communications guardrails

Communications Guardrails: Your Key to Forward-Thinking, Innovative, and Grounded Messages

We recently posted this blog article about strategies for making your underlying messages consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived by the world. With the speed of information dissemination in our digital age, you can’t afford to be reactive. But being proactive is a real challenge too. Anticipating all the ways our messages might be received is a tall order.

However, there is another way to ensure you are shaping conversations, rather than allowing conversations about your firm to be shaped by those outside of your organization. All you have to do is come up with some strong communications guardrails and stick to them. Let’s dig in!

Communications guardrails? What does that mean? 

Communications guardrails are a list of do’s and don’ts that are unique to your organization. They let the world know what your organization does and does not stand for. You can think of guardrails as rules, but that makes them sound really restrictive. 

We prefer to think of your guardrails as well… guardrails. They are boundaries that keep everyone corralled just enough to ensure that the conversations you’re having both inside and outside of your organization are forward-thinking, innovative, and grounded.

Your guardrails will also act as guides as your communications evolve. They include your values, branding messages, and talking points, but we encourage our clients to go even further. To start, ask your team these five questions:

  • What are we actively doing to show our commitment to our purpose, vision, and values?
  • What are our firm’s priorities when it comes to communications?
  • What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we accept?
  • What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we reject?
  • Do we have a solid crisis management plan? (because if communications are going to go off the rails, it will happen during a crisis)

With the answers to these questions in mind, you can begin creating your own guardrails. 

Also, you’ll want to consider what has worked for you and your competitors in the past. But don’t forget to look outside of your industry for ideas too. If you want to be out front leading, you’ve got to think beyond those tired, worn patterns.

Finally, avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Business Communications:

1. Pride: Lack of consideration for or understanding of your audience.

2. Envy: Trying to ‘copy and paste’ another organization’s messaging because it worked for them.

3. Gluttony: Know when enough is enough and skip the buzzwords.

4. Sloth: There are no real marketing “shortcuts” or “hacks.” You’ve got to put in the work.

5. Lust: Beware of falling in love with the latest trends or tools. Keep your communications genuine.

6. Anger: When communications are perceived as angry, defensive, or overly negative, your audience will tune out the message.

7. Greed: It’s okay to make the ask, but make sure you consider carefully who’s winning in the deals you make.

Time to Give Those Communications Guardrails a Stress Test

Once you have come up with your set of guardrails, the next step is to test them. This is yet another reason the guardrail metaphor is apt. Road crews don’t build guardrails and then put them out on the street without doing a proper stress test. 

In the same way, you don’t want to assume that your communications guardrails are solid and test them out in the “wild.” You want to test them internally first. 

One method we use with our clients here is the Murder Board. The term murder board (AKA “red team”) originated with the military, but it’s shorthand for creating a team of rivals or a committee of killjoys whose sole job is to poke holes in your team’s best ideas. It’s great not only for testing communications guardrails, but for any new idea you might come up with.

In short, the murder board is tasked with locating the problems, risks, and bugs insiders might miss. So bring your guardrails in front of a murder board.

Murder Boards are beneficial in a variety of situations related to communication guardrails:

  • When prepping crisis communications, the murder board can hep you prepare for any number of scenarios and develop do’s and don’ts for your CEO and spokespeople.
  • When prepping to talk to investors or analysts, the murder board can role play scenarios with your CEO to ensure she has answers to any number of “tricky” questions.
  • When prepping your sales team or customer service on the frontlines, the murder board can get them ready to reply to customers who can be some of the toughest critics, especially during a crisis.

For high stakes communication situations, there’s nothing better than a murder board. Finding your communications guardrails is a high stakes situation. Without guardrails, you’ll find everyday communications feeling chaotic and overwhelming and crises quickly spinning out of control.

When you take the time to create your communications guardrails with your team, though, you have the opportunity to shape the conversations you’re having and to lead your industry into a brighter future. 

What are your communications guardrails?

At Audacia Strategies, we’re used to fielding questions from executive clients about how they can be more aware of the underlying messages they’re sending. Our go-to answer is let’s work on your guardrails. Ready to see us in action? Contact us to schedule an introductory call!

change fatigue

Change Fatigue in 2020: How to Reframe Change and Cut Through the Noise

When we look back on the wreckage that is 2020, one thing will stand out: the rapid and constant change. For months now, we’ve endured business and organizational change like we’ve never seen. All this while managing through the anxiety of perpetual Zoom meetings, online / hybrid / in-person school, job insecurity, family health concerns, a shaky economy, tectonic cultural and societal shifts…plus, a pretty brutal presidential election. Change fatigue is real!

Everyone has a lot on their plates. Everyone is tired. And the best most of us can do is keep our heads above water every day. But of course, none of this means life and business stops.

As a leader of an organization—which also needs change to reset and keep the doors open—what can you do to help you and your organization thrive through this climate of change fatigue? 

Let’s look at what’s really going on here and five practical steps you can take.

Acknowledging that Change is a Constant

Before we get to the practical steps, we need to do some reframing. Prior to this year, many organizations enjoyed an unprecedented level of stability. Sure, they dealt with leadership changes, they went through reorganizations, they shifted strategies from time to time. But relative to now, markets were barreling ahead full speed and the future seemed relatively predictable.

All that has changed. At Audacia Strategies, our team is currently working with clients going through: major leadership transitions, reorganizations, and strategy shifts—all at the same time! 

And for many of our clients, this has been an ongoing cycle:

  • One client has had five senior leadership transitions in as many years.
  • Another client has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs as they integrate a series of acquisitions.

So how do organizations experiencing this cycle of change deal with change fatigue? 

First, they realize change happens. It sounds simple, but it’s more than a cookie-cutter message made for Instagram, “Enjoy the journey!,” “Embrace change!”

What I mean is organizations that successfully deal with a lot of change realize decisions beget decisions. Organizations can’t stand still, in the same way that we as individuals can’t stand still. We’re all evolving all the time. It’s just that right now, the evolution feels more urgent.

Instead of bracing for the bump, skilled leaders accept that rough waters are coming and engage their entire organizations. 

Recognizing that change is a constant won’t necessarily make it any easier. After all, the results of the 2020 election played out basically the way we all thought they would (give or take some percentage points) and that didn’t make the week of waiting for the numbers to come in any easier. 

Still, we can’t wrap our minds around the practical steps we can take without first acknowledging the things we cannot control. So what do we do?

1. Treat everyone like adults.

Once we accept how much change fatigue is affecting all of our lives, it’s time to trust that good people will find their way through. Show your employees that you trust them by treating them like the adults they are.

Give them the information they need to 

  • (a) make decisions 
  • (b) take care of their teams and take care of their families 
  • (c) make the information simple, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to access. 

Then give them space to work within certain boundaries. 

This sounds easier than it is. When we talk about acknowledging the things we can control, managing your team might be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you try to micromanage everyone right now, you’ll quickly end up with a lot of burned out folks.

2. Gather the leadership team together often.

It’s always important to have leadership on the same page and it’s especially critical during times of change and organizing your gorgeous chaos. So, step up the number of conversations with your leadership team.

Get everyone together to identity key pain points for each big change coming down the pike. For example, if you need to furlough employees, you’ll want everyone’s input to figure out the best way to handle issues like:

  • fear of job loss in the remaining employees 
  • concern for the future without departing employees 
  • concern for the wellbeing of departing employees 
  • increased workload 
  • gaps in customer coverage 
  • lost customer and internal relationships

3. Address challenges head on.

Also, remind leadership and lead by example when it comes to addressing challenges. Change fatigue is difficult enough without challenges being swept under the rug. Instead, face them head on and be as transparent as possible.

Address the challenges by developing plans that are flexible and take alternative solutions into account. Remember, though, that not all challenges have solutions.While you can’t make an employee feel better when their colleague is laid off, you can acknowledge the challenge and the emotions. 

Your employees may not like the decision, but they will respect it if you give honest answers about why the organization is changing and show them that your organization is treating departing employees with respect and humanity. If that’s not the case now, it’s up to you to advocate for more humanity in your organization. 

4. Provide resources to help.

Be open to finding resources to help everyone at your organization deal with big changes and change fatigue. These resources could include:

  • Executive and life coaching
  • Relaxation and stress reduction training
  • Flexible time off and personal time policies

Make these easily accessible for all, including those working from home, at a client site, interacting closely with customers, etc. 

5. Over communicate.

I’ve put this one last because it’s a big one. In my podcast interview with Mike Regina, we discussed how we’re all being bombarded by messages daily and we’re all distracted by #2020life. It feels like we need to live seven times, seven ways. 

To cut through the noise, your messaging needs to be on point. So carefully review all leadership messages for tone, ownership, and future vision.

  • Focus on messages of those closest to employees (e.g., middle management and line managers)
  • Engage employees early in the process. 
  • Give employees opportunities to ask questions (e.g., comment box, anonymous email, town halls, AMA chats, drop in Q&As, pulse surveys, voice of the employee surveys)
  • Prepare leaders for hard questions and hard conversations. 
  • Give leadership resources to help answer questions. 
  • Give leaders space and outlets to share what they’re hearing, their experiences.

Encouraging managers share their experiences of change (through change stories) with employees humanizes the experience. These stories are your best tonic for dealing with change fatigue.

Change in 2020 is not really different from other moments of change. What’s different is the context in which the change is happening. Because of change fatigue, the messaging around change needs to be stripped down to its essentials: no flowery language, fewer Venn diagrams. Get to the point. Make the case for change. Speak simply and directly. Be respectful. Be human. Be kind. 

If your organization is struggling with ongoing change during this time of uncertainty, our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation and let’s figure out how to move forward together.

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from Noun Project

best communications practices

A New Look at “Chaos is Our Brand” in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

When Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, originally taped this interview with Dan Doran, CEO of Quantive, for his podcast The Deal—Unscripted, we had no idea just how relevant it would be now during the current crisis. A year later, we are living a case study in crisis communication and thought it was a good time to revisit some of the takeaways about best communications practices from that conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Strategy for Best Communications Practices

This recommendation applies as much to a wide-spread crisis situation like the Coronavirus pandemic as it does to a big company transition like a merger or acquisition. It never pays to procrastinate on creating a communications strategy.

If you find yourself without a clear strategy, you’re likely feeling the pain acutely in this moment. As far as we know, no one has invented a time machine, but there are some things you can do to develop a stop gap strategy:

  • Stay calm and present as you weigh your options.
  • Figure out who needs to hear from you, when.
  • Develop straightforward messaging that doesn’t promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make sure you have a designated team with assigned roles to streamline communications.

For more ideas, check out 5 Lessons from our Crisis Communications Playbook

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. 

At the risk of sounding too sales-y and mindful of the many hardships experienced during this time, here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm:

  • 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.

Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to enlist the help of a firm like Audacia Strategies during this crisis or the next one, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing ASAP.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are 

In this moment of uncertainty, you are right to worry about accidentally leaving stakeholders off of your list of communications. One of the first rules of communications is to control the narrative. But if you hesitate to reach out to stakeholders or skimp on the stakeholder analysis, this is precisely the risk you take.

Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. What is the best story you can tell to a particular set of stakeholders? Suppose the governor in your state has decided your industry is among those allowed to reopen, but you disagree with the reopen policy for your business. Your best bet is to be honest with your employees, customers, and investors. State your case and speak your truth.

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

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Financial stakeholders: 
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
    • Investors or shareholders
  • Community partners
  • Contributors (for non-profit organizations)
  • Business partners and service providers
  • Strategic partners
  • Government regulators and political community (local, state and federal) 
  • Media and industry influencers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

This is especially important now when best communications practices may require a very light touch. If you think you can “get by” using your internal marketing department to craft crisis communications, you may want to reconsider. 

Marketing and strategic communications are different tools. 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 the experts in helping clients weather chaos, we have developed best practices over many transactions, crises, and change events.

Now is the time to ask big picture questions about how your market may respond to this crisis, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how investors, customers and employees should be engaged throughout. This is a great time to consider what has changed for your customers and employees and what you can offer as we begin to feel our way through life post-lockdown.

4. M&A Tips and Tricks

As we hopefully begin to see COVID-19 infection rates peak over the next several weeks and markets start to stabilize, many predict that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) will start to pick up in certain industries. This is, of course, assuming lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t place a moratorium on big mergers—a conversation we’ll be monitoring closely.

There are still a lot of unknowns here, but if a merger is in your future, 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. At its core, M&A is about risk, the ability to manage risk, and telling the story of how the acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

For example, if you’ve been working on a deal that has been in the preparation stages for months, should you call it off or push forward to completion? One thing is for sure: for companies that have built a healthy balance sheet during the economic boom of the past ten years, declining valuations create opportunities to pursue deals that create long-term value. While we can’t help you decide whether to hold or fold, we can help you communicate your decision.

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

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice it 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. (Pssst! Hot tip: Audacia Strategies has a new service rolling out to help avoid just this problem. Make sure you’re signed up to be among the first to get the details!)

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. You can watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, here

As everyone keeps saying, this crisis is unprecedented. Still, there is something to be said for working with a team that faces down chaos and keeps walking through the fire. We are here to help you figure out your next step and keep you moving forward. If you want to talk, we’re ready to strategize about your best next steps. 

Photo credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_deagreez

crisis communications

COVID-19 and Your Response: 5 Lessons From Our Crisis Communications Playbook

I hope you are reading this post from a place of health and safety. In these uncertain times, we’re all feeling anxious and wondering how to communicate (or even whether to communicate) with stakeholders. By now, we’ve all heard the news about businesses around the world shutting their doors, volatile markets, social distancing, and flattening the curve

The threat from the new Coronavirus is really three threats in one: the threat of the disease spreading, the threat from a looming oil price war, and the threat of a global recession. While no one can claim to have all of the answers right now, it’s fair to say that investors, clients, and your team are expecting you to keep the lines of communication open.

In light of this crisis, it makes sense to revisit our previous blog articles about crisis communications and the lessons we learned when cooler heads prevailed. 

1. Stick to your crisis communications strategy.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know how often we discuss developing a crisis communications strategy for moments like these. Hopefully, you have a strategy in place. It may not be adequate, since no one predicted a crisis of this magnitude and we still don’t know how deeply it will cut. Nonetheless, use what you have, evolve as necessary (and it will be necessary), and note the weak points for future work.

Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be in crisis mode for weeks or months at a minimum. Prepare your team to continue to iterate your strategy as new information becomes available. When you need to keep on walking through the fire, here are some tips:

  1. Focus on transparency and the truth.
  2. Work closely with your team to identify solutions.
  3. Do NOT stop communicating both internally and externally.
  4. Share your 360-degree strategy as it evolves.

2. Make sure to communicate with your internal team.

In addition to falling back on your strategy, focus on communicating with your team. First, approach all internal communications with a sense of empathy. Keep in mind that as concerned as you are about your firm and what this crisis means for future operations, your team is as worried about the firm, their families, and their own livelihoods. They need your strong leadership now more than ever. 

Follow the 5 G’s of walking through fire without getting burned:

  • Get to ground truth: You don’t know all the relevant facts, but be transparent about what you do know. Your team will appreciate you leveling with them, even if the truth is painful to hear.
  • Gather your team: Huddle together (over Zoom, of course) and listen to what your team has to say. Remember, you’re all in this together.
  • Give employees the support they need: Your employees on the frontlines of dealing with customers, clients, or investors during this crisis need to know you have their backs. Answer their questions, give them some talking points, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people outside of the firm to hear.
  • Go on the offensive: Now is not the time to hide. Be accessible and proactive in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
  • Grant trust: You’ve trained your team well. Now, trust their instincts and work with them to come up with solutions one challenge at a time.

3. Assess the damage and keep the data close.

The ultimate goal of crisis communication is to control your narrative and provide honest, transparent updates about your organization. Work with those within the firm who can analyze the data and provide you with a clear(er) picture. This way, your communications will be informed by what you know. Once you have a clear picture of the damage, you can tell your story. 

Now is also the time to consider your extended community. Consider every resource you can think of that may help you get through this crisis:

  • Reach out to traditional media outlets: If you have contacts in the news media, and if appropriate, reach out to let them know you are available for a conversation or interview.
  • Talk to your PR team: PR teams are designed to offer language for crisis communications. It may be tempting to be reactive and fire off a tweet storm, but you must resist this urge.
  • Seek legal counsel: Make a point of engaging with those who know your industry and can offer an outside perspective.
  • Identify and speak to key stakeholders: Ensure that your message is consistent and cognizant of what your stakeholders are hearing from public outlets. Be ready to combat any misinformation in a prudent manner.

4. Get through this crisis, yes, but take note of the lessons along the way.

After the economic crisis of 2008, many companies in the financial sector, especially, were motivated to develop crisis communications strategies. Since then, however, many have become complacent and they’re paying the price now.

All we can do is take an honest look at where we are now, hunker down, and get through this crisis. But along the way, make sure you take note of big lessons learned. On the other side of this, you want to be able to take a long hard look at your crisis response and come up with a solid plan for dealing with the next one. Remember, if you don’t figure out how to control the crisis, the crisis will control you.

Consider the following tips for the future:

  • If you’re having supply chain issues, think about how to diversify your supply chain. 
  • If you’re scrambling to help your employees figure out how to work from home, make sure a training program is included in the employee onboarding process.
  • If clients are canceling contracts, consider whether you can add a postponement clause into those contracts.

5. Do NOT over-promise.

When we’re not in crisis mode, we understand one principle of successful business is to under-promise and over-deliver. But during a crisis, we can go into fight or flight mode and in this heightened state of anxiety, it’s all too easy to make promises we can’t keep. Again, you’ll want to avoid this mistake at all costs.

For example, the travel industry has been hit especially hard at this time. But over-promising would only increase anger and anxiety for customers. Here’s a quote from an email from Tucker Moodey, President of Expedia,

“For those traveling now and with upcoming travel bookings, our teams are working around the clock to provide everyone the support they need. We are rapidly increasing the availability of travel advisors, enhancing our self-service options, and developing new automated ways for travelers to better manage their reservations. Our focus is helping travelers with immediate trips, and these improvements will allow all our customers to travel more confidently in the future.”

Notice how this paragraph focuses on what actions Expedia is taking, their strategy, and where their focus is in trying to make things as right as possible for their customers. Were they instead to promise that everything will be fine by the busy summer travel season—a promise they certainly can’t guarantee now—they would likely do more damage to their brand in these already turbulent times.

Our team at Audacia Strategies wishes you, your family, and your firm all the best. We are with you in weathering this period, holding our loved ones close, and looking out for our community. These are tough times and we wish a crisis communications plan weren’t a necessity for so many U.S. businesses and firms. We are here to answer any of your questions about corporate communications and investor relations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo credit: langstrup

crisis management strategy

Your Crisis Management Strategy When You Need to Walk Through the Fire…and Keep Walking

Your company can’t seem to make money, your executives are constantly in the news for the wrong reasons, and your plane still isn’t flying. Yeah. It’s been a rough few weeks/months/years. 

Recently, I talked about what to do at the onset of a crisis, but what happens if you can’t immediately get a handle on the crisis? What is your crisis management strategy for living through the day-to-day of a crisis that seems to go on forever? The initial response with employees and customers requires getting to the ground truth quickly and relaying as many of the facts as you can, while taking action. 

Some of these same elements continue to be relevant in dealing with the fallout of a long term crisis. But what’s crucial for an effective crisis management strategy is being perceived as a company that is moving forward and not one hoping that maybe after enough time passes, everyone will forgive or at least FORGET. When facing damage from a crisis that just will not die, you need a plan for resolution and rebuilding.

Putting Out the Fire vs. Leading Through the Fire

One of the most challenging tests of a great leader is how they deal with a crisis. To pass this test, it takes two skills: knowing how to put out fires and knowing how to lead through fire. 

Every executive has to deal with surprises and being in business likely means you’ll have to put out some fires eventually. Especially as your company expands, those fires will seem bigger, or at least the potential for fires gets bigger. When it comes to putting out the fire of a PR crisis, the name of the game is regaining control. 

For example, you may remember that back in 2016, after the shooting in San Bernardino, the FBI demanded that Apple build a “backdoor” giving the authorities the ability to circumvent Apple’s data encryption and unlock any iPhone. In response, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, effectively took control of the story writing this letter: ”A Message to Our Customers.” Tim Cook knows how to put out fires.

However, there are times when you cannot expect to turn things around so quickly or the fires you thought you put out actually continue to smolder. In these cases, leaders must develop a crisis management strategy for continuing to lead even through the crisis. 

Here are some tips for moving forward through the fire: 

1. Continue to focus on transparency and the truth.

While it can be tempting to say whatever you believe will finally put an end to this crisis, resist the urge to “whitewash” the truth. Keep in mind that following your gut and making quick, impulsive decisions is not a valid crisis management strategy and won’t likely get you through this crisis any faster. Impulsive decisions often result in a further loss of power.

Instead, you’ve got to slow down. It will be uncomfortable to tell the truth and only the truth. The media, your employees, your stakeholders, and your customers will likely push for more information. This is difficult to deal with, especially day in and day out. But if you haven’t worked out all the details, do not speculate. Remember that you are engaged in a game of chess here—not rock, paper, scissors. 

2. Work with your team to identify how the firm is preparing to resolve the crisis and (hopefully) prevent another in the future. 

One way to relieve the discomfort of having to stick to the facts, when you don’t have many facts to offer, is to take action so that you have more to talk about. Of course, I’m not suggesting you take any random action that comes to mind. Again, impulsive decisions are almost never the right move.

Instead, work closely with your team to come up with new policies and processes that help your company is ready to move forward. If new training would prevent a similar problem in the future, take steps to implement new training programs as part of your crisis management strategy, for instance. Also, consider what would improve both internal and external communications in the future.

For example, Stanford University recently changed their leave of absence policy for students facing a mental health crisis in the wake of a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination. In her message to students, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Susie Brubaker-Cole, said, “my colleagues and I have learned from our conversations with you, and our campus community is stronger because of your advocacy.” She went on to say, “together, we are making significant progress, and this new policy is a critical component.”

3. Do NOT stop communicating, either internally or externally. 

No matter what crisis management strategy you ultimately choose, remember to continue communicating as much as possible. Hiding away and hoping you can weather the storm without facing questions from your employees or the public will only cause more problems. 

Instead, keep your leadership visible and ready to answer questions. Have top leaders communicate internally through regular town hall meetings, Zoom meetings, pre-recorded videos, manager talking points, or even just walking through the cafeteria. 

By the way, communicating does not mean you have to take every accusation “on the chin,” but certainly continue to address the issue(s) with employees via your identified channels. Also, be sure to proactively offer appropriate updates to customers, regulators, investors, etc.

Communicate, both internally and externally:

  • What’s the latest 
  • What has changed 
  • What remains the same

Remind your leadership team not to say anything to employees that they wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s a reality. Memos leak. Video and audio can be shared. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Focus on sharing your strategy—value proposition. 

This final point is perhaps the most important aspect of any crisis management strategy: go back to the heart and soul of your company wherever possible. It’s a good idea to look at this crisis from a 360-degree angle. Remind your customers why you do what you do and emphasize that you are looking at this issue as only a blip on the radar. 

The point is not to dazzle or distract from the crisis, but to provide context about what your firm does, why, and how you remain committed to that strategy/mission. Ideally, any new processes, policies, actions are in support of continuing to advance the vision of your organization. With surgical precision, you are removing an imperfection and you will be stronger following this recovery. 

Keep this message close at hand, no matter how bleak things look. And always know that every crisis comes to an end eventually. I know that cliches sound so empty when you’re standing in the middle of the chaos and I know you’ve heard them all, but maybe you can take comfort in the words of one great American entrepreneur, Henry Ford, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” 

If you’re standing in the middle of a crisis right now, don’t go it alone. Find your tribe. Gather your advocates. And build your crisis management team. Fear might leave you feeling paralyzed at the moment, but you can trust the experts at Audacia Strategies. We’ll help you find the right crisis management strategy. Chaos is our brand, so you can bet we know how to walk through the fire. Contact us and let’s get to work!

photo by Authentic Images

crisis response strategy

The 5 G’s for Walking Through Fire Without Getting Burned–Your Internal Crisis Response Strategy

We’ve all had those days. You know, the days where you are forced to pull your IPO and your CEO gets fired, or Congress launches an official investigation into your safety procedures, or your company is the target of whistleblower claims

No? You’ve never experienced a business crisis like this? Then, you’re one of the lucky ones. But keep reading because even if it’s not to the scale of the situations above, you may someday find yourself in a sticky business credibility situation. 

We’ve talked before about preparing a crisis response strategy from a PR perspective. Now I’d like to take a look at what to do inside a business. How do you handle your response with employees and customers?

How to Respond to a Business Crisis

When a challenge to your firm’s reputation arises, it’s important that you meet the challenge with a crisis response strategy not only for rebuilding your brand’s outward facing reputation, but also for addressing the crisis internally. You can’t expect your team or customers to read between the lines of your external messaging. Plus, you owe it to them to communicate beyond the “party line.”

As always, I recommend creating your crisis response strategy well before you find yourself walking into the chaos of a crisis. Consider the following 5 G’s as you build your framework:

1. Get to ground truth.

When a crisis happens, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you need to respond promptly and you need to respond truthfully. Surviving the crisis is all about how you balance these two factors. There can be a tendency to sacrifice truth for the sake of speed and vice versa. Ideally, you will avoid both pitfalls.

DO NOT SPECULATE. Your internal crisis response strategy should be informed by what you know, but you cannot wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. So what can you do? Be transparent about what you know, where you are in the process and what you are doing. It’s important to acknowledge the credibility challenges (all of them), allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain the steps you are taking.

2. Gather your team.

Even if you are the only person in your particular department, you will need a team. Whether you’re in finance, legal, communications, HR—as the saying goes, “look for the helpers.” Remember, it takes time to gather your team. So plan ahead and notify the relevant parties that you may call on them and what roles they will play in the crisis response strategy.

Once you’ve gathered your team, listen to them. It can be tempting to be reactive, but try to get a well rounded perspective before making any big decisions. Otherwise, you run the risk of overpromising in the hopes that you can make the whole thing go away. 

Instead, get a baseline. Get perspective. And give context.

  • Did your numbers tank this quarter? Focus on the data, not drama. Look at firm-wide numbers, the market, and get a line on how competitors are faring. You need a clear baseline before you can respond realistically.
  • Is there a government investigation? Get to ground truth (see above). Work closely with your legal department, but also encourage as much transparency as possible. The appearance of concealing or stonewalling is not a good look either inside or outside the firm.
  • Is someone accused of misconduct? Again, get to ground truth (see above). Also, consider re-emphasizing policies, values, and company culture within the firm (assuming they are not the cause of the misconduct).

3. Give employees the support they need.

Employees are most likely to end up on the frontlines during a crisis. They will be communicating with customers, other employees, regulators, etc. Do not leave them “swinging in the wind” as they try to clean up the mess they didn’t create.

Arm them with the facts and engage them in an ongoing and transparent conversation about what the firm is doing to repair or recover its reputation. Use the channels appropriate for your organization—email, text, newsletter, video, Slack, person-to-person meetings, etc. 

Meet employees where they are—during a crisis they should not have to search for answers. Part of your crisis response strategy should include resources for employees on the frontlines. Communicate with employees early and often.

  • Whenever possible keep the touch personal. For example, answer questions during a town hall, Zoom meeting, or video conference.
  • Create manager talking points ahead of time and distribute them as soon as you’re ready after a crisis hits.
  • Don’t say anything to employees that you wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s reality. Memos leak. Video and audio recordings can be shared. Screenshots can end up in the wrong hands. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Go on the offensive with customers. 

If the crisis impacts customers directly or has been/will be in the press, go on the offensive and own the issue. Rather than trying to totally control the crisis, though, let your mindset be one of getting your version of the facts out first. Again, make sure you explain to employees what your crisis response strategy looks like with regard to customers. 

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean sugarcoating anything. Be transparent about next steps and honest about the potential impact (if any) on clients. Also, be sure that your customer communications are consistent with employee communications. As you consider these messages, your tone may differ, but the overall message should be consistent. The same goes for investors.

5. Grant trust. 

Follow the above 4 G’s and this last G should come naturally. When you create your crisis response strategy ahead of time, you’ll have the luxury of being able to fallback on your process. In the midst of a crisis situation, when it feels like everything is burning all around you, don’t underestimate the power of being able to trust in your people to execute on your process. 

How can you be so confident? Well, the confidence comes from having a strategy, knowing your audience, and believing in the human response to truth-telling. There’s a lot to be said for a company that owns up to mistakes and expertly pivots when crises arise. 

Whether you’re facing a small-scale crisis or a crisis of epic proportions like those recently faced by WeWork, Boeing, or GE, it’s helpful to remember other leaders have walked through the fire of chaos themselves. As Abraham Lincoln—no stranger to facing a crisis—once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

At Audacia Strategies, we’re no strangers to facing a crisis either. We’ve walked with our clients through the fire using the 5 G’s and we can help your firm develop the crisis response strategy that works for you as well. Schedule a consultation so we can talk about your needs.

Photo credit: Rawpixel

failure communications

How To Do Failure Communications Right—3 Communications Lessons Learned About What To Do When We Fall

We naturally spend a lot of time thinking about what a successful communications strategy looks like. This a good thing. Communicating your company’s message and values is crucial for standing out amongst your closest competitors. But have you also thought about a failure communications strategy?

<INSERT> Awkward silence.

failureRight. Let’s get uncomfortable today. Let’s talk failure. If you’re rolling your eyes now because you think you know what’s coming, keep reading. This isn’t going to be the “Failure is an amazing teacher!” pablum that we’ve all grown so tired of hearing. No. This is real talk about what to do when the sh*t hits the fan, when we disappoint ourselves and others, or when we just fall flat on our faces.

Rothy’s and How to Do Failure Communications Right

I recently received an email from shoe startup, Rothy’s, that stopped me in my tracks (Yes, Rothy’s is a favorite brand of mine. But don’t worry, this is not an endorsement or a sales pitch. It’s just an example of an excellent communications strategy). 

For months, Rothy’s had been teasing its latest shoe, a summertime slide with a vegan leather sole. The day before the shoe was supposed to launch, Rothy’s told its customers that the shoe’s launch was off. Apparently, scaling from prototype to production resulted in quality issues that couldn’t be fixed in time for the summer season.

The email they sent wasn’t a sale announcement or a giveaway begging customers not to leave. The subject line was: “Ouch.” The first line included the words “truthful and transparent.” It was an apology. But not the kind of lackluster corporate apology you might expect from a CEO who is clearly following instructions provided by legal. It was the kind of apology that left me feeling a greater respect for Rothy’s and its leadership.

What Rothy’s apology got right:

  • They took responsibility both for the mistake and for the decision to cancel the launch of a new product
  • They explained why they made the decision to cancel the launch
  • The reason they gave was all about looking out for the customer
  • They referred to their company values (i.e., “we pride ourselves on making the right decision—even when it’s really hard”) and their quality standards (i.e., “we will only launch product when every piece is perfect”)
  • They acknowledged how disappointing this decision is, but reiterated their confidence in making this difficult decision

They sent this email the day before the launch. 

Think about that—consider the time and money invested in design, marketing, production. Consider the sales expectations already baked into the firm’s annual plans. Think about the discussions that were likely happening behind the scenes to make the decision to pull the launch just hours before it was scheduled. Yet, they went through with the apology because leadership believed it was right.

3 Lessons Learned From Rothy’s Apology

If you stay in business long enough, failure is inevitable. Every seasoned business leader has “war stories.” Failure hurts. It hurts to consider the financial impact. It hurts to consider the customer impact and the blow to your brand (or personal) credibility. And, let’s be honest. It’s an ego blow. 

What sets apart those who master the art of turning lemons into lemonade from those who just leave customers with a sour taste? Let’s look at 3 lessons we can learn from Rothy’s literal failure to launch.

1. Failure can humanize your brand.

Failure sucks—there’s no getting around that—and doing the right thing can be incredibly painful. But as you work through the failure, acknowledging the pain humanizes your brand and aligns your goals with your customers’ expectations. 

When you fail, make it right if you can. But when you can’t, acknowledge the human aspects of disappointment and talk openly about how you will do better going forward. Trust your customers enough to put it all out there.

2. Transparency works.

Whether you’re communicating with customers, investors, or media, prioritize simple honesty. We don’t have to martyr ourselves or get too far into the weeds of how and why we failed. But we should be honest about the situation and what we’re doing about it. At the end of the day, this is all anyone can expect after a crisis. You can’t turn back time as much as you might wish you could.

3. Live your values. 

Failure is the greatest test of your values as a company. This really is where the “rubber meets the road.” After Facebook admitted to selling our data, one of the biggest criticisms was really a question about the company’s values. The “apology” ad reminding us of how much we all love Facebook felt like a sham after everything that came out. 

Communicating about failure, when done right, gives us a chance to remind others about our values, why they are important, and how they provide a better experience. That’s what I liked the most about Rothy’s communication. They acknowledged the failure right up front and they explained their highly personal calculus behind pulling the launch: that the poor quality shoe would be a bigger hit to their brand credibility than not launching the shoe at all. 

It was a fantastic example of transparency, honesty about business decisions, and a real example of living your corporate values. I’m sure that behind the scenes at Rothy’s HQ there are some heavy discussions taking place to understand why they failed on this product launch. But, they lived to fight another day and made their customers feel prioritized. 

Rothy’s launch fail is an excellent example of making lemonade out of lemons. You can perfect your brand’s lemonade recipe with these other blog articles:

And you can always work with a pro like Audacia Strategies to establish your failure communications or crisis communications strategy. We can also help create a strategy for successful communications, of course! Contact us today to talk about your unique needs.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

damaged goods

Damaged Goods: The Top Gun Problem and Crisis Communications

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

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

Damage Caused by Over-promising

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

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

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

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

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

Oof. Now that hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

How to Avoid Over-promising During a Crisis

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

1. Triage

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

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

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

2. Be Transparent

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

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

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

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

3. Continue to monitor the situation closely.

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

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

4. Keep Internal Communications Open

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo

 

crisis communications

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

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

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

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

Crisis Communications and Complacency

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

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

Use Digital Tools to Control the Damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding Well During a Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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