listening and learning

Audacious Transparency: Reaffirming the Core of Our Business

At the end of 2020, Audacia Strategies passed a big milestone for a small business. We celebrated five years in business. As the CEO, I’m simultaneously thrilled and anxious to see what the future holds.

As we grow, I’m doing all I can to make sure Audacia remains true to our guiding purpose: helping companies achieve their boldest initiatives and transformational vision. Here are a few of our steadfast guardrails:

  • Vision, conviction, and clarity have been the core of our business since day one.
  • We hold the line when it comes to our business values and we walk our talk.
  • We start with clarity about who we are — we support organizations taking the biggest steps and we enable our clients’ bold visions.

After all, if you’re going to start a business and turn down a regular salary and steady hours, there had better be a bigger purpose — a bigger prize — on the horizon. This remains my philosophy of business ownership.

All that being said, we faced our first real test of our mission and values in 2021. So in the spirit of audacious transparency, I wanted to share what we learned.

Growth! Scaling! Excitement!

In a previous blog article, we discussed keeping tabs on our underlying messages. While it’s easy to get caught up in the big, surface level messages we want to share with our audiences, if those messages aren’t grounded in our core values, it’s easy to get off course.

Not only does this happen with corporate messaging, it also happens with the way we run our businesses. And I think one of the biggest reasons businesses fail is because they lose sight of their core values or make too many compromises in the name of scaling.

Now here we are, five years in and Audacia Strategies has served a variety of clients in industries from specialty chemicals to cyber security to government IT. We are growing quickly, but the “Founder fear” is always there. Could it all disappear? (Hint: It won’t. But fear isn’t rational.)

And this brings us to the story of our biggest test yet. We were approached by a politically-motivated, third-party to support a coal-based chemical firm in need of crisis communications support and management. 

My gut reaction: This is not in our lane. It’s not where we want to be and it’s not who we want to work with. Just as quickly, though, the fear sneaks in: “What if it all goes away? What about growth, scaling, excitement? We should at least take the call. So we took the call and started putting together a team. Then, a team member with many years of experience in this industry came back to us and said, “I just can’t do this.” She was right. We stepped back and referred the work to a large firm with deep resources, deep pockets, and a very broad client set. 

Today, I’m confident that decision was for the best. I’m relieved not to have pursued the business or expended the energy. When making the decision, though, I was flooded with so many emotions (fear, panic, relief, shame, disappointment). Brene Brown would have a field day here! I’m still working through the experience.

Positive Outcomes

Even while I continue dealing with the emotional fallout from this near miss, as a team, we’re seeing many positive outcomes. 

Since stepping away from that opportunity, we have moved planned new offering(s) forward significantly (coming soon!). We’ve been able to expand our support to current clients and their transformations are taking flight.

Also, we’ve had some really fun, fulfilling, and meaningful new opportunities walk through the door (although nothing simply walks through the door in entrepreneurial life — it’s all based on the work you put in and forgot about or wrote off days, weeks, and years earlier)

In addition, saying “no” to the opportunity that wasn’t right for us, means we can direct our energy toward what feels right. And this experience reminds me that focusing on our missions and values yields work that doesn’t feel “purely transactional,” but that feels purposeful. It almost seems like the universe is rewarding us for making a good decision. 

And it’s a good reminder that taking work solely to chase the goal of scaling and growth comes with an opportunity cost. Clearly, we saved ourselves from going down the wrong path. It scares me, though, to think about how close we came. I don’t think we are alone in this challenge. In fact, I see it with our clients all the time and that’s why I want to share our experience.

Still Learning and Listening

It’s too soon to claim that we’ve learned any transformational lessons from this experience. We’re still integrating, but I want to share my initial thoughts while they are fresh.

1. I’m grateful to work with folks who are willing to say, “I can’t do this” and lend a hand to help reframe and refocus priorities.

2. We’re learning Tony Robbins’ lesson first-hand: “where energy goes, focus flows.” It has been amazing to see what has appeared once we refocused on our vision.

3. We’ve recommitted to the work. We have our eyes on our page. This is our journey and it just doesn’t matter what others are doing as long as we are true to our vision/values and our clients are achieving their vision(s).

4. This is why I started Audacia Strategies. I’m reminded of the beauty of building a business with shared team values at the core. If we “have” to take on work that is outside our values, then why do this hard work at all? It’s like working for someone else and building their dream.

Audacia Strategies has emerged from this experience stronger and more committed to our mission, vision, and values than ever before. We appreciate the nudge to recommit to walking our talk and this conviction is something we are proud to bring to our clients. After all, every business faces similar challenges. And every business needs to recommit to their priorities on a daily basis.

As always, we’re grateful for the chance to learn, listen, and yes…make a mistake. We’re even more grateful for the near miss and the lessons learned.

Ready to let your your vision, conviction, and clarity guide your next business transformation? Contact us to schedule time to chat!

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from the Noun Project

underlying messages

More Than Words: What Underlying Messages Are You Sending?

It’s 2021. And I, for one, cannot remember a time when our words — all of our words — carried more weight or were more carefully scrutinized. It’s no longer an overstatement to say that the Internet has the power to make or break your brand. Welcome to the communications pressure chamber where anything you say has the potential to be found and amplified.

As leaders and communicators, our job is to shape conversations. But with the speed of information dissemination, the time to strategize is before — not after — a narrative is trending online. Anticipating all the facets of how your narrative might be perceived, however, can feel like an impossible task.

It’s no wonder we are hearing from many, if not all, of our executive clients asking how they can be more aware in their communications (look for a post about humanizing communications coming soon!). So let’s talk about strategies for making sure our underlying messages are consistent with how we want to represent our brands to the world.

The Challenge

If you’re a leader worried about the underlying messages you’re sending with your content, you are likely facing one of the following challenges:

  • The fear of saying the wrong thing is paralyzing, so you put out watered-down, over-wrought messages that end up effectively saying…nothing.
  • The fear of saying the wrong thing is paralyzing, so your communications have stopped altogether. But saying nothing at all says so much more.
  • You’re ready to walk the talk and you want to communicate directly, but you fear reputational harm if you “don’t get it 100% right.”

These fears are understandable, but the answer is not to get defensive or hide behind jargon. Former President Barack Obama, speaking at the Obama Foundation summit in 2019, told his audience: 

“The cancel culture is predicated on this idea of purity; the illusion that you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff…You should get over that quickly. The world is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.” 

Rather than tip-toeing around your communications, maybe it’s time to embrace the messiness and welcome conversations around what our underlying messages are saying both to those within our circles and to those on the outside looking in.

Embracing the Messiness  

Cancel culture aside, this heightened state of awareness creates challenges for leaders and communicators, but we can also choose to see these challenges as opportunities for change. 

I’m in a heightened state of awareness too. Not only am I hyper aware of the words organizations use (including Audacia Strategies!), but also I’m aware of their actions. This past summer, for instance, I received a message from an M&A consultancy announcing its recent merger and its partnership with several large universities to bring on new team members. 

I heard the surface-level message loud and clear: Growth! Scaling! Excitement! 

The problem was with the underlying message. The email included their full new leadership team — with photos. All 9 were white, male, and all appeared to be over the age of 50. And this was the message they chose to use as a recruitment tool directed at new graduates. I was stunned. It felt completely tone-deaf. 

When I opened that email so many questions flooded my mind: 

  • What does this say about the priorities of this firm? 
  • What does this say about the structures of higher education? 
  • What does this say about those completing business valuations? About opportunities to acquire, sell, or engage in M&A processes? And about the finance and banking industry more broadly?

The underlying message being sent—not only by emails like this, but by the lack of equity, inclusivity, and diversity across corporate America—to women and BIPOC is “you are not welcome here.” So what can we as leaders of the business community do to bring about change? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

1. Take a stand as anti-racist

Now, there’s no doubt that the M&A consultancy was unaware of the underlying message their email was sending. They were firmly focused on the “Growth! Scaling! Excitement!” 

And this is precisely why it’s important for organizations to take an anti-racist stand. It’s not enough to say you’re non-racist or inclusive. The public needs to hear your personal and professional commitment to anti-racist action. Why not make this a regular focus of your content?

Too often when the national narrative gets uncomfortable, corporate leaders go silent, at least until they’ve completed their focus group testing and run it by Legal. As a leader in this moment when the country is engaged in discussions about institutional injustice, it’s essential to state your anti-racism clearly and announce the actions you’re taking to support those words. 

Communicate this in official statements, through updated company policies, and in your daily workplace interactions. Beyond these direct statements, partnering with a communications expert who specializes in diversity, equity, and inclusion can help you become more aware of the subtle non-inclusive messages you may be inadvertently sending.

2. Examine and address systemic racism in your organization.

If your response to my description of the email I received made you bristle, that’s because of systemic racism. Remember, and this is crucial, systemic racism harms all of us. Systemic racism makes members of “dominant groups” blind to their own racism and bias. Being blind to racism and bias makes us write company policies and procedures that are also biased. 

The only way to fight systemic racism is to face it head on:

  • Examine all company policies and procedures
  • Create a committee to examine and weed out or flag problem areas
  • Ask: Are paths to advancement within your organization structured to disenfranchise people of color?
  • Consider what efforts you are making to hire people of color as well as how you’re ensuring these employees thrive
  • Make visible changes to support a truly diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist culture

3. Use your power to change corporate norms.

Leaders have the power to use their resources and privilege to drive change. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to look beyond what you mean to say and consider how others might interpret your content. Then get to work improving corporate culture.

As leaders, we are uniquely positioned to move the needle on changing social norms. We need to recognize the position we’re in and commit to taking meaningful action. There’s much to be done. There’s much you can do to infuse your company with anti-racist values and create an anti-racist culture.

In this spirit, here’s what we’re doing:

  • We’re actively examining our recruiting, partnering, and networking processes to engage a diverse network of partners.
  • We’re committed to bringing a broader set of values and bigger, more audacious, thinking to clients and to our community.
  • We’re listening, learning, trying and failing, trying and advancing, and pushing ourselves to learn more, get uncomfortable and bring more awareness to our communications and our actions.

Becoming more aware of our communications is about more than rooting out racism, though. We’ve been seeing increasing calls for companies to take a clear stand on environmental issues, for example. So another change you can consider is to make sure you have a clear set of values and that you stick by them.

Ask yourself and your team:

  • Do our messages amplify our company values?
  • What messages do the images we use in advertising send?
  • What social change movement would you like your brand to lead? What are you doing to move the needle?

All of this can feel overwhelming, which is why it’s so important to have a diverse team. Considering perspectives and voices that are different from your own will make you more aware of the underlying messages you’re sending.

I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or that we at Audacia Strategies have it all figured out. Audacia has a long way to go. I have a long way to go. We aren’t going to get this right the first time and we will make mistakes. 

As CEO, though, I’m committed to taking action to increase true diversity and inclusivity. With this focus, the underlying messages will fall into place. We have to start, fail, learn, and improve. 

So, what are you doing?

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from the Noun Project

bold steps

5 Lessons from 5 Years (and What’s Next)

This month, I’m celebrating five years taking bold steps as the CEO of Audacia Strategies! Anniversary messages tend to be like toddlers…all about “me me me me me!” But the truth is—it’s all about YOU, Audacia Strategies’ clients, partners, and community.

As I take time out to reflect and celebrate at the end of a year like none other, I am overcome with gratitude. Your willingness to listen as we strive to balance your current business needs with the future needs of a transforming organization means we can cover more ground more quickly. Your positive responses to our content gives us the confidence to be leaders in our community. And your support on so many fronts makes it a joy to get up and do what we do every day.

So, as I share five lessons from five years in business, I want you to know we’re always thinking about how the lessons we learn can be applied to your organization as well.

1. Choose Your Name and Brand Identity Carefully

What’s in a name? Well, I won’t say the name of your organization is everything, but a great name can be a good conversation starter. And since we’re all in the messaging business in one way or another, it is a good idea to give names and titles careful thought. 

Why the name Audacia?

Here’s the definition:

From audāx ‎(“bold, daring”), from audeō ‎(“I dare”)

  1. daring, audacity
  2. boldness
  3. provocativeness

I chose the name Audacia Strategies because I never want to forget that spark that started me down the path to building my consulting business. With this name, I knew I’d never forget my big “why.” I knew it would be crystal clear to my team, clients, and partners that we are all about taking bold steps and transformative action. We don’t back down. We aren’t afraid to take risks.

More recently, I’ve purposefully shifted a lot of my language (both internal and external) to talking about my team. As I like to say, “this is not the Katy show.” All of this is part of discovering my brand’s true identity. Have you reflected on your organization’s identity lately?

2. Insist Upon Your Values

I also want to keep our company values on the forefront of everyone’s minds. There’s no mistaking what we stand for and because we know actions speak volumes, we make sure to walk our talk.

When I look at the strides we’ve made as a team, I know what works only works because we have clients who share our values. Trust, transparency, and audacity are the key ingredients to our success. But if any of these were missing on either side of the equation, we know we wouldn’t be where we are today.

When organizations have strong values that their customers recognize, it humanizes those organizations. Make sure that you infuse all of your messaging, both internal and external, with your company values. Could your customers list your organization’s values? 

3. Stay On Top of What’s In/What’s Out

Top organizations stay on top of what’s in and what’s out in their industries. Messaging and corporate communications has evolved a lot over the past five years. Just consider how much attitudes about Facebook and other social media platforms have changed during that time. Remember the carefree days before Cambridge-Analytica?

Here’s what stands out in our industry:

 

In Out
Straight talk Flowery prose
Teamwork “It’s faster if I do it myself”
“Revenue Driver” “Cost of doing business”
Progress Perfection
Getting uncomfortable Playing it safe

 

4. Taking Bold Steps Pays

For the past five years, Audacia Strategies has been in growth mode. I knew from the beginning that to meet my ambitious goals, I needed to set my fear aside and take steps I didn’t feel ready to take. I knew I couldn’t sit back and wait for the planets to align. I had to go out and find great partners so that I was ready to serve big clients. I had to believe that if I made smart investments, the revenues would come in and I’d be able to cover those big moves. In short, I had to trust myself, so my clients would trust my team.

Betting big has paid off big for us. It hasn’t always been a perfectly smooth ride, but that’s the point. Smooth rides mean that you’re covering well-trodden territory and change-makers can’t afford to play it safe. What big, bold steps do you need to take to raise your organization to the next level?

5. Look to the Future

So, what’s next? More of what we do best—rolling up our sleeves and diving into your biggest investments and boldest ideas. We’re bringing more firepower to the game with expanded voice of the stakeholder (customer, employee, community) capability, non-financial due diligence offerings, and more straight-talk-results-focused communication strategy.

What else should we be working on? What do you need most? Where would you like Audacia Strategies to focus its efforts in the coming months and years? We would love to hear your ideas for what’s next and what we should be working on! 

Give us your best ideas in this short (90 seconds) survey and we’ll share the responses in 2021. Fill out the survey here. #accountability

Here’s to all of us for making it through 2020! And here’s to another five years and beyond of bold steps for Audacia Strategies, our clients, partners, and community!

Photo credit: by Jacob Lund from the Noun Project

Corporate Communications

Cut the Crap: Putting the Humanity Back into Corporate Communications

Maybe it’s all the election coverage or the fact that I haven’t been in the same room with anyone outside of my immediate family in almost nine months, but my tolerance for corporate-speak is hitting the floor. And I don’t think it’s just me.

If there ever was a time to get human, it’s now. What does this mean? In the simplest terms, it means cutting to the chase with our corporate communications and messaging. Your audience is clamoring to feel seen and heard. So why not give them what they want?

Take a look at my best tips for putting the humanity back into your corporate communications.

1. Think Like a Reporter

Whether you’re working on a value proposition (i.e., what makes you unique in your market?) or a restructuring message to share with investors, strip away all the complexity and find simple language. 

One way to do this is to think like a reporter. Journalists are trained to give the who, what, where, when, and how of a story in the first sentence or two when reporting on a story. Replicate this tactic by getting your marketing and communications teams together (or go outside of these departments for a different perspective) to brainstorm: 

  • the what, 
  • the why, and 
  • the what’s next.

Whatever you think of James Carville’s politics, he is a master communicator and strategist. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Carville knew exactly how to drill down and develop core messages that were simple, memorable, and meaningful. Carville used his most famous quip, “it’s the economy stupid,” along with “change vs. more of the same” and “don’t forget health care” to anchor messaging throughout the campaign. The election results speak for themselves.

2. Dump the Buzzwords

As one health reporter brilliantly puts the point in this Atlantic article, “if there’s anything corporate America has a knack for, it’s inventing new, positive words that polish up old, negative ones.” These buzzwords do more than whitewash or paper over the stuff we don’t want to talk about, though. They also obscure your message and make your organization seem less authentic.

In this time when everyone is distracted by a global pandemic, an unusual Presidential transition, and how both could affect their future, it’s more important than ever to dump the “disrupting,” the “pivoting,” and the “growth hacking.” 

Your employees and customers don’t have time for this. They want you to give them information they can act on. If you confuse them with jargon or industry terminology, they will ignore you. So cut the crap.

3. Get Vulnerable

What can you do instead of resorting to the safety of buzzwords? Get vulnerable. Be careful here, though, getting the tone right takes a lot of nuanced thinking. And I’m NOT suggesting that you manufacture adversity. But if you’ve faced a genuine struggle that has made you rethink how you do business, it may be the time to share the new ‘why’ behind your ‘what’.  

You can make sure to stay within critical communication guardrails by letting your organization’s authentic voice be your guide:

  1. Pay attention to the voice of your leadership team and use it to steer messaging.
  2. Make sure your corporate communications reflect your company culture.
  3. Take a step back and consider the big picture whenever communicating with the media, your audience, and other stakeholders. 

4. Step Away from the Webinars

In relation to considering the language and the tone of your corporate communications, you’ll also want to think about the method of delivery. I’m not a speaking coach (though I am happy to hand out referrals to great teams), but I find the formality of webinars often results in participants feeling totally disconnected.

For this reason, we have been recommending that clients step away from webinars in favor of less formal interviews, discussions, roundtables, open mic Q&A, etc. While it may make sense to give a short written statement or update to kick off an investor meeting, listening to written remarks being read for any longer than 10-minute intervals is probably too much to ask from those on the other side of the camera.

Regardless of the format, to ensure that you are connecting with your audience, spend some time practicing your delivery. In fact, if you can spare the time, put more time into practicing your delivery than you do writing up your remarks. 

Why? This world of virtual meetings we all inhabit makes it harder to feel a genuine connection. If you’re the kind of speaker who draws on the energy of your audience, then this is even more true for you. Ask these questions as you prepare for your next town hall meeting:

  • Would my grandparent understand what I’m saying?
  • Have I removed all the jargon?
  • Have I included smart visuals that are easy for my audience to understand almost immediately?
  • Do I have a story or narrative to share?

Above all, be mindful of the ways in which your customers, your employees, and your investors are more distracted than they’ve ever been. When your communications cut to the chase and avoid the corporate-speak, your audience will feel seen and heard.

With these tips under your belt, you’ll be ready to send a clear message with your corporate communications. Is it time for your organization to get human? Contact us and let’s talk! 

Photo credit: Transgender woman leading meeting by Noun Project from Noun Project

taking bold steps

Taking Bold Steps is Scary—Saddle Up Anyway

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

This quote from America’s favorite cowboy resonates with me right now. In a previous blog article, I mentioned that one of my 2020 goals for Audacia Strategies is to continue to scale. As a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level. 

Okay, you might be thinking, so if the team is ready…what’s with this talk about being “scared to death?” Well, taking bold steps can be scary—even for us! And even when you’re confident about your next best move, you may have doubts about the execution. So, let’s talk about what I’m doing to push ahead and lean into my strengths.

What does scaling Audacia mean for you?

Before we get to the business lessons for taking bold steps, it makes sense to talk about what scaling looks like for Audacia and how this will benefit our stakeholders. This will give us some context for discussing our plan and key takeaways.

As with everything we do, we’re always thinking about how we can serve our clients better. Here’s what scaling will allow us to do for our clients:

1. Replicate Successful Client Engagements

Scaling means having the ability to measure and then replicate successful client engagements more easily. Of course, each client is unique, but we bring an approach based on best practices and our experience that works. 

Individual wins are worthy of celebrating. But if we also take the time to examine what really works with an eye toward replicating that success, everyone wins.

2. Contribute Diversity, Experience, and Transparency

Key to scaling is mindfully building a team that not only works seamlessly together, but also brings more diverse perspectives, outstanding experience, and radical transparency to the table.

Audacia’s clients appreciate our unique philosophy of tough love, diplomacy, and truth-telling because taking bold steps means going in with your eyes wide open.

3. Go Broader and Deeper

As we scale, we are looking for ways to help our clients take their transformations to the next level. You have asked for expanded offerings and we’re ready to deliver. We’re adding to our  current service offerings in transformation, investor relations, and strategic communications.  

Scaling our team will allow us to expand our offerings to include, for example:

  • Corporate Responsibility Strategy
  • Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee 
  • Market and Competitive Analysis

We’ll also be able to provide deeper expert support on more complex projects and engage seamlessly across multiple stakeholder sets. Stay tuned for a future blog post about the key actions and attributes to consider when building a team.

4. Stay Accountable and Follow Through

Sharing our plans for scaling in this way means we’ll make it happen. Audacia Strategies—the name itself—inspires us to make bold moves and help our clients do the same. Just because we take bold steps, though, doesn’t mean we have no fear.

Taking bold steps can be scary, fear of failure is real! But fear is not a reason to stand still. It’s a sign that we’re on the cusp of something big.

What’s the plan?

  • Get Katy out of the way: It’s time to focus on engaging with the right support teams to identify and develop repeatable work processes. This way I can focus more fully on my role as CEO and my most valuable work with clients. 
  • Use technology to our advantage: We’ll explore project management tools, communication tools, calendaring tools, etc. that will help our team work better together. The trick here is not to add tech just to add it, but to add the tech that adds value. Strategic use of technology will keep us on track and connected. 
  • Establish regular feedback systems: Timely, useful feedback is the only way to make improvements and move forward. We’ll develop feedback systems both for working with clients and within the team.
  • Keep bringing on board the smartest, most interesting, and most candid team members! Got ideas for project managers, communications experts, and amazing business strategists? Send ‘em our way.

Lessons for Taking Bold Steps

How can you take these lessons and apply them to your business? Any transformation or transition phase can be a challenge because you are “operating without a net.” Still, there are steps you can take to make these times feel less chaotic. 

Whether you’re considering how to best scale your team or what bold moves will help you increase your market share, you can learn from what I’m doing to keep myself on track.

Here are the things that I’m working on that may help:

  • Focusing on high-value activities. As CEO, it’s imperative that I use my time most efficiently for the health of the business and that means making the high-value tasks my #1 priority.
  • Eliminating distractions. Related to the first point, I will separate the actions and activities that are mere distractions from those that actually facilitate accomplishing more for my clients (e.g., what can I delegate? Can I find a better workflow here?).
  • Looking for the right qualities. My vision for Audacia Strategies is building a team of people who are more than simply co-workers. So, I’ll be getting very clear on what makes a great teammate, not just a good employee.
  • Setting clear expectations for teammates…and for myself. 99% of business issues stem from a mismatch of expectations. I’m focused on being clear about my expectations and holding us all accountable.
  • Drawing clear boundaries in the business. Boundaries are respectful—with only 24 hours in a day, it’s important to acknowledge that we all have priorities beyond work and that should be respected and celebrated. As an example, technology enables us to do a lot, but it can also enable stressful behaviors such as feeling like we need to be always “on,” like we have to respond instantaneously, and that we have to work at 2am to “keep up”. Technology “off hours” are good!
  • Remembering that we are all more than our work. Personally, I know that I’m more creative, focused, and patient when I have had more sleep (questionable with 10-month-old twins, but #goals), more time with my family and friends, and more time for working out/reading/resting my brain.

We all know we need to take bold steps if we want to grow. So, the next time you start to feel that fear creeping up, have the courage to sit with it. Talk about it. (Maybe blog about it?) Seriously. What if instead of running away from that uneasy feeling, we decided to let it wash over us and really listened to what it was saying?

I’d love to hear your stories about taking bold steps. What’s the single best thing that you have done to make these transformative moments feel less chaotic? Leave a reply below.

Photo credit: nd3000

best communications practices

“Chaos is Our Brand”—Takeaways from an Interview with Katy Herr, CEO of Audacia Strategies

Friend of Audacia Strategies and CEO of Quantive, Dan Doran, interviewed Katy about the advantages of running an “out-of-house” communications firm, best communications practices during times of transition, investor relations, M&A strategy, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, and much more.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways and highlights from their in-depth conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Communications Strategy

Organizations most often look for experts in investor relations and strategic communications during big transitions. For example, a government contractor might decide to take operations in a commercial direction or a firm may contemplate a game-changing merger or acquisition. Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to bring in a firm like Audacia Strategies to help during such a transition, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing early.

Many of our clients contact us when they’re facing one of two situations: times of crisis or times of transformation—hence our unofficial tagline: “chaos is our brand.” This makes a lot of sense, but too often what we find is that if an organization hesitates to develop best communications practices and a communications strategy early enough, things can go off the rails quickly.

Say your board is about to fire your CEO, when someone leaks the news on social media and all hell breaks loose. What do you do now? Dealing with this kind of challenge is never fun, but it is much easier if you have a strategy ready to implement. If you have a plan, you can stabilize the situation quickly and move past the crisis.

So, why look to an outside “hired gun” to help develop a best practice communications strategy?

Here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm like Audacia:

  • An outside set of eyes gives you transaction experience, critical perspective, and unbiased advice when communicating your message to the outside world.
  • An outside firm is in a good position to place your organization in a broader context (i.e., the competitive set, the market, and your financial stakeholders), while you focus on running day-to-day internal operations.
  • An outside firm isn’t influenced by the “groupthink” or silo-ed communications that can be an obstacle to projecting the strongest public image.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are

Part and parcel of creating a winning communications strategy is thinking about who your stakeholders really are. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the stakeholder analysis. Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. And just as you wouldn’t tell the same story in the same way to your 4-year-old nephew as you would to your 85-year-old grandmother, you wouldn’t tell the story of your company in the same way to different types of stakeholders.

Depending on whether you are a publicly or privately held company, stakeholders could include any or all of the following sets:

  • Employees
  • Financial stakeholders:
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
  • Community partners
  • Business partners (non-financial)
  • Strategic partners
  • Customers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

It’s also important to realize that even if you have an internal marketing department or marketing agency responsible for communicating your message to customers, you may still benefit from enlisting a corporate communications or investor relations firm to help communicate with other stakeholders. We see both marketing and communications as valuable tools for building relationships.

Whereas marketing primarily focuses on telling the story of how your product or service will help your target customers, strategic communications partners can knit together the entirety of the business story to give investors and other stakeholders a comprehensive picture. As experts, we provide you a strategy leveraging communications best practices honed over many transactions, crises, and change events.

We look at how individual aspects of the business including operations, business development, human relations plans, contracts, real estate holdings, etc. fit together to create a holistic picture of value and determine how to communicate that value to each stakeholder segment.

In addition, while many firms have annual strategic planning sessions, often leaders and employees are too busy putting out fires day-to-day to think much about the broader picture. By opening this conversation, we give firms the space to look at the competitive space and customer environment, for instance, and ask big questions about how their market might respond to their actions, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how to keep investors engaged through the transition.

4. Gain Fundamental Communications Building Blocks Regardless of Revenue

At Audacia Strategies, our team has worked to develop best communications practices for companies with billions in revenues and an established shareholder cohort and companies that are pre-revenue looking for their first round of funding. While the scale and scope are different, the communications needs of large and small firms are remarkably similar.

There are some “blocking and tackling” basics that hold when it comes to analysis, building customer relationships, and considering how to communicate your value to the marketplace. These are fundamental whether you’re pitching friends and family or venture capital firms.

Fundamental communications questions to ask:

  • How do we want to talk about this new capability?
  • How do we demonstrate knowledge, understanding, and awareness of the market we’re going into?
  • Are there legal, financial, or cultural requirements that we should keep in mind?

5. M&A Tips and Tricks

When it comes to M&A (mergers and acquisitions), Audacia Strategies can support teams in many different capacities. We work with corporate development teams, in-house financial teams, lawyers, and investment bankers helping them think through the market and storytelling from an M&A perspective. For publicly traded firms, given the disclosure requirements, if you can tell the right story from the beginning, the whole process will be easier.

For example, when murmurs of Amazon working on a deal to acquire Whole Foods first hit the news, a lot of experts were skeptical. Whole Foods was struggling against some PR snafus and people wondered what Amazon really knew about how to manage a grocery store.

But look at what happened? As soon as Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.5 billion, Amazon’s market cap went up $14.5 billion. Essentially, the market paid Amazon to acquire Whole Foods. (If you’re curious to read more about Amazon, check out The Everything Store.) So, it’s interesting to see how the market will view M&A. It’s about risk, the ability to manage the risk, and telling the story of how this acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

Finally, we’ll leave you with some pitfalls and opportunities to consider when it comes to communications during a merger or acquisition:

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice to say, if you overpay for an acquisition, it can create credibility issues with your investors, your Board of Directors, your employees…the list goes on. Negotiations can get emotional quickly but consider that the business strategy will have to support the valuation.
  • Cultural fit failure: We’ve seen it happen: a small start-up firm develops an amazing technology and gets bought by a huge firm looking to prove it’s innovative and “hip.” Then, within a year, all the original start up employees are gone. Avoid this kind of cultural disconnect by having an air-tight integration strategy from the beginning. Make sure you are walking your walk, so you can deliver on what you’re promising.

M&A Opportunities:

  • Integration is key: The best M&A success stories are those where the merging leadership teams think about integration all the way along. When companies have a successful communications strategy that includes communicating the big vision well for both internal and external audiences, the proof is in the stakeholders’ response.
  • Customers see opportunities: Ideally, when two companies merge, customers say “this is exactly what I needed.” Rather than seeking out two solutions, for example, the customer gets one-stop-shopping from the new hybrid. It’s your job to help communicate this feeling across your stakeholder groups.
  • Employees see opportunities: And if you can also pull off a merger where employees in both companies see the transformation as good for their own careers, you’ve developed a winning communications strategy. Often employees of the smaller firm may feel anxious about being acquired. But if you can honestly demonstrate opportunities for career mobility, earnings potential, and other benefits of working for a larger company, it will go a long way toward easing transition tensions.

The above is only a sampling of the insights and best communications practices gained from Dan and Katy’s conversation. To watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, hop over to GoQuantive.com.

Catch the whole episode here:

For more information about how Audacia Strategies can help you own your message through big bold business changes, check out our one-page business overview. And if you’re new to the Audacia Strategies world, welcome! Please contact us to set up a discovery session so we can start strategizing about your best communications practices now.

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business goals

3 Big Investments We’re Doubling-Down On in 2019

January is a good month to take stock—or so my Marie Kondo-loving friends tell me. It really is a great time in the business cycle to think back over the past year, to consider what worked and what could have gone better, and to make business goals for the year ahead.

Here at Audacia Strategies, I’m feeling so much clarity around what types of organizations we serve and where we can add the most value for our clients. Now we can focus on thinking strategically about how to double-down on our biggest investments and accomplishments to bring even more value for our clients going forward.

Here’s a small window into our business goals for the coming year:

The Big 3 for Audacia in 2018

1. We became certified as a women-owned enterprise (WBE): It took the better part of the year to get the paperwork completed, filed, and to receive our certifications (one of our major 2018 business goals). But we are now officially a Woman-Owned Small Business or WOSB (in the eyes of the Federal Government). We are also nationally certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and received our CBE certification in D.C. We’ll receive additional state-level certifications soon.

Big InvestmentsThese certifications position Audacia to better support clients’ supplier diversity objectives, engage directly with federal, state, and local government initiatives, and support larger-scale projects with diverse financing requirements. Being woman-owned certified also gives us the opportunity to reach a broader audience. We are proud to participate in programs that support and encourage women to own businesses in industries where women have been historically underrepresented.

2. We helped our clients win new business: This is some of the most rewarding and satisfying work we do at Audacia. When our hard work and collaboration results in clients winning new business, there’s no doubt we’re delivering at a high level. This kind of feedback reaffirms that our systems and procedures are working.

For example:

  • We helped an EdTech client land 8 new clients in 9 months by reviewing the market and competitive landscape to develop their product launch strategy, message development, and activate an ongoing marketing strategy.
  • We helped a growing government contractor develop a message architecture and segmented stakeholder messaging strategy to leverage their government expertise to expand into adjacent commercial markets. As a result, they have already inked a strategic alignment contract with a major commercial provider in their space and are in discussions with others.
  • We prepared an established government contractor to attend their first investor conference in their 15-year history. Our team worked to develop investor messaging, (i.e., strategic rationale, value proposition, and investment case development) and an investor presentation for the firm. We trained leaders in Reg FD requirements and presentation delivery. And we equipped key executives to handle “live fire” investor Q&A.

3. We helped our clients get recognized for their innovation: Bringing an innovative product or service to market carries certain inherent risks. But having a strong team behind you to brainstorm ideas, challenge assumptions, and provide an additional perspective can mitigate these risks.

For example:

  • We developed the messaging strategy for an innovative nonprofit in the higher education space. Our client was highlighted as a key innovator in higher education by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • We supported the successful CEO transition of a 55-year old government contractor and the strategy to support the subsequent transformational realignment to more closely align the business with its strategic markets. The firm has achieved higher internal employee engagement and is ready to bring their refreshed message to current and new clients.

Looking Ahead to Our 2019 Business Goals

1. We will forge ahead with additional state-level certifications: This is key as Audacia looks to better support our clients as they, in turn, support their clients. Think: transformational systems implementations. This is not a new business area for us, but these certifications provide a new way for us to enable successful business transformations at all levels.

2. We will continue to support our clients biggest transformational moments/goals/ideas: In 2018 we had the opportunity to support c-suite transitions, mergers and acquisitions, new product launches, and new investor relations strategies. We also expanded and cultivated our network of business partnerships, so that in working with Audacia, our clients gain access to even more strategic resources. We’re going to continue that work in 2019 as we look to help even more companies get the biggest bang for their transformation buck.

3. We will show leadership in promoting corporate responsibility and effective crisis management: Now more than ever, our analyses show investors and stakeholders care about demonstrated success in corporate responsibility. It’s often difficult for firms to evaluate their own cultures and even more difficult to implement change without an outsider’s perspective. If this isn’t on the radar of your leadership, let’s get going and get you on track! This is of special interest for organizations eyeing mergers and acquisitions. Making a strong case in terms of the numbers, may not be enough for investors these days. We’re staying ahead of the game, bringing new service offerings in this area in 2019.

How are you looking to grow and transform in the new year? What big accomplishments and investments from 2018 are you doubling-down on? What business goals do you hope to achieve in 2019?

If Audacia can support you in your business goals, let’s find time to talk about your needs. Your first step is scheduling a 30-minute introductory call with yours truly. Let’s make your 2019 truly transformational!

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet

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

Welcome to Audacia Strategies

And so it begins…

Hi there, I’m Katy. Welcome to the Audacia Strategies blog. I think you’re going to like it here.

A quick note about us, Audacia Strategies delivers investor relations and corporate communications to businesses that are in transformation. Transformation isn’t for the faint of heart – you want to do it right the first time. We help you get the most bang for your transformation buck by communicating effectively and completely across your stakeholders. You can learn more about what we do over on our Services page.

But this blog isn’t about Audacia Strategies. We have a whole website for that! Over in this corner of the world I’ll be talking about some of the latest “ripped from the headlines” examples of companies in transformation, providing some Investor Relations/Corporate Communications 101, and interviewing folks who have been in the trenches through big transformations and lived to tell the tale.

Most importantly, this blog is about you. I’m looking forward to hearing your perspectives, challenges and successes. I hope you’ll comment on the posts, ask questions, make suggestions, and drop me line at katy@audaciastrategies.com or tweet at me @KatyHerr. Conversations are much more fun than monologues, right?

I’m looking forward to getting to know you. Let’s talk.

 

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