non-GAAP metrics

Credibility and Non-GAAP Metrics: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have a love-hate relationship with non-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) metrics. On the one hand, they love information that could help them better determine where to invest capital. On the other hand, they have a hard time gauging the reliability of non-GAAP metrics.

So where does this leave those of us developing a transparent and accurate strategic message for our company? And how do non-GAAP metrics help shape credible investor, analyst, and financial media relationships?

It all comes down to the credibility factor. Non-GAAP metrics can be a critical component of your company’s strategic message, but they shouldn’t be abused. The goal should be transparency and easing investor understanding—not obfuscation.

What is a non-GAAP metric?

Before we discuss how these measurements can increase your company’s credibility and play a key role in both your investor and media strategy, let’s define a non-GAAP metric.

According to the SEC, a non-GAAP metric is “a numerical measure of a registrant’s historical or future financial performance, financial position, or cash flows that:

(i) Excludes amounts, or is subject to adjustments that have the effect of excluding amounts, that are included in the most directly comparable measure calculated and presented in accordance with GAAP in the statement of income, balance sheet or statement of cash flows (or equivalent statements) of the issuer; or

(ii) Includes amounts, or is subject to adjustments that have the effect of including amounts, that are excluded from the most directly comparable measure so calculated and presented.”

Essentially, a non-GAAP financial measure is intended to depict a measure of performance or liquidity that is different from those presented in audited financial statements (e.g., sales, net income, cash flow from operations).

To make it even clearer, let’s say your company anticipates conducting a sizeable restructuring this year. If this will have a material impact on net income, you may wish to report net income with restructuring charges (GAAP) and without restructuring charges (non-GAAP). The non-GAAP measure, then, would be: GAAP net income less restructuring charges = Adjusted Net Income.

The non-GAAP challenge.

Over the years, the use of non-GAAP metrics and their prominence in financial discussions has been on the rise. In 2015, just 12% of S&P 500 companies reported only GAAP (audited) numbers in their public filings. That was down from 25% in 2006. Non-GAAP metrics have become a common way for companies to share more about how they view company operations and performance (see the example above).

To be sure, there is value in using appropriate non-GAAP metrics as a supplement to audited GAAP reporting. What we want to avoid are misleading metrics. Unfortunately, over time we have seen that some companies’ non-GAAP metrics veered away from the original intent and may have been used to paint an overly optimistic picture of business operations.

As non-GAAP metrics have increased in usage, so have concerns that such measures might not be as rigorously tested and maintained as their GAAP counterparts. As a result, the SEC updated its guidelines to clarify what might be considered misleading non-GAAP presentations and how to avoid giving non-GAAP measures greater prominence than comparable GAAP measures.

Since updating its guidance on non-GAAP metrics in May, SEC officials have sent significantly more comment letters to companies regarding non-GAAP use and they have cracked down on potentially misleading non-GAAP disclosures.

As we head into quarterly (and annual) reporting, it’s a good time to revisit your disclosure strategy and consider how to communicate your company’s strategic direction and associated metrics.

Guidelines for using non-GAAP in your investor relations strategy.

1. Give GAAP prominence. When presenting a non-GAAP measure it must be presented with the most directly comparable GAAP measure given equal or greater prominence. For example, an earnings press release should cite GAAP net income before a non-GAAP “adjusted net income”.

2. Ensure non-GAAP measures aren’t misleading. Some adjustments specifically called out by the SEC (although not explicitly prohibited) include non-GAAP metrics that

  • exclude normal, recurring, cash operating expenses necessary to operate the business;
  • are adjusted and presented inconsistently between periods;
  • accelerate revenue recognition;
  • include nonrecurring charges, but not nonrecurring gains; and
  • do not show current and deferred income tax expense commensurate with the non-GAAP measure of profitability and note the income tax effects of the adjustments as a separate item (i.e., rather than showing net income “net of tax” adjustments should show income taxes as a separate adjustment that is clearly explained).

3. Return to the fundamentals of your message. Ask: What is our corporate strategy? What goals and objectives are we (or should we) be discussing in our disclosures to demonstrate progress? What are our milestones?

4. Ensure the non-GAAP metrics you use fit with your strategic message. When considering a non-GAAP metric ask the following questions:

  • What is the intent of the metric? Does it help to paint a more complete picture of the company’s performance and/or market opportunity?
  • Is this metric meaningful? Is this a metric that your management team uses to discuss the company with employees? Are managers held accountable for this metric?
  • What are the measures used by the company to assess progress against annual/long-term strategy?
  • What are key metrics in our industry? In my peer group? Are they helpful or outdated?
  • If I was a shareholder, would this metric better help me understand my company’s performance against stated strategy and goals?

But don’t overreach. Many investors will only consider GAAP in their models so be honest with investors (and yourself!) about those GAAP numbers and be ready to discuss them. All businesses have challenges, operational quirks, and unique investment and value-creating strategies. Stick to the truth of your operations and your company’s plan to achieve strategic goals.

At Audacia Strategies, credibility is king (and our #1 value). Credibility is all in the way you present and conduct yourself. If your aim is to help your stakeholders make smart investment decisions, you can’t go wrong. Treat your investors the way you would want to be treated.

How do you think about using non-GAAP measures? Do you discuss them with media? Employees? Have you received feedback from shareholders or analysts?

Financial disclosure is a critical component of a comprehensive communications strategy. We can help tighten up your investor relations strategy and integrate your messaging across your stakeholder sets. Let’s talk!

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

maintaining strong business relationships

Maintaining Strong Business Relationships: Do You Have a Strategy for Checking In?

Maintenance is key if you want to preserve your assets. You take your car in for a tune-up every few months. You pay someone to secure and update your website. You even do yoga to maintain a healthy body. But are you maintaining strong business relationships?

In corporate communications, maintaining strong business relationships is a crucial asset. The right relationship can be the difference between getting constantly stonewalled by receptionists and getting the CEO’s direct line. The right relationship can open the door to your next large shareholder or help you gain insight into a potential client leading to a new contract.

Building Better Business Relationships.

Before we talk about maintaining strong business relationships, though, it’s important to consider how to build better relationships in the first place. Regardless of industry, the most successful people in business are relationship builders.

This can sound initially daunting, especially to introverts. But keep in mind that building relationships in business is not rocket science; so don’t overthink it. If you remember what your Kindergarten teacher taught you, you already know how to create strong relationships:

  • Be proactive, not pushy.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
  • Meet face-to-face whenever practical.
  • Be honest and encourage honesty in others.

Establishing business relationships can take time, however, so once you have the ear of influencers in your industry, be sure to continue cultivating these connections.

Don’t simply call people when you need something. You want them to be happy to pick up the phone when you call. Once you have built those core business relationships, it’s time to develop good habits for maintaining and nurturing them.

Is it Time for a Relationship Tune Up?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest that you take a Buzzfeed quiz (as fun as that might be). But I am suggesting that you create systems to guarantee that you take time to check-in with your most important business relationships regularly. I even schedule time in my calendar for what I call relationship tune ups.

Starting the conversation is as easy as stepping away from our desks, inviting one of your connections to have coffee, and asking her what industry trends she’s seeing or what she did last year that worked really well. We often get so busy in our own projects that we lose track of other important initiatives in our organization—and the people that are working hard to make them happen. This can make us forget how nice it feels to be heard. So just ask.

Who Should I Connect With?

I intentionally cultivate relationships with anyone who knows my industry, including (gasp) my competitors; anyone who understands business; and anyone who makes me feel like the best version of myself.

It’s important to build relationships across all segments. If you focus only on building and maintaining strong business relationships with customers, you are ignoring potentially game-changing resources. So, avoid the temptation to write off suppliers and manufacturers just because you’re going after the “big fish” in your industry.

You might be surprised who can help you get to the next level and meet some amazing people along the way!

In 2017, to meet your goals and accelerate growth, keep the following partners on your radar:

1. Business Enablers – Set meetings with departments such as finance, human resources, and legal to help anticipate any big changes that could affect your investors’ bottom line in 2017.

2. Operations – The better you understand the business, the more effective you’ll be at communicating with investors and advising leadership. So talk to the heads of operations to find out what new products or services will be released or what new clients and contracts they are most excited about. Offer to host a town hall meeting sharing your expertise (give us a call if you need ideas here—we have lots of suggestions!) in exchange for getting the chance to see a product demo.

3. Media – Communicate with your media contacts of course, but rather than telling them what you think they should know, ask them what changes they would like to see and what information their audiences would appreciate most.

4. C-Suite Executives – This relationship can be bound by formality. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask about your working relationship and processes. Is meeting on a quarterly basis working for you? What else could we be doing to help you feel prepared before an investor meeting/town hall/CNBC interview? Is 80 pages of earnings Q&A sufficient? Would you prefer more or less?

5. Peers and Colleagues – Have coffee and ask them what they’re working on or ask for advice. Many people have innovative ideas they keep to themselves until someone asks the right question.

6. Professional Groups – What are the most important resources you need to move your company forward? Rather than trying to reverse engineer everything yourself, pick the brains of those who have already plowed the way ahead of you.

7. Personal and Life – It’s those who are closest to us who can give us the most crucial information about ourselves. Our spouses, friends, children, family often know us better than we even know ourselves. So, ask, “how am I communicating?” “How am I handling stress?” Consider that whatever you are doing at home is probably spilling over somewhere else.

At Audacia Strategies, we specialize in maintaining strong business relationships. We love to help clients solve communications issues. Call us today to schedule a free consultation and we can meet for coffee!

What business relationships will you be working to maintain this year? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.

Photo credit: gaudilab / 123RF Stock Photo

corporate communications

In Corporate Communications, Timing is Everything

You might be surprised to hear that corporate communications and standup comedy have something in common—timing is key. Whether you are announcing a corporate merger or delivering a killer punchline, if your timing is off, your message will fall flat.

When corporations have a big announcement to make, a lot of time and energy goes into figuring out precisely how to state the message. What should the press release say or what language should the CEO use when discussing changes with investors?

While it’s certainly important to get the messaging right, keep in mind too that good corporate communication has less to do with what you say, than how you say it.

Let’s consider some important questions to ask when dropping big announcements.

 1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?

First, you must consider the federal regulatory rules of your industry. There are most likely rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and corporate communications law relevant to your industry.

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.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the 1990’s, financial services companies routinely held conference calls with market analysts and some institutional investors giving them in-depth information about the company. Recognizing that this gave institutional investors an unfair advantage over individual investors, the SEC ratified Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) in 1999.

As a result, companies are required to simultaneously make material announcements to all shareholders. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or town hall meeting.

However, 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?

How much of a splash your announcement makes, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. If you have good news to share, you want to capture as much attention as possible. 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 Launch

Let’s say you are ready to roll out a new product that will take your industry by storm. Sure, you are excited about the product. But if you rush to make the announcement without a strategy, you risk being overshadowed.

For example, if you know your competition always releases new products on the Tuesday before Christmas, it might seem that you could steal their thunder by announcing on the same day. But you also risk having to share the spotlight with a close competitor. And unless you are confident that your corporate communications team can outshine your competitor, it’s probably best to steer clear of this kind of shouting match.

While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit before releasing big news can pay off.

3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?

Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. For instance, corporate reorganization could mean layoffs for staff members, while individual shareholders see a moderate increase in their returns.

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.

So, put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. Just as you wouldn’t want investors to hear through the grapevine about a planned restructuring, you wouldn’t want your staff to hear about potential layoffs on the news.

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 don’t do standup comedy, but we have helped many companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a Free consultation to discuss your specific needs.

Photo credit: progressman / 123RF Stock Photo

Reg FD

Reg FD: How to Avoid Holiday Legal Headaches

‘Tis the season for company holiday parties. A party can be a great way to blow off steam during an especially stressful time of year in the financial world. While it’s a good idea to unwind in an informal environment, you don’t want Reg FD (Regulation Fair Disclosure) spoiling your fun.

Holiday mixers can bring together a variety of stakeholders like CEO’s, financial advisors, brokers, analysts, and investors. Add in a generous supply of alcohol and you have a recipe for failure to comply with Reg FD.

The good news is that with minimal prior planning, you can easily avoid having the SEC slap an individual or your company with an injunctive relief, such as a cease-and-desist order, monetary fine, and required disclosure of the violation.

First things first: What’s the rule?

The SEC Reg FD rule reads as follows: “Whenever an issuer, or any person acting on its behalf, discloses any material nonpublic information regarding that issuer or its securities to [certain enumerated persons], the issuer shall make public disclosure of that information… simultaneously, in the case of an intentional disclosure; and… promptly, in the case of a non-intentional disclosure.”

The key phrase here is “material nonpublic information.” Material information is anything that a reasonable shareholder would consider important for deciding whether to take some action with respect to a company’s securities.

According to the US Supreme Court, material information includes, among other examples, anything relevant to earnings, mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures or tender offers, new products, and developments regarding customers or suppliers.

That’s quite a list. Ensure that you stay off the SEC’s radar by following these rules:

1. SEC Reg FD applies to ALL company communications.

Don’t think that just because you are at a party and not on official company business, your offhand remark to a shareholder “doesn’t count” as a selective disclosure. A selective disclosure can be intentional or unintentional and Reg FD applies to all types of company communications.

For instance, a CEO’s spontaneous response to an unanticipated question posed during a dinner party with analysts present could reveal information to which all shareholders should have access. If there’s any question, put yourself in your investor’s shoes. If you could see yourself acting on the information provided, then it’s probably off limits.

Unintentional disclosures like the one above trigger an obligation on the part of the company to go public with the information within 24 hours or prior to the beginning of the next trading day. So, the best policy is always “better safe than sorry.”

2. Remind your expanded team of their responsibilities.

It’s not a bad idea this time of year to remind all employees and partners of their confidentiality agreements and other legal obligations. Send a friendly reminder email or call everyone together for a short meeting. Not knowing the law is no excuse, of course, but a lot of headaches can be avoided by taking this simple step.

Specifically, Reg FD rules apply to directors and executive officers; persons performing investor relations or public relations functions; and employees and agents who regularly communicate with securities market professionals and stakeholders. But any employee acting at the direction of senior management is also subject to the law.

3. If you have questions, consult with Finance and Legal.

What do you do if, despite your best efforts, something happens that you believe to be a violation? First, consult with Finance/Investor Relations and Legal internal to your company. The last thing you need is to intensify the problem by trying to sweep it under the rug. So, now is the time to own the problem and deal with it head on.

Your Finance and Legal departments will be able to tell you whether you need to take additional legal steps. Depending on the scope of the violation and whether it’s a fireable offense, you may also need to consult with HR.

Also, by consulting with the experts, you can avoid blowing out of proportion something that might require a simple solution. In many cases, issuing a press release or scheduling a public conference call to answer questions will bring you under compliance with the law.

In short, when it comes to Reg FD, prevention is always your best option. A lot of trouble can be avoided by simply communicating with employees and reminding them of their legal obligations. Let’s make this holiday season SEC free!

If you are looking for more great advice about corporate communications, Audacia Strategies is here for you. We can help you develop a corporate communications strategy that works for you and your whole team. Schedule your free consultation today.

Photo credit: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo

ROI

3 Reasons the Boldest Investments Have the Biggest ROI

Starting a business is an investment of cash, time, and self. When I launched Audacia Strategies last December, I wasn’t sure if I would see a positive ROI. Afterall, I thrived in the corporate world! I never, ever saw myself as an entrepreneur.

But after traveling around Nicaragua, I realized that there is an entrepreneur inside all of us. From the coconut stand owner on the corner in San Juan del Sur, to the owners of an amazing island restaurant in Lake Nicaragua, to the artisan working in his hammock workshop in Grenada, it seemed that everyone around me was boldly investing in themselves.

So, I took a chance on myself and on my passion for building this business. After a year, I can happily say, I have seen a positive ROI.

Here are my biggest realizations and returns from the past year:

1. Businesses don’t just happen.

In business, a positive ROI results from nurturing relationships, gaining trust, and building credibility. Landing clients requires hard work and innovative thinking…and closing the deal. One of biggest challenges for me has been putting myself out there. I mean, people sometimes say “no.” Can you imagine?

I realized that success does not simply arrive at your doorstep. Like a well choreographed dance, success is the result of planning, practicing, and making the right adjustments along the way. At times I feel out-of-step with the music, but I remind myself that this comes with the territory whenever you are learning something new.

2. I can’t be all things to all people.

In talking with both new and seasoned entrepreneurs, one of the toughest parts of owning a business is figuring out who to work with and gaining the confidence to act on that decision. It has been especially hard for me to turn down potential clients who are simply not a good fit.

Even though I would really love to help everyone who crosses my path, that’s just not realistic. If you are looking for someone to help you come up with a creative corporate team-building event, you really should ask someone else. Trust me!

I learned that even if it doesn’t make sense for me to help someone directly, I can often refer them to some very talented partners. There are so many ways to be helpful besides directly taking on every potential client.

3. It takes a village to build a business.

I couldn’t have done this all on my own. I have an amazing support team from my accountant who enforces rigor in my bookkeeping, to my website team who built a website that truly reflects Audacia’s unique style, to the friends and colleagues who have spent countless hours talking strategy, offering support, and connecting me with others. I am damn lucky to have found this incredible network of people!

I am paying it forward by talking strategy, offering support, and helping other new entrepreneurs make connections. I am proud to be part of a real community of people who are passionate about business and using their talents to make a difference in their corners of the universe.

So, happy first anniversary Audacia Strategies! And many thanks to my amazing clients who I have had the privilege of working with this year, from helping them better communicate with their stakeholders to surviving complex corporate transformations of all types.

During that exhilarating trip to Nicaragua, I also discovered there is no magic dust that makes someone an entrepreneur. You just have to want it and work at it. I wrote my initial business plan as I flew home from Nicaragua and officially launched Audacia Strategies on December 3, 2015.

If you would like to see for yourself why I’m so proud of Audacia Strategies, let’s talk! I would love to schedule a FREE consultation and discuss how I can help your organization take your next audacious step forward.

Photo credit: dinozzz

business relationships

5 Important Business Relationships to Be Grateful for

One of our company values at Audacia Strategies is “Relationships Matter: It’s not ‘just business.’ It’s about people working together toward a common goal. We bring respect, honesty, and candor to the table every time.” This week, as we pause to reflect on everything and everyone that make us feel grateful, let’s specially consider the business relationships that too often go unrecognized.

In business, as in life, it is relationships that are the most important. While it is easy to be grateful for business relationships that are simple and especially lucrative, when it comes to those relationships that take a little more effort, feeling the appropriate level of appreciation can be difficult.

What are the benefits of being grateful?

Expressing gratitude makes you happier.

The next time you are having trouble mustering up appreciation for clients who treat every project like it’s an emergency or investors who question every piece of advice you offer, keep in mind that a little bit of gratitude can go a long way.

Research shows that being grateful makes you happier. Having an attitude of gratitude really is a choice we can make. And while there’s more to genuine gratitude than saying a distracted “thanks,” we often do underestimate the value of a heartfelt “thank you.”

Expressing gratitude can affect your bottom line.

Given that feeling grateful makes you happier, it’s also not surprising that others are more likely to want to work with those who adopt a habit of expressing gratitude. There is also research showing that being truly grateful can have a meaningful impact on your bottom line.

According to one survey, 90% of financial advisors who made an effort to regularly thank clients experienced greater success than those who were less consistent in expressing appreciation for their business relationships.

Expressing gratitude brings others to the table.

Beyond the personal benefits of expressing gratitude, it also uplifts those to whom you express gratitude. We all know how nice it feels have someone else acknowledge the effort and work we put into a project. This is no less important when you are working toward a common goal with your team.

Being grateful for the work that others do is especially important in cases where you know you will be interacting with the same individual or group multiple times, which is in most cases. Thankfulness invites others to the table and engages them as a vital part of the team.

So, in the spirit of feeling gratitude during the season of reflection, let’s take some time out to remember those business relationships that we sometimes take for granted:

1. Your financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team.

This team works hard all year to crank through your business data, strategize, and manage your corporate forecast. In addition to creating your organization’s extended financial plan, FP&A departments also generate management reports, analyze financial trends, calculate the monetary effects of potential business decisions, and advise company leaders.

When it comes to getting your budget done, managing earnings, and reporting on whether you are hitting your goals, where would your company be without this team of individuals?

2. Your most challenging client.

We all deal with difficult clients from time to time—when you see his number on the caller ID, you have to take a deep breath and review the meditation methods your yoga teacher taught you.

Even if worrying about this client keeps you up at night and makes you question your career choices, this client also pushes you to work harder and provide more value than you thought possible. Challenges are what keep us on our toes and keep things interesting. So, send that client a special note expressing your appreciation.

3. Your most challenging investor or analyst.

Being stuck in our own perspective for too long can give us tunnel vision. In these situations, anyone who can help us see our company in a different way is a huge asset. This is the value that a challenging investor or analyst can provide.

These individuals might not always express their feedback in the most constructive way, but if you have a tough skin, you can really learn a lot from them. As long as you remember that the criticism isn’t personal, this kind of challenge can help you and your extended team better articulate your messages and evaluate your business strategy.

4. Your spouse, significant other, best friend, etc.

All of those who listen as you talk through your work “dirt” are crucial to helping you stay grounded. When you have a hard day at the office, nothing is more comforting than being able to come home to someone who loves and supports you unconditionally. Hug your loved ones and tell them how much they mean to you whenever possible.

5. The Service Professionals Who Make Our Lives Easier.

Last, but not least, there are service professionals and other support personnel who work extra hard to give you the time to focus on what is important to you on a daily basis.

I’m talking about the local barista who knows you take your triple-shot mocha latte with soy milk and extra whipped cream. Or the waitress at your favorite lunch spot who makes sure your dressing always comes on the side. When was the last time you took an extra second out of your day to make eye contact and say “thank you?”

At Audacia Strategies, we make a special effort to live up to our company values and cultivate strong business relationships. I want to extend the deepest gratitude to all our clients (who are never challenging), friends, and family for their continued support over the past year.

Photo credit: kritchanut / 123RF Stock Photo

authentic voice

Drop the Buzzwords. 3 Ways to Find Your Authentic Voice.

If there’s one big lesson to learn from last week’s Presidential election, it’s never underestimate the power of an authentic voice. For months, political pundits called the 2016 Presidential election the “authenticity election.” And the Trump team can largely attribute their win to developing an (at least perceived) authentic communications strategy that resonated with millions of Americans.

Candidate Trump never missed an opportunity to remind voters that he was “from outside the Beltway.” Additionally, he used social media to speak directly to his constituency without the media’s filter. In other words, the Trump campaign successfully managed to capture their candidate’s authentic voice.

In corporate communications, just as in politics, the power of authenticity can go a long way. So what is a good strategy for capturing your organization’s authentic voice?

Skip the Buzzwords

While it’s tempting to get caught up in business jargon when talking to other experts in your industry, just consider how stale industry buzzwords sound when you hear them used constantly in messaging. How many times have you heard someone refer to a budget item as “mission critical” or an industry leader as a “change agent” or a “thought leader?”

While insider industry buzzwords might make sense to us, they are rarely informative for investors or customers. Imagine how frustrating it must be to make financial decisions based on such empty, generic talk.

To differentiate yourself from your peers, as well as persuade both customers and investors to give you more of their hard-earned dollars, it is crucial that you eliminate buzzwords from your communications. But this is the easy part.

How to Capture your Company’s Authentic Voice

Once you have eliminated the buzzwords, it’s time to get proactive in finding your company’s authentic voice and incorporating it into your messaging. Here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Pay attention to the voice of your leadership team.

The key to developing an authentic voice when communicating is for the talking points to align with the actual language and tone of the speaker. This is Communications 101: If the voice of the message is completely foreign to the one presenting it, the message will sound artificial and insincere.

This means if you are the CEO or CFO of a business developing messaging to present to investors, make sure the voice you use is your own. Don’t get bogged down in trying to sound like someone you think investors want you to be. Speak to the values that motivate you and be genuine.

Alternatively, if you are charged with the task of developing messaging for your leadership to present, remember that tone is important. A similar message presented in a cautiously optimistic tone can achieve radically different results from one presented using a cautiously pessimistic tone. So consider what tone best represents your leadership.

2. Find a voice that accurately represents the culture of your company.

Beyond making sure that your communications reflect the authentic voice of leadership, it’s also important to consider the unique voice of the company. For example, even though Coke and Pepsi offer similar products, their public personas are very different.

Don’t think of your branding and voice as simply a matter for the marketing department. If you want your customers and investors to immediately connect your company with a perceived culture (for example, innovative engineering with a global reach) that message needs to be consistent in communications across all departments.

3. When responding to questions, take a step back and consider the big picture.

Often the scariest part of communicating with investors are the off-the-cuff remarks. It’s one thing to develop precise language and practice with your team before a presentation. But when it comes time to answer questions, do you revert to vague jargon or hide behind your quantitative models?

During these times it’s especially useful to take a step back and simply talk. Don’t be afraid to “get real” with your audience. Yes, being honest requires you to be vulnerable and potentially face tough questions, but avoid the mindset that these circumstances are necessarily bad. No matter who your audience is -Investors, customers, employees- they want to hear your real thoughts on your business otherwise why would they listen? To take the pressure off, learn to approach these conversations from a position of collaboration, rather than confrontation. It’s an opportunity to share and educate.

At Audacia Strategies, we’ve seen it all and we can help you sort out your authentic voice. We know which questions to ask and how to help you zero-in on what matters most. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you develop a corporate communications strategy to address your needs.

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

US election and stock market

3 Things to Remember When the Stock Market Responds to the US Election

Raise your hand if you’re ready for the US election to be over. I know, me too. But, as tired as we are of the vitriolic finger pointing, cringe-worthy Facebook posts, and waking up to new scandals (and non-scandals) every day, many are terrified that the worst is yet to come. Could we wake-up on the morning after the US election to a plummeting stock market?

In keeping with our theme of situational awareness, there is nothing quite as challenging, from an investor relations standpoint, as a drastic shock to the market. However, if you know your company and you know your competition, you will be in better shape to weather whatever storm is brewing. In this final installment of our series, we’ll discuss three ways to know the market so you can prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Why are stock speculators feeling spooked about the US election?

We know financial markets respond to geopolitical events. For example, if this summer’s Brexit vote is any indication of what’s in store for us after the US election, we could be in for a wild ride over the next few weeks. After the Brexit vote, the British pound collapsed and global stock markets plummeted.

What is the economic explanation for why black swan events like Brexit or the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 cause stocks to fall? Basically, increased uncertainty about the future means more investors get out of than into the stock market during a certain period of time, which leads to falling stock prices.

So how could the US election lead to a significant stock selloff? It’s all about uncertainty.

Think of it this way: If Donald Trump wins there will be a lot of uncertainty. How will our allies and adversaries around the world respond if Commander In Chief Trump pulls us out of NATO? Will Trump’s promises to deport undocumented workers and build a wall on the Mexico-US border spark widespread protests?

While most policy wonks agree that a Hillary Clinton victory would have a stabilizing effect on the aerospace and defense market, the US has never been so politically polarized. Not to mention that if the popular vote is close and the election is contested, the result will be increased uncertainty. Too much uncertainty makes investing in the stock market feel closer to gambling, so risk-averse investors will simply choose to save their money rather than risking it on an uncertain future.

How do you deal with your investors if the worst happens?

While it is impossible to prepare for all that could go wrong, if you have maintained that “ready stance,” you will be more confident when you explain to investors what steps you are taking to make the best of a bad situation. And your investors and analysts will appreciate a thoughtful message delivered confidently, particularly when others are reactively grasping at straws.

Follow these three pieces of advice whenever markets behave badly:

1. Stay engaged

When scary things happen to us, our first instinct is to curl up in the fetal position (if not literally, then figuratively, which can be just as bad during times like these). But we need to do what we can to resist this paralyzing instinct.

The most productive thing you can do if the markets are volatile on November 9th is stay engaged. It will be difficult to pick up the phone and talk with investors, but accept that while you may not have all the answers, investors will feel better if you tell them what you do know. And remember to return to our discussion about knowing your business and how it fits into your broader market.

So, do your homework, get the facts, stay in touch with your team, and be ready with a game plan as quickly as possible. All investors can ask of you in times of uncertainty is that you are candid and timely in your assessment of the situation. This is not a time to read the tea leaves or speculate.

2. Be transparent

When you speak with investors and analysts after the US election, be transparent. As tempting as it is to sugarcoat or avoid tough questions from investors, now is not the time to be evasive. Be candid about what is known and unknown. Return to what you know about your company, your strategy and your competitive landscape.

A big drop in the stock market affects everyone. It does no good to pretend that your company or industry is magically better off than every other company or industry. So be honest.

Your investors look to you to tell them what is rational in this frightening time of uncertainty. They look to you to set their expectations. So you need a gameplan. Your job is not to be a cheerleader. Your job is to provide as much clarity in an uncertain situation as possible.

3. Go back to fundamentals

When a catastrophic event occurs causing a huge shift in the market, return to fundamentals. Analysts will develop complex models that attempt to take into account outliers caused by highly improbable events. But often their views will contradict. It’s important to that you remain aware of the incoming information, clear-eyed in your assessment and rational.

Take a deep breath and consider what has changed and what hasn’t changed about your industry. Get your team together and discuss whether your strategy should change. Sometimes it makes sense to ride it out. If you stick to your message and core values, you will be in the best position to guide investors in their decision making.

Also, don’t ignore your intuition. Often when markets behave badly and unpredictably, the usual models fail us because circumstances are unusual. In these difficult times, those who ignore the old models often come through the crisis best.

I’m optimistic that the great experiment that is America will survive the 2016 presidential election. But the fact is that we are living in volatile times. Do you have clear procedures in place to keep your strategy moving forward when the unexpected occurs?

If you need help staying up on shifting markets, let Audacia Strategies be your port in this storm. We can guide you through developing a consistent, strategic message to communicate to your investors. Schedule your FREE consultation today (before or after you vote).

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

3 Steps to a Competitive Intelligence Strategy

In my post last week, I kicked off our series on situational awareness with a discussion of the importance of knowing your company when it comes to discussing earnings with investors. This week we continue the conversation breaking down a second component of situational awareness, competitive intelligence.

While knowing yourself is key to putting your earnings in perspective for investors, another piece of this puzzle is knowing where your peers stand. In simple terms, figuring out a viable strategy for competitive intelligence means understanding your competition relative to your company and relative to major industry challenges.

Where do I even start?

Of course, figuring out where to start is far from simple. Clients often ask: How do I keep tabs on my competition in a respectable way? How do I create and implement on-going systems for competitive intelligence? And how do I translate the relevant information I find into the most meaningful format for my team?

Before I start going over details, let’s consider the big picture. I often describe competitive intelligence in terms of your company maintaining a “ready stance.” Like an athlete entering the ring with her opponent, you don’t want to be caught flat-footed by your competition. You want to be ready for anything and able to anticipate the moves your competition makes, so you can adjust accordingly.

So, what steps will help you take the competition by storm?

1. Rethink your competitive intelligence process.

Having a strategy is the best move you can make. Before you approach your board and investors, sit down with your team, develop a clear sense of scope, and think through the different roles members will play.

To guide your strategy, read through your competitors’ earnings transcripts. If their investor presentations are available online, look for clues about their perspective on the market. Are they taking a conservative, moderately conservative, or more aggressive approach? Finally, study their research reports. The more you know about their models and go-to sources, the more you can develop a competitive profile.

Also, make sure you don’t miss the forest for the trees. In other words, don’t just think hard about, say, your closest individual competitor. Looking at the market dynamic between several competitors can yield an innovative strategy, which could offer more guidance than studying any single competitor in isolation.

2. Talk to others in the industry.

When you see others in your industry at networking events or conferences, don’t shy away from talking shop. For example, when a colleague from research and development calls you up to ask about one of the models in your report, strike up a conversation about new federal regulations. While you should never ask about a specific company, it doesn’t hurt to ask for general feedback about your shared industry.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you do anything underhanded or anything that makes you uncomfortable here. Don’t think of this as digging for dirt. If you think of those you talk to as thought partners, your conversation will be cordial and mutually beneficial.

You will be surprised at what people are willing to disclose if you simply ask. Chances are you will come away from your conversation with information that can guide your investment choices and give you a better sense of where your competition is headed in the upcoming months.

3. Put processes in place for developing feedback loops.

Once you have thought about your own processes and gathered information about the competitive landscape, you can make the most of the information by establishing the right processes for getting it up the chain to your executives.

Bringing the information to the executives is really the final step though. You want to come to the table ready with a plan for implementing policy changes and systematically measuring results.

Also, keep in mind that data collection does not equal competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence is more about creating strategy than it is about gathering loads of information. A little bit of information can go a long way. This means you don’t need to spend millions on a massive database and you shouldn’t simply dump data into the lap of analysts asking them to come up with a strategy.

Developing the right feedback loop requires an “all hands on deck” approach. Have a clear sense of the scope and role for each member of your team. Then take a few simple steps: mandate intelligence reviews at critical decision making stages; have a designated competitive intelligence analyst who sits in on all strategic meetings; and tap into any internal channels that can help implement strategies for competitive intelligence.

Parting thoughts

When it comes to competitive intelligence, the name of the game is to be proactive, predictive, and to revise your strategy according to what your competition might do. If you follow the above tips, you’ll be on your toes when it comes to monitoring your competition and staying on top of industry trends.

Used well, competitive intelligence will lead to increased strategic agility and the ability to adapt to market shifts. Don’t miss next week’s installment of our series all about what to do when markets behave badly. While we all have our fingers tightly crossed that the US election won’t upset the stock market, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the worst, right?

At Audacia Strategies, we’ve been practicing our “ready stance” for a long time. We don’t just provide flashy presentations and strategic advice from the sidelines. We roll up our sleeves and stand with you shoulder to shoulder until we achieve the measurable results you are after. Are you ready to schedule a free consultation and find out what a difference Audacia Strategies could make for your company?

Photo credit: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

investor relations

Investor Relations Starts At Home: 3 Tips for Disclosing Q3 Earnings

This week it seems like everyone in the financial world has been obsessing over companies like Apple and Google releasing their Q3 earnings reports. For analysts, preparing to disclose earnings is one of the biggest challenges of investor relations. Wall Street has been in a holding pattern during the past 30 days. But the perceived wisdom is that if any of these big companies reveals an earnings surprise, it could be just the jolt investors need to bring them out of their malaise. I’d say the jury is still out though.

There is no doubt that quarterly earnings are a crucial measure to watch. Still, as you develop a strategy for communicating your company’s Q3 earnings to investors, consider that finding the right message is as important as the actual data you are communicating. It’s always a good idea to keep things in perspective. Since companies aren’t valued in a vacuum, having situational awareness is essential to communicating the right message to your investors.

In fact, situational awareness is so essential to investor relations that we think it deserves a three-part series of its own. So we’ll start off in this post with tips for helping you view your company from the outside in. We will follow up with posts about knowing your peers and knowing the market.

What is situational awareness and why is it key for your quarterly earnings strategy?

As you might have guessed, there are three main components to situational awareness: knowing yourself, knowing your peers, and knowing the market. Each of these components plays a role in preparing you to discuss your company’s valuation with investors. Investors want you to give them the numbers, but they also want you to help them interpret the numbers. Remember that they are looking to you as an expert on their investment.

This is especially true when it comes to disclosing earnings. Building a successful investor relations strategy is about getting into the minds of your investors. From an investor’s perspective having more information is always preferable to having less, so anything you can do to put those numbers in context will be well received.

Think of it this way. Which is more helpful for investors to know:

  • Your earnings rose 10%?
  • Or your earnings rose 10% while your closest competitor’s earnings rose 8%?

That the second one jumps out as more helpful demonstrates the power of situational awareness. Now, we’re not saying you call out your competitors’ results specifically but you definitely want to note the “industry-leading” results during your earnings call. An investor relations strategy that integrates situational awareness doesn’t simply focus on telling the story of your quarter. It also positions your company relative to how your peers performed and to how the market itself performed, giving your investors a more complete picture of your company’s performance.

So let’s talk strategy.

What does it mean to know yourself?

1. Know your company better than anyone else.

This should go without saying, but no one external to your company should understand your company better than you do. So develop your own models, craft earnings polls, and get into the minds of analysts to understand how they are really evaluating you.

Additionally, rather than making assumptions about what analysts are thinking about your company based on their research, reverse engineer the research whenever possible. Get your sell side analysts’ models and compare and contrast. If it becomes obvious to you that analysts are operating under incorrect assumptions, build some commentary into your earnings call discussion to explain any discrepancies and to give more context for their revised models.

2. Know what the analysts ask.

Examine the questions analysts asked about your company and your peers during the last quarter (or even during the last few quarters). Compare those questions to what they are asking during the current earnings season. For example, if analysts asked about the risks associated with a particular raw material three quarters ago, but haven’t asked since, this might explain discrepancies between your internal reports and the external reports you’re seeing.

Don’t simply assume the questions analysts ask are consistent from quarter to quarter. While it can be tempting to dismiss a lower than expected valuation from analysts on grounds that they don’t have the complete picture, investors will rightly hold you accountable for failing to anticipate and adjust internal models.

3. Know yourself relative to your peers.

This bleeds over into what we’ll talk about in more depth next week, but part of knowing yourself includes knowing how you will handle the release of peer earnings reports. Because many data points are more meaningful in the context of understanding industry trends, keeping tabs on your competition is key to understanding how to position yourself with investors.

For instance, in the defense industry where there has been a mostly flat business landscape for much of the past year, it makes sense for defense contractors to pull back and take a more austere approach to allocating resources. But if you know your competition is taking this approach, while your company is increasing its investment in research and development, for example, you may have a powerful discriminator that sets you apart from your peers. Well communicated and in context, a carefully considered, seemingly contrarian investment strategy could really pay off in potential valuation.

Long story short, if you aren’t keeping tabs on your competition and how they handle macro-issues facing your industry, then you are operating at a serious disadvantage. It’s a little bit like showing up to a tennis match with a ping-pong paddle. Of course, it’s important to work on your backhand, but if you haven’t studied your competition carefully, you risk underestimating them.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of this series on situational awareness and investor relations when we’ll discuss knowing your peers on a deeper level. In the meantime, if you would like help communicating a consistent and compelling investment story, we’re always ready to talk disclosure strategy (with as much geeky detail as you can handle, of course). No matter how well you know your company, we understand that it can be challenging to know how to frame your message and to develop the right outreach plan. Contact us today. We’ve got your back!

Photo credit: Wavebreak Media Ltd