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 growth

Does Size Matter? Planning a Successful Transition from a Small to Large Business

Business growth is always a hot topic. And lately, we’ve been having a lot of conversations with clients and potential clients about how to grow. But what really stands out is that the challenges are not so much about growing per se. They’re more about how to grow smart.

You see, when a small business is absolutely killing it, it runs the risk of outgrowing the (super helpful) “small business” designation. Suddenly, the issues are all about translating what is working well at this level to the next level and the translation is almost never one-to-one. And for businesses that work with federal, state, or local government offices there is even more to think about. It’s not unlike learning to play 3-dimensional chess.  

Yes, there are better and worse ways to move from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond. So, let’s talk about how to do it well.

Mini Case Study

For instance, consider the following typical business growth scenario:

I’m a federal 8(a) or certified small business in my key market areas and I’ve been so successful that I’m about to graduate from “small business” to “large business” in the eyes of my customers. This is awesome because I’ve figured out my market and I’m on an incredible growth trajectory. BUT—How do I preserve the “special sauce” of being a small business while I grow? How do I maintain my growth trajectory? How should I think about shifting my marketing and sales strategy?

These are tough questions. But the good news is that many successful businesses have survived this kind of transition with flying colors. You can do it too. All it takes is a strong transition strategy.

Oh, and…start early! The surest way to business growth success is giving your team the time and space they need to figure things out. This is just good leadership: giving your team the tools they need to plan for the many aspects of your business that will shift as you move to a bigger playing field.

Big Picture Questions

The following questions will serve you well as you make the transition from a small player to competing on bigger and bigger stages:

1. Where do you want to be?

You’re growing. That’s AWESOME! But what is your vision for success in 1 to 3 years? It might be tempting to plan further out, like 5 or 10 years, but I’m not a huge fan of going beyond 3 years. There’s just so much that can change in your business, the market, the competitive set, technology, etc.

That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t have a long term view. But when you sit down to think about your investment strategy and near terms actions, it’s best to keep 90% of it focused within a rolling 3-year timeframe.

So, where do you want to be? Start there and work backward.

2. Who are you? What do you want to be known for?

And as for your special sauce, this is a great time to get clear about it. Keep in mind sometimes what we think is our special sauce isn’t really that special to our customers and partners. This means talk to your clients, your business partners, your employees…ask almost anyone you can think of what makes your business really unique. Ask them to get specific.

Also, steer clear of boilerplate marketing speak and boring platitudes. For example, way too many businesses say, “our people are our differentiator.” But the fact that EVERYONE says this means it’s not true. No business worth their salt is going out there and hiring unqualified people. It should go without saying that you’re hiring the best and brightest that you can get your hands on!

So, what is it about what you do with your team that makes you unique? For your customers, it could be that you always return their calls quickly. Or that you have a process for onboarding that allows them to hit the ground running. For your investors, maybe you’re offering the chance to expand their portfolios in a particular direction.

3. What do we need to get there?

Are there gaps in talent, technology, or process that you will need to fill in the next few years? Have you thought about all the ways that business growth will require your team members to step up their games? Are you prepared to support leadership as they learn how their jobs and relationships will change?

One of the key aspects of a successful transition is being open to seeing shortcomings and accepting where creative solutions are needed. If you aren’t actively seeking constructive criticism along this journey, you are asking to be blindsided. So, start assembling that team of rivals and ask them to be brutally honest.

Think About What the Future Looks Like

One of the best pieces of business advice I’ve heard is “dress for the job you want.” This is another way to say put yourself in the mindset of where you want to be. When a business is transitioning to become a bigger and (hopefully) better version of itself, the same principle applies.

Here are some ways to put yourself and your team in the mindset of where you want to be:

Identify your audience: Now that you’re moving up, your customer set may change. You may be working with new clients who have larger budgets (and expectations that go along with those big numbers). Even your current customers’ perceptions will likely shift as you graduate from small business to large business. Identify their priorities and tailor your sales and marketing approach to their needs.

Shift your competitive set: As you grow, your competitors change too. This is particularly true when moving from a small business that benefits from set-aside budgets and contracts to a large business that is competing in a full and open market.

As you think about your new competitive set, take a good hard look at:

  • Your competitors’ current client lists, testimonials, reviews.
  • How they characterize and position their service and product offerings?
  • How they market themselves (e.g., website, public statements, corporate overview, social media, thought leadership pieces, etc.).

You aren’t doing any of this because you want to copy or steal their ideas. But to stand out from the crowd, you need to know what your crowd looks like. It’s also good to assess what your clients are used to seeing and hearing so that you can stand apart while communicating in the language they understand.

Also, consider the following:

  • Define success carefully. Consider the ideal goal, but also what, at a minimum, will count as a win. Be generous.
  • Do your market research. Don’t skimp on this step! Rushing into a big change without doing the right research sets everyone up for failure.
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Transformation affects every level of your organization. Make sure you identify leaders early in the process and give them what they need to execute their specific missions. Also, look for any gaps in communication across departments. Strategize about how to create more cooperation.

Consider your proof points: Always keep in mind that business growth is an indication that what you’re doing is working. It can feel overwhelming in the process, but if you stick to what you know, that can really help you feel more grounded. Refer back to your track record of solid performance and great results whenever necessary. Also, work with your team to establish reasonable proof points to help you assess your growth roadmap going forward.

Be yourself: Finally, it can be easy to forget who you are in this process of reinventing yourself. So remember to continually reevaluate your messaging. Make sure all of your communications reflect your company’s credibility, self-worth, and core values.

If you are asking some of these questions about business growth or anticipate moving from a small to larger business in the future, my team and I would love to help with the transition. Contact us to schedule your consultation and find out more about how we enable your transformation.

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M&A issues

What No One Talks About in M&A: Culture Integration and How to Deal With It

We’ve talked about M&A before—the pros, the cons, where deals can go off the rails—but now let’s talk about what happens after the deal is closed. What comes next and what M&A issues come up?

Once your deal closes and the dust settles, it’s time for the real work to begin: integration. With any luck, you’ve already done some focused thinking about integrating the two firms. You’ve looked at M&A issues such as aligning billing systems, benefits plans, compensation strategies, etc. and you have strategies for each.

But what about culture? What’s your strategy for culture integration? If your reaction here is anything like, “A strategy for culture integration? Oh, the department heads will handle all of that,” you will probably want to keep reading.

Love and M&A Integration

M&A deals that work well are actually a lot like happy marriages. Yes, there will be some upfront work to do on both sides. But once you’ve skipped down the aisle after saying “I do,” you begin a new phase with its own set of challenges. This is the work of meshing together two lives into a cohesive, long term, happy union.

An M&A transaction can be a bit like courtship (ah, and you thought chivalry was dead): You date around for a bit, decide that you’ve found “the one,” get engaged, and then, you throw a heckuva wedding. And when you wake up after the honeymoon, reality sinks in…the thoughts start flying.

  • Thought Bubble #1: For better or for worse…wait, you didn’t tell me about that billing issue!
  • Thought Bubble #2: For richer or for poorer…what happened to the sales pipeline we reviewed?
  • Thought Bubble #3: ‘Til death do us part…why are all the employees leaving?

And as with any new marriage, there are logistical M&A issues that no one really considers before they sign on the dotted line:

  • How are we going to celebrate holidays? (Is everyone onboard and motivated by how we recognize and celebrate success?)
  • How should we handle joint finances? (Do both parts of this new mixed organization share the same fiscal priorities?)
  • How often do I have to see your family and friends? (What’s our customer relationship strategy?)

I’m not suggesting that the key to successful M&A integration is scheduling time for employees to do a bunch of trust falls and escape room activities. What I’m suggesting is that you consider how culture impacts any business transaction in the same way you consider how to maximize earning potential for shareholders.

Lessons from a Culture Integration Fail

Early on in my career, I worked for a multi-billion dollar firm. With much fanfare, we acquired a smaller firm that was highly respected and well-known in the industry for its creativity in “getting things done” for customers.

Within a year of acquiring the firm, the larger company had overlayed all of their big company processes and requirements onto the smaller firm—squashing the very flexibility and creativity for which they had been known (and for which we had acquired them!). Unsurprisingly, half of the employees were gone within 2 years…as were the customers.

While it’s easy to see the internal (e.g., from the employees’ perspective) impact of cultural M&A issues, we don’t often think about the external (e.g., from the customers’ perspective) impact. However, culture certainly does impact customer experience and this is especially true after a merger. For a case study in how NOT to complete a successful integration, check out the Starwood / Marriott merger. Yikes!

The hard lesson learned here: The reality is that human challenges are often harder to smooth over than system challenges. If you don’t anticipate the cultural challenges, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are on the business side. So, how do savvy M&A dealmakers address the human side?

1. Start early.

By early, I mean during due diligence. Yes, cultural fit is a deal maker or breaker! The very things that make an acquisition target attractive may also be the most fundamental to their culture…and the most different from your organization’s current culture.

Make sure that someone on your team is putting together a culture strategy prior to the close of the transaction. At a minimum, this strategy should include:

  • Key metrics for competitive landscape, demographic, and market trends to discuss with leadership.
  • Outlines for any necessary cultural change initiatives (Tip: stick with no more than 2 major change initiatives during the first year).
  • Ideas for creating employee buy-in and a sense of community.

2. Know thyself.

What is your vision for the joint culture? What changes after the deal? What stays the same?

Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are no rules that say that everyone must conform to a single culture or that culture is immutable. In fact, allowing room for the culture to adapt is crucial for long-term viability.

Why are these firms merging? What is valued in each and how can we take the best pieces of our cultures and bring them together respectfully?

3. Focus on building credibility.

In most cases, there is a fairly steep learning curve that happens after a merger. Like moving from dating to marriage, we need to adapt to daily life and its new rhythms. How can we put in place mechanisms to better understand each other? How do we establish trust?

Remember that credibility is earned, not given. When a large firm acquires a smaller firm (especially if the smaller firm was once a competitor), there can be some apprehension. It’s important to warn employees of the large firm that taking a victory lap is not appropriate.

Past is not prologue. So the acquiring firm should look to create the right environment to nurture a bright future and bring the new acquisition into the fold. This will require transparency in sharing plans, following through, listening when challenges are raised, and addressing the concerns of everyone.

This is a key building block for #4.

4. Communicate.

Communicate early and often. Key leadership (ideally those with credibility) should share the aspirations for the combined entity in a clear, straightforward manner and acknowledge that integration won’t be easy. When talking about challenges, be specific. Show everyone that you are committed to making this work and addressing all M&A issues together.

Employees need to know what’s changing, why, when, and what will happen, both in the overall big picture, as well as on a day-to-day basis. They need to understand what the merger means for them and what the new expectations will be.

Communicating is about way more than printing off new motivational posters with the company’s core values and firing off a few “rah-rah” emails. (GAH!!) Cultural integration requires a change management focus, leadership commitment, transparency, a willingness to listen (and integrate) feedback, and continued communication via as many channels as possible…even when you think you’re done, you’re not. Keep going. Like a marriage, you’re in this for the long haul.

Preparing for a big M&A deal in 2019? Check out our guide for working with a Communications Specialist.

The team at Audacia Strategies is ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you as you make a smooth integration, both in terms of systems and culture. Contact us to learn more about how we can enable your transformation and help you avoid serious M&A issues!

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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

reading

Reading, Listening, and Watching—What I’m Loving Right Now

It’s always fun to share and hear from others what they’re reading, listening, and watching. But in the frenzy of launching new products, bringing on new staff, and all the other things that go into growing our businesses, who has the time, right?

Fortunately, as we wrap up loose ends on 2018 and (hopefully) find ourselves with a bit of downtime, we have the headspace to expand our minds. I’ve been gathering the resources for my reading, listening, and watching pleasure on flights and quiet evenings by the fire. As you do the same, I thought you’d find this list beneficial.

Here’s what I’m reaching for in these moments of productive downtime:

Reading

True Story: My husband calls my Kindle my “boyfriend” because it’s always with me—when I travel, when I treat myself to a quiet lunch, and before bed. It’s my go-to. But the truth is a few years back, I noticed my attention span was dramatically shorter. After a bit of introspection, I found that I had stopped reading long-form materials in favor of reading email newsletters, social media, and skimming news articles. I made a commitment to read more and it has brought such joy into my life. I read across the spectrum—fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, cookbooks…you name it, I’ll read it. What should be on my list for 2019?

reading listening watchingHere are some of my favorite books from 2018 (plus, my favorite daily must reads):

1. Bad Blood

Nope, Bad Blood is not the lyrics to that TSwift earworm (you’re welcome!), but a real-life thriller that charts the rise and collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup. Wrapped in a page-turning package, there are many lessons to be learned about the importance of leadership, the role of the Board of Directors in governance, and the importance of a moral compass in maintaining the soul of a company as we tread more and more deeply into technology.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Bill Gates recommends Bad Blood too.

2. The Everything Store

I was a bit “late to the party” in reading this book. It was initially published in 2013. However, it remains an insightful look into how the Goliath, better known as Amazon, came to be. More importantly, it’s a incisive look into the mind of Jeff Bezos—what makes him tick, his management style, and how he has shaped Amazon’s culture and strategy. In a time when we spend a lot of time and spill a lot of ink thinking about Amazon’s unprecedented growth, The Everything Store provides an interesting perspective. I found the book incredibly eye-opening as an Amazon customer, a global citizen, and as a business owner.

3. The Hate U Give

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” — The Hate U Give

Fun fact: My mom spent over 20 years as a children’s librarian and is an absolutely voracious reader, so when she recommends a book, I listen. The Hate U Give isn’t a kids’ book though. It will speak to your teenagers, but it should be required reading for all of us. Profoundly moving, The Hate U Give handles gun violence, income inequality, a history of segregation, activism, and police brutality, while also managing to build in relatable, real-life characters and cozy, quippy family banter. Fans of the signature banter of Aaron Sorkin (see also: The West Wing) will appreciate the crisp dialog. I experienced a full range of emotions while reading this book. It made me think about the role of community, government policies, and how we can all do more to build safe communities. (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie that came out this fall. But, even if you have seen the movie, I strongly recommend reading the book.)

Daily reading: (Note: I am not affiliated with any of the following website or brands, nor am I a sponsor. I’m just a fan.)

  • Axios Newsletters: Bullet points, easy to read, well-researched and cited. A great way to hit the morning headlines from major publications punctuated with outstanding commentary and  insight (subscribe here).

I read these almost every day:

  • Axios AM
  • Axios Edge
  • Pro Rata
  • Axios Sneak Peek (Sunday)

Listening

I’m a HUGE podcast fan. I listen to podcasts almost exclusively while I run and while I’m walking around D.C. There is just something about a great story—fiction or non-fiction. Here are a few of my favorites. What are you listening to these days?

1. The Pitch

If you like Shark Tank, you’ll enjoy The Pitch.

The Pitch puts you inside the room of a live pitch and then shares the behind-the-scenes details of what folks “really” thought and what happens after the pitch. It’s great for entrepreneurs, anyone working with entrepreneurs, or anyone responsible for selling anything… including themselves.

2. Planet Money

Planet Money is an NPR podcast that helps to make sense of the complexities of economics and the economy. They often use creative examples and in-depth reporting. For example, they made a t-shirt and traced the supply chain around the world, launched a satellite (one of my favorite episodes—totally fed my space geek side), and built an algorithmic trading Twitter bot.

3. How I Built This

Another NPR show, How I Built This has gained legions of fans and I’m one of them. You’ll hear straight from the founders how their companies came to be…and sometimes almost didn’t! AirBnB, Burton Snowboards, Whole Foods, StitchFix, Lyft, DryBar—you’ll hear from companies that we interact with or read about regularly. And you’ll hear about the genesis of the idea for the company, how they grew, got funded, what worked and what *almost* pulled them under.

Audio Book:

The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person

Stay with me here.

Yes, it has a very self-helpy title. It’s Okay. I promise. This is a super funny book. Don’t write it off. And…okay, technically, it is a book. But I listened to the audio version and I recommend that you do the same. Shonda Rhimes (the creator, head writer and executive producer—of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and several other shows) tells this compelling and laugh-out-loud funny story of how she stopped saying “no” to opportunities, started saying “yes,” and the changes that resulted. If you’ve ever felt like you needed a bit more “why not?” in your life, you will appreciate her story. And, if you have a commute this book will make your time on the road fly by.

Watching

Admittedly, I’m not great with television. I’ve watched my fair share of shows, but I’m not a good “binger” of television and I’m always behind on the latest and greatest. (Confession: I’ve never seen Breaking Bad…I think that might be a cultural crime at this point). But, I do have a few recommendations for shows that I found compelling this year. What did I miss?

1. Panic: The untold story of the 2008 financial crisis

With stellar reporting from the Vice team for HBO, this documentary tracks the financial crisis that took hold during the Fall of 2008 and provides real-talk about what caused the crisis and what happened behind the scenes as policy makers, legislators, and corporate titans attempted to avoid a global financial collapse. The creators managed to interview all of the key players in the 2008 financial crisis: Bernake, Paulson, Obama, Bush (W.), Dimon, Buffett, and many more. It’s well-researched, well-reported, watchable and very scary. This should be required viewing for all leaders and, especially, communicators. The lessons for crisis management and crisis communications are innumerable. Just watch it!  

2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Seasons 1 and 2)

I’m addicted to this show. In an era of dystopian dramas (and yes, I’ve watched many of those too), this show manages to be funny, optimistic, and timely all at once. The dialog is snappy and on point and Tony Shalub plays a pitch perfect role, as always. If you need a break from the drama of real life The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a wonderful way to escape for a bit.

3. The Greatest Package Theft Revenge of All Time

If you’ve ever had a package stolen, you’ll appreciate the karmic justice in this short video. And, if you’ve never had a package stolen (lucky you!), you’ll appreciate the engineering that went into this project. If you’ve ever wondered what NASA engineers do in their spare time, this is a must watch!

As you enjoy some much deserved R&R over the next couple of weeks, I hope you’ll spend some time with some inspirational and fun content. And I’m always looking for recommendations, so if you have any must-read, must-listen-to, or must-watch suggestions for me, please send them my way.

Happy Holidays from Audacia Strategies!

Photo credit: Alexander Raths

working with a communications specialist

Audacia’s Guide to Working With a Communications Specialist—Fabulous Business Transformations Begins With Smart Preparation

You have a glimmer of a change in your mind…a transformation. Perhaps you’re considering an acquisition, a new product launch, a fundraising round, or implementing a new, game-changing internal system. You’re excited, but you’re also practical. You know big, bold moves that lead to transformation require time, energy, and money.

What can you do today to set yourself up for success down the road? You need the A-team onboard to make this work and that means you need some external expertise—lawyers, financial specialists, technology specialists, and yes, even (or dare I say, especially) communications specialists.

Business TransformationsAnd if you’re extra ready to be wildly successful, you will want to be as prepared as the professionals you’ve gathered. So, here’s everything you need to know when working with a communications specialist.

Where to begin and how to set yourself up for success?

1. Find the right consultant early in your process.

Often, finding the right external talent takes time and effort up front. But keep in mind that you don’t need to save this task until crunch time. Just as you prospect for clients, you should always be prospecting for external talent. This way, when you’re ready to make that big move, you won’t lose momentum searching for the right consultant.

Have a conversation before you think it’s time. Most consultants are more than willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to ensure that you can have a candid conversation about your goals and expectations without the risk of giving away anything precious (And if consultants aren’t willing to sign an NDA, you should run).

In addition, starting the conversation and integrating the team early in your planning process allows you the benefit of their expertise as you build your strategy.  Working with a communications specialist early on can help you shape your plan to be even more likely to deliver the ROI that we all seek.

2. Ask for recommendations.

Prospecting for consultants can extend to prospecting for other business partners and strategists. Who has your consultant worked with before and are they willing to speak with you? I LOVE connecting my clients. Success stories sound best coming directly from happy clients and word-of-mouth is a great way to find those hidden gems who can really propel your business forward. Plus, you never know when clients might find some business opportunity together in their conversations. So, spread the love!

3. Consider company culture.

It’s also smart to consider company culture—yours and theirs. Diversity of thought and experience is critical, but if your organizational culture and theirs are 180-degrees different, chances are that you will have a hard time communicating effectively and that will make your interactions less efficient. Look for any clues about how working with a communications specialist could support or clash with your company culture and strategize accordingly.

4. Be ready for an in-depth conversation.

A good consultant asks lots of questions and really listens to your answers so that they can provide their best counsel. As advisors, our role is to hear you and help to accomplish your Big Idea. And, a good advisor will ask a lot of follow-on questions to get to the heart of a challenge.

For working with a communications specialist to be worth your while, it’s important that you can answer your expert’s questions to the best of your ability. So, you absolutely will want to treat every conversation like you’re entering the Shark Tank. Okay, it probably won’t be that bad, but be ready to have your assumptions challenged.

Remember, you can ask questions too. Do they have examples of their work available? A blog? Do they post on LinkedIn to share their knowledge? These are good places to start getting to know your consultant.

Also, don’t be surprised if that first conversation or two results in your consultant saying, “I don’t think that our firm is right for you at this time but you should really speak with ABC Consulting because they’ll knock this out of the park. I’m happy to make an introduction.” Don’t take it personally. This is how professionals do business.

5. Be ready to talk $$$.

Yes, I’m going there. Have a budget in mind. Be ready to discuss that budget. Budget guessing games waste everyone’s time. Communicate your budget requirements and expectations upfront. With budget guidance, a consultancy will offer you a plan that will get you to your desired outcome in the most efficient way, while staying within the budget you have. It will also save you from wasting time talking to the wrong consultants.

By the way, this means more than finding the cheapest vendor. An inexperienced consultancy who is cheaper, but takes a longer time to reach your goal and requires more time to get up to speed on your company or market, may be more costly in the end. It might make better sense to hire an experienced consultant who can reach your goal more quickly, but with higher bill rates.

6. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking only about money.

On a personal note, I find that some clients spend a lot of time thinking about the finances of a transformative event, but very little time thinking about how they’re going to communicate this event to customers, shareholders, employees, etc.

It’s easy to get swept up in the new idea and believe that everyone will think it’s a great idea too. But the reality is that change is change. Not everyone is going to be onboard. So, the sooner you start to think about how to communicate this Big Idea beyond the conference room walls, the better.

7. Focus on the outcome, not the time needed to deliver it.

No, this isn’t consultant-speak for “let me charge you more.” This is straight-talk. I want you to be successful as much as you want to be successful and I really don’t want you to feel like every minute you spend talking to me will cost you money. By focusing on the business outcome, rather than on the hours, you’re holding the consulting firm accountable for the results within the timeline and the budget that you have.

8. Set realistic expectations for working together.

Working with a consulting firm is not a one-way street. Do not expect that your consultant will hit the ground running on Day One and come back to you when the project is over. The best way to get as much as possible from your advisors is through collaboration where both parties are taking an active role.

You will want to think of your consultant team as an extension of your team. Invite your consultant to be present on-site, get into the weeds with you, and get integrated within your team. That’s the only way they can get a deep understanding of the challenges you’re facing and, ultimately, identify the best solution. Without making such allowances, working with a communications specialist will be frustrating for everyone involved.

If 2019 holds a glimmer of change for your firm, make sure your team is set up for wild success. We’ve consulted on transformations from product launches to CEO transitions and everything in between. Would you like to know how working with a communications specialist could propel your work forward in New Year? Schedule a discovery session and let’s discuss!

Photo credit: primagefactory

business valuation

3 Expert Secrets for Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Buck When Selling a Business (Part 3 in our series on Business Valuation)

This is the third part in our series on business valuation. In Part 1, we give you the rundown on public vs. private valuations. Part 2 discusses 5 key factors influencing valuation. This time we are bringing you an expert’s take on common misperceptions, how to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to selling a business, and who is likely to be involved in the deal.  

To punctuate our fall blog series on business valuation, we interviewed a friend of Audacia Strategies, Dan Doran, Principal at financial services firm Quantive. As an experienced M&A professional focusing on small and mid-sized privately held companies, Dan has seen it all—or at least, A LOT. He and his team support both buyers and sellers uniquely positioning him to be the voice of reason when it comes to transformative business deals. Check out our full interview here.

If your plans involve selling your business—even if retirement is several years in the future—you need to carefully consider the insights Dan offers here. So let’s look at Dan’s top business valuation strategies for sellers.

1. Think early and often about how to influence your business’s valuation.

In basic terms, business valuation is a snapshot of the health of a business at any given time. We already examined in greater detail how analysts and buyers determine what a business is worth. But value can be boiled down to three things:

  • Earnings
  • Growth
  • Risk

To influence valuation, Dan works together with owners to get them thinking early on about these three aspects of their business. One challenge he often runs into is that business owners tend to think about the worth of their companies only when they are ready to go to market or when an offer comes their way. But, says Dan, “this is actually backwards.”

If you want to get the best price, it’s important to understand how you can best position yourself in the market. And if you aren’t satisfied with your current position, you need time to make improvements before you’re ready to find a buyer.

In addition, there are a lot of reasons why someone may want to know the value of a business, besides being in a position to sell. “There are number of litigation reasons, for example,” says Dan. A business owner might be going through divorce or someone might have died making the value a probate matter. Then, there’s the transaction stuff: buying or selling a company, buy-ins and buy-outs, capital needs, etc. “For all these reasons, it’s important to get to an understanding of where the market will likely price an asset (i.e., the business) at a given point in time.”

2. Mind the difference between valuation and price.

It’s also important to remember that there’s a difference between valuation and price. In the simplest terms, valuation is an analysis, while price can be negotiated. So, what this means for you is if you use an expert like Dan he will build a valuation model to predict where the market would likely price your business.

Of course, any valuation is only as good as the facts and knowledge available. “There’s no such thing as perfect information,” says Dan. In every transactional deal, there will be an asymmetry of knowledge, meaning that buyers and sellers will have different perceptions of what a company is worth. The most timely example of this is Elon Musk’s tension with short sellers a few months back.

Here’s Dan’s take on Tesla:

“This was really a battle of information,” says Dan. “There’s an asymmetry of knowledge and investors in public markets are constantly trying to gain more knowledge to predict where they think price will go. So, Elon is in possession of more facts than these investors and his position has been that the stock is going to grow, whereas short sellers are looking for it to decline. It’s been a battle of information to try to manipulate that stock price.”

But perhaps the biggest lesson learned in watching Elon Musk trying to value (or price?—it’s a bit hard to label) Tesla at $420 per share is that bringing a neutral party to the table during negotiations can help. Regardless of whether Elon was fairly valuing his company, he had no buyers in the end. A good M&A process will have some competition and likely involve negotiations around not only price, but also the terms of the deal.

3. Get the biggest bang for your buck when influencing business valuation.

We’ve discussed in a previous post, how competitive the M&A market is and how important it is for business owners looking to sell their businesses to stand out from the crowd. Our conversation with Dan reinforced this point. With fewer businesses being passed down to the children of business owners, 80% of business owners need to liquidate their businesses to fund their retirements, which means this is a seller’s market.

But where does Dan suggest putting your resources to see the biggest ROI? Well, he says, it’s important to realize that when you have a consultancy like Quantive appraise your company, “essentially what we’re doing is creating a risk profile that becomes a roadmap for what is impeding value and what we should be fixing before we go to market.”

So, again, it’s important not to wait to value your company. You want time to follow that roadmap to improve your position before going to market. “The real question,” according to Dan, “is how do we begin to drive more value and return a bigger rate on this investment?”

To answer this question, you need to think carefully about who your buyer might be and think like her. While the majority of small business owners are baby boomers (65+), buyers are likely to be in the next generation. What do these buyers want? What do they care about? Why is your company a smart investment for them?

And recognizing that we all tend to overprice our own assets can help you adjust expectations. As Dan says, selling a business is really not that different from going to market with a house. “Everybody thinks that their own house is a special unicorn. As a business owner when we go to market we want to get the most for that asset, obviously. But the market is looking at your business relative to alternative investments.”

Thinking of your business in these terms, as one possible alternative in a sea of potential investments for a buyer, you’ll want to look at several key factors to help you stand out:

    • Timing: we want to sell when the company is in a good position and when the market is in a good position.
    • Value of the company vs. how it fits into your overall portfolio: if you’re in a position where you want to liquidate your business to fund your retirement, you’ll want to have these two numbers in mind: how much is it worth and how much do I need?
    • Be ready for the personal transition: Most business owners spend more time working on their company than doing anything else in their lives. So when they sell the company, they suddenly have a lot of time on their hands. You have to look in the mirror and figure out what you’re going to do with that time. Otherwise, what invariably happens is the week before closing people look for excuses not to close. Releasing control can be hard, so make sure you’re ready.

As challenging as it can be to sell your business (which, let’s face it, feels more like “another child”), if you start early, consider how to influence business valuation, and take the necessary steps, you will be happily enjoying mai tais (or another drink of choice) before you know it.

To make the whole process less challenging, it’s smart to enlist the help of experts early on. At Audacia Strategies, we talk a lot about how to differentiate companies in a really crowded field. We can help you negotiate the best possible price for your business. Why not contact us to set up a consultation? It’s never too early to start strategizing!

Photo credit: Dmitriy Shironosov

communications strategy

Congrats, You’re the Proud New Owner of a Business! Now What? Prepare for a Smooth Transition With a Strong Communications Strategy

We teamed up with Richard Phillips of Crossroads Capital to create a webinar guiding the smaller financial buyer eying the middle market. We’ve included the link to the full 60-minute webinar at the end of this article.

In a recent blog article, we discussed a communications strategy for turning buy-side challenges to your advantage when purchasing an existing business. Smaller financial buyers looking to get their feet wet in the middle market face stiff competition. But if you play to your strengths such as flexibility on terms and show the seller that you understand her perspective, you stand a good chance of making a smart deal.

Once that deal goes through, the fun really begins! Making sure the transition goes smoothly following a merger or acquisition is one of the most delicate communications situations in all of business. Getting this right calls for a strong communications strategy. So let’s talk about how to plan for a successful transition.

Key Questions

As you begin to develop your communications strategy for the transition, you will want to keep many of the same questions in mind as when you were deciding how to close the deal. At this point, you already have well-thought-out answers to key questions such as:

  1. Why this deal?
  2. Why your organization?

But now it’s time to think about repackaging your answers. Previously, you needed a strategy for winning over the seller. You wanted to talk about why your deal was superior to those of the larger sellers. You wanted to position your organization as an asset and key to the future of the business. Now, it’s time to think more broadly about selling the deal to additional stakeholders.

You’ll need to ask and answer the following questions:

  1. What does this deal mean?
  2. What’s next?

Each of the stakeholders crucial to making the organization’s transition smooth will want to know what the deal means for them. Employees will want to know if their jobs will be on the chopping block. Investors will want to know if their risk is about to rise. Partners and community members will want to know if they can work with you and trust you to keep the business engaged in their goals. And customers will want to know if they can expect the same quality product or service they have come to appreciate.

Transition Announcement

After you have thought through your best answers to the key questions above, it’s time to devise your communications strategy for announcing the transition. Here it’s important to come up with a plan for announcing the transition and key steps to those in the “inner circle” and a plan for announcing the transition to the public. Carefully coordinate these two plans.

Timing is everything here. If the deal gets leaked to the public ahead of letting key personnel, investors, and partners know about the change, you could have a PR nightmare to deal with on top of a transition starting off on the wrong foot. This can kill your credibility and it won’t be easily rebuilt. So do what you can to control the timing of your announcements.

Employee Communication

Employees play a huge role in making sure an M&A transition goes off well. Consider holding an all-hands, townhall-type meeting for employees where the old guard and the new guard come together to demonstrate solidarity. Explain what’s next and introduce new leaders and any exciting new initiatives that benefit them. Allow employees to ask any questions in this forum and invite further discussion to establish open lines of communication too. Taking steps like these will go a long way toward engaging employees in a positive way.

Investor Communication

You’ve probably already thought about how to introduce yourself and your organization to investors. Make sure KPIs, metrics, and milestones are part of these communications. Being mindful that you can’t use numbers to tell the entire story, the last thing you want is to get caught flat-footed during these first few meetings with investors. Remember that communicating with investors goes well beyond the initial M&A announcement. An ongoing plan should be part of your communications strategy going forward.

Partners and Community

Suppliers, distributors, and community partners also play an important role in any successful transition. Get out of the building and meet face-to-face whenever it makes sense. A firm handshake and steady eye contact will help partners put a name with a face and open the door to a strong relationship. Make sure you talk to your seller about any insider tips and tricks for dealing with business partners. Are there some partners who deal only in cash? Will having cash on hand give you key discounts that will increase profitability? Is there only one supplier in the state who can sell you a particular part in the volume you need?

Customers

Last, but certainly not least, you need to communicate with your new customers before, during, and after the transition. Even if you expect little to change on the customer-facing side of the business, you want to let loyal customers know about the acquisition. A strong customer communications strategy demonstrates that you aren’t simply paying lip service to the mission and vision of the business.

In this market, realize that many of the most loyal customers may have interacted with the previous owner of the business and may even think of her as part of their team. If the previous owner is willing to attend those initial customer visits or write a letter or heart-felt email about her decision to sell, this can go a long way towards winning over loyal customers and easing their transition. This helps you pragmatically too. Losing a significant number of clients immediately after the sale goes through does not look good.

Transitioning after an M&A deal is one of the most delicate communications moments new business owners face. Fortunately, the team at Audacia Strategies loves a challenge! We’ll jump in with both feet, roll up our sleeves, and get to work developing the right communications strategy for you.

If you haven’t heard Katy and Richard’s full 60-minute webinar, there’s no time like the present! You can check it out here: Succeeding as a Small Financial Buyer in Mid-Market M&A.

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet

strategic narrative

Stuck on Your Messaging? Start With Your Strategic Narrative

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

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

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

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

developing strategic narrativeDeveloping Your Strategic Narrative

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

Your strategic narrative is your company’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

So how do you develop a strategic narrative?

Start with key questions.

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

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

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

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

Keep your audience in mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basics:

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Photo credit: tsyhun / 123RF Stock Photo

ipo roadmap

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

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

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

Well…nope. Sorry.

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

Yes! There Really is Life After the IPO.

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

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

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

Investor Targeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectations and Reality

This is the big one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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