professional development reading list

Before You Unplug, Read This! —My Professional Development Reading List

We’re awash in news and information these days. It can be so tempting to just unplug from it all. But when your work requires you to remain “in the know,” it’s not that simple. How do you keep your head above water AND stay informed? My strategy is to focus my professional development reading list around a few key resources.

I realized that I use this strategy about a year ago, when I was giving a guest lecture at my undergraduate alma mater, American University in Washington, D.C. During our discussion about the role of investor relations and its intersection with Corporate Communications, one of the students asked a terrific question, “What do you read?”

It was a great question because it required me to really think about how I approach staying informed. It also kept me thinking long after I walked out of the classroom—Am I reading broadly enough? How do I stay informed without getting bogged down in information overload?

Today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources for staying up-to-date, entertained, and sane. (Don’t worry, I do not have a business relationship with any of the resources listed, nor do they know I’ve referenced them here. I just happen to find them helpful and enjoyable.)

My Professional Development Reading List:

News: I scan the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times each morning. I find the NYT Dealbook section, which specifically caters to investment news, to be particularly worthy. I also subscribe to multiple industry newsletters and scan the headlines for key updates each morning.

Business Strategy: McKinsey & Co’s strategy and corporate finance research provides good food for thought. As a global management consulting firm, they provide great insights into engaging with businesses, governments, and NGo’s. Also on my list of must-reads is the Harvard Business Review. I review these monthly (or while flying—airplane time is great for catching up on your professional development reading list).

Industry: The National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) sends a weekly email newsletter to members. It is always a helpful roundup of the latest information in regulation, disclosure, and market movements. The “Strategist” publication from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) also provides thoughtful commentary on communications best practices and innovative ideas.

In my Feedly: VentureBeat, StrictlyVC, PEHub to stay informed on the Venture Capital and Private Equity fronts. Plus, Recode and TechMeme to keep up with my friends in all things Tech.

Books: I also try to keep up with some of the latest business books to see what’s new and popular. Some of my recent favorites include: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, by Michael Lewis (The Undoing Project is next on my professional development reading list – I can’t wait!), Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism, by Jeff Gramm, and 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

Of course, I also spend plenty (too much?) time checking out Runner’s World, Food52, my local restaurant reviews, and Facebook (but not Snapchat…not yet.) We all need to take a break from the professional stuff once in awhile, right?

It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the narrow confines of our industries. Keeping a professional development reading list that includes articles and information that is outside of your comfort zone can really open you up to possibilities, you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Reading is one of my favorite way to get unstuck when I’m feeling especially siloed. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to broaden my worldview. And Audacia Strategies gives me a platform for helping other professionals break out of stale patterns to truly engage their stakeholders. If you’re ready to look at investor relations in a bold, new way, contact me today!

In the meantime, let’s keep the conversation going. I’d love to see your comment below! What’s on your professional development reading list? What are your must-reads each day? Best book or article you’ve read recently?

Photo credit: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo

annual reports

Boring No More! Turn Your Annual Reports into Your Best Asset

Annual reports are a company’s most-requested and most-read communications but they have a bad reputation for being dry and boooring. They can be full of jargon and legal speak. But while the proxy rules require all publicly traded companies file annual reports with the SEC, they do not require the information be delivered in the same sleepy fashion year after year.

I have been thinking a lot of about how to better leverage the annual report as a vehicle to share the vision, strategy and culture of a firm. Of course, I turned to corporate reporting expert, Barbara Koontz, Senior VP of Customer Experience, at Curran & Connors, who is a veritable wizard when it comes to helping companies design annual reports that stakeholders actually want to read.*

Because I have learned so much from Barbara myself, I asked her to share some of her insights with you. And she graciously agreed to answer my questions here (edited for length).

Q. Annual reports can be a strong tool to communicate past results, as well as future vision. What do you see as best practices to help the annual report tell an organization’s story?

A. There are several steps that a company can take here to convey its unique vision and values:

1. Use the CEO letter to your advantage: The opening letter to shareholders is still the most widely read section of the annual report. Companies use it to communicate vision, strategy, values, and thought leadership. The letter often focuses attention on recent initiatives that helped achieve corporate goals. Easy-to-read graphics or pull quotes ensure accomplishments stand out. The letter also is an opportunity to reinforce long-term, future goals and demonstrate industry standing.

2. Use video to convey personality: For online annual reports, the use of video is becoming more prevalent. A well-produced, short video is a great complement to the letter and conveys a CEO’s excitement and passion. To increase effectiveness and maximize return on investment, report videos are often directed to all stakeholders so they can also be used for other marketing endeavors.

3. Relate company performance to market trends: In general, it is important to balance company activities against 5 to 10 year market trends. This helps to justify investment in those key growth areas.

Q. Do you see organizations changing their approach to the annual report to express their corporate culture?

A. One of the biggest changes and most successful ways I see companies reflecting their culture is by showcasing employees. Companies incorporate stories, case studies, and photography that emphasizes the efforts of staff in helping the organization realize corporate goals.

We see video playing a key role here as well. A compelling video celebrating the passion and success of staff shows that the company values the contributions of its people, which in turn, results in employees wanting to work harder for their employer.

What may seem like a minor detail at first, the photo of the CEO, also can say a lot about the company’s culture. A suit says “traditional” “established,” and “leader,” while a shirt and slacks says “approachable,” “entrepreneurial,” and “partner.”

Q. Many different stakeholders use an organization’s annual report (investors/donors, media, regulators, customers). What advice do you give to companies to help them make their annual report accessible across multiple stakeholder sets?

A. It is important to design and develop content with all audiences in mind, as well as other communications vehicles that may be used to repurpose and more widely distribute elements from the annual report. When Curran & Connors develops a reporting solution, we consider the different ways the report or aspects of the report will be used as well as the target audiences.

Having said that, no document or reporting vehicle can be all things to all people. So, understanding your primary audience is important. Let’s say the main audience is the institutional investor. In this case, the report should be designed to ensure transparency and clearly communicate data, results, and a pathway to success.

Potential business partners, employees, and community members will also be interested in these metrics, but to effectively reach those groups the information may need to be presented differently. So, you will want to make the information more reader-friendly by applying relevant techniques such as infographics.

In addition, making the information available online is a sure way to make it more accessible to a larger audience. The content can connect to and be connected from a number of digital channels.

Q. An annual report can be a significant expense for many organizations, how do you recommend that companies increase their ROI and extend the reach of their annual reports beyond posting online and sending to shareholders/donors?

A. The two best ways to leverage the investment of your annual report are:

1. Think of the annual report as your “financial brand” for the year: Repurpose the look and feel into other communications documents such as fact sheets, the proxy, quarterly reports, the investor deck, and the IR website. This increases the value of the report and shows a professional and consistent approach to your overall communications.

2. Design the annual report to be easily segmented: Design the annual report in such a way that the segments of the book or online reporting vehicle can be shared via other marketing channels, such as social media. A unique graphic, custom photo or video, and/or case study that ideally conveys a key value driver can satisfy the never ending need for content for your social platform.

Q. As you look ahead, what are you most excited about for the future of annual reports?

A. Annual reports are one of the few documents that tell a company’s overarching story. What’s exciting is how these stories evolve to tell much more than how to reach a targeted bottom line. There is significant interest, for example, in learning about a company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices and how these impact the sustainability of the business.

Millennials are driving companies to be more involved in their communities and to report on these activities. Social media is forcing companies to be more transparent and have more conversations than monologues. Leaders of companies are taking more of an interest in the narrative too, which leads to more engagement across all platforms. As stories evolve, so do their formats.

Thanks for these words of wisdom, Barbara!

As you prepare your company’s 2017 annual report, rather than looking at it as just another federally mandated hoop to jump through, why not seize the opportunity to turn your annual report into a valuable messaging tool?

Audacia Strategies can guide you through creating a comprehensive communications strategy… including annual report messaging! Let’s talk!

*NOTE: This is not a sponsored post. I just happen to think that Barbara has great perspective on this topic!

 

Photo credit: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo

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