure From Ruining Your Firm’s Holiday Season

As we head into the busy holiday season, it’s a good time for your annual reminder about Reg FD (i.e., the SEC’s Fair Disclosure Act). Take it from your friends at Audacia Strategies: You don’t want an offhand comment to your niece’s boyfriend over pumpkin pie to lead to a six-month cleanup for the legal team at your firm. Read on to understand smart preventive measures you can take.

Reg FD: Potential Liabilities

If you’re reading this article and you work for or with a publicly traded company, you’re probably already aware of Reg FD, but you may not be aware of all the potential liabilities that could result from violations of the rule. Here are some basic points to keep in mind:

  • Regulation FD is a fair disclosure rule, not an anti-fraud rule. This means that only conduct that is intentional or reckless can be considered a violation.
  • Both companies and individual personnel can be held responsible and be subject to SEC enforcement actions.
  • Such enforcement actions can include injunctions, fines, and obligations to disclose the violation.

For more information about Reg FD and the SEC’s enforcement of the law, check out this list of frequently asked questions. But always remember that nothing you read online, including this article, is a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

To avoid liabilities resulting from an executive or other individual acting on behalf of your firm, there are some preventive measures you can take.

1. Understand the Federal Rules and Regulations.

Simply speaking, Reg FD prohibits companies from selectively disclosing material information to analysts, institutional investors, and others without at the same time making the information widely available to the public. This rule reflects the idea that all investors should have fair and equal access to information that could influence their investment choices.

For example, when the story broke in September about the cybersecurity breach at Equifax, there was a question about whether senior executives had unfairly traded away shares in the company because of insider information. The executives have since been exonerated. A special committee found that the executives pre-cleared their trades making them without prior knowledge of the security breach announcement.

It is important for executives and all employees to be aware of Reg FD as well how it applies to your industry, your company, and their specific positions within your organization. Even if employees are required to go through HR training around SEC rules and regulations, they may not truly understand their responsibilities under the law.

Given the influx of holiday mixers this time of year bringing together a variety of stakeholders (i.e., CEOs and other executives, brokers, analysts, and investors), the risk of a violation increases. Does it make sense to ask Legal to present some do’s and don’t’s during a company-wide meeting coming up? Think of the headaches it could save going into 2018.

2. Review Current Disclosure Policies.

Now is also a good time to review your firm’s current disclosure policy and write a policy if you don’t yet have one. What is your process for disclosing information to analysts, institutional investors, other shareholders, and the public?

Evaluate that policy in light of Reg FD. Are there any gaps? Do you see any potential issues? Does this assessment suggest any obvious changes?

Once you have identified any potential issues, prepare and start following a comprehensive disclosure policy. Make sure to emphasize the severity and potential consequences of Regulation FD violations. This policy should be made internally available to senior officials, investor relations personnel, and anyone else responsible for speaking with analysts or investors.

3. Make the Written Policy Publicly Available on Your Website.

Reg FD requires that companies make material disclosures available to the public. When the SEC first enacted the law, they had a more narrow view of what qualified as “public disclosure.” However, in 2008, the SEC stated that putting information on a company website could satisfy Reg FD under certain circumstances. We encourage you or your legal team to check into whether your firm falls under these circumstances.

But regardless of whether your firm uses a website to make public material disclosures, your company’s own disclosure policies ought to appear on your website. Transparency increases credibility with investors and other stakeholders. Making your policies available demonstrates an institutional commitment to keeping all interactions on the “up-and-up.

4. Better Safe Than Sorry.

As for what counts as “material nonpublic information,” there is some disagreement among industry experts. But our advice when it comes to the SEC is always err on the side of caution. If you are tempted to talk about potentially material company gossip during the corporate dinner party, maybe find some juicy celebrity gossip to discuss instead.

If you want to really play it safe, take a “chaperone” with you whenever speaking to an analyst. This should be someone familiar with making determinations about materiality, who can listen for any unintentional disclosures that might trigger the need to prepare a Regulation FD disclosure and serve as a witness (for example, your Investor Relations Officer). Private meetings with analysts or institutional investors are particularly risky.

5. When in Doubt, Contact Finance and Legal.

If all else fails and you or someone on your team ends up disclosing something questionable, the next best action you can take is to talk to someone in finance and legal. The law itself is complex, so it’s wise to go over all possible violations with a lawyer specializing in SEC regulations.

Still, in many cases, the fix is simply to make the information in question publicly available within 24 hours or before the next opening of the market. Where you can get into more trouble is when someone tries to cover up a leak of information and it isn’t discovered until too late. This makes it especially important to ensure that your employees know the next best action to take if they happen to slip.

Now that you know the top 5 things you can do to prevent a Reg FD crisis at your next holiday party or Friendsgiving, you are free to enjoy the season! Want to know more about Regulation FD and how to speak your investors’ language? Schedule a consultation, contact us at info@audaciastrategies.com, or call us at 202-521-7917. We love to trade secrets over a mug of peppermint tea.

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