Posts

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.

And 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

successful M&A deal

Let’s Make a…Successful M&A Deal! 5 Keys to Landing A Deal You’re Proud Of

Deciding to embark on a merger or acquisition (M&A) is one of the biggest transformations during the lifecycle of any business. Thinking in terms of resources alone, your money, time, and credibility are all on the line here. To land a successful M&A deal, you’ve got to be on top of your game.

If you focus too hard on all that’s at stake, though, you may not be in a position to make the best deal. In other words, don’t miss the forest for the trees—go in with your eyes wide open. Although it can be nerve-wracking to jump into an M&A deal, keeping the below 5 key points in mind should help you get through the process with your nerves firmly intact.

But first…let’s consider what not to do

Pushing through a successful M&A deal like acquiring a competitor or joining forces with a powerful peer is invigorating. But what’s invigorating on the day you sign on the dotted line can quickly deteriorate into something akin to buyers’ remorse if you haven’t thought things through.

Here are just a handful of the mistakes we’ve seen get in the way of a successful M&A deal:

  • Companies WAY overpaying for what they’re buying
  • Leaders forgetting that cultural fit between companies matters just as much (if not more) than securing cutting edge technology or getting a contract
  • Too little too late: companies being slow to consider market shifts and jumping in too late to address their gaps with M&A
  • Not considering the bigger corporate story—big, expensive “surprises” that don’t obviously fit are a tough sell and put you on the defensive with investors, customers, etc.
  • Failing to communicate with all shareholders. Remember, those little shops can band together to become an activist consortium

To avoid adding to this list, consider engaging a team who can lead you through any necessary course corrections. At Audacia Strategies, our core competencies revolve around helping clients consider their bigger corporate story and communicating with shareholders when making big, bold moves like this. You can also make sure everyone checks her ego a the door, by considering the following:

5 Keys to a Successful M&A Deal

1. Deal Fever Is Real.

You and your team have spent late nights, long weekends, blood, sweat, and tears pursuing this deal. You have done all that great valuation work to come up with a fair acquisition price. And now, you’re at the negotiating table (you can almost hear “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background). And, you’re bidding against other firms… and the price is going up, and up, and up. It’s very easy to get caught up thinking, “I’ll show them. We’re going to win this thing at all costs.” It happens All.The.Time.

Successful M&A DealThe reality is while it’s good practice to come to the negotiating table with a valuation range that you’re willing to pay, it doesn’t pay to start warping your analysis just to “win.” This is how companies end up with massive write-downs a few years after a deal when they can’t achieve the value they needed to make the price they overpaid work.

It may be obvious, but even large companies are susceptible to deal fever. Want an example? See also:

Why does this happen and how can you control for it? Well, the short story is: all business deals are closed by human beings and the decisions human beings make are often influenced by emotional and psychological factors. Executives on both the buy side and the sell side can get caught up in their perception of the company and the management, for example. So, if you feel tensions running high and fear that you or your team are losing touch with your real goals, don’t be afraid to step back from the negotiating table to catch your breath or even walk away from the deal entirely.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the stories we’re telling ourselves?
  • How can we challenge these stories to get to the real story?

And remember Dan Doran’s advice: “Value is analyzed. Price is negotiated.” It’s crucial that you build your own valuation model, one that you’re completely comfortable with and can explain to stakeholders if (or when) challenges arise. One of the worst things you can do is rely on a target’s (very pretty, but very likely) biased projections. Do your own research. Do the work.

2. Due Diligence Is A Lot Like Going To The Dentist.

It is not glamorous, but it is necessary. Due diligence can be the difference between a successful M&A deal and one that feels like getting a root canal. To make this work for you, go beyond the financials (after making sure they work and are coherent, of course!) to really understand the logic behind the deal on every level. You need to consider carefully the reality of your team’s ability to create (or “unlock”) value in bringing two (or more) firms together.

3. Customers Matter.

Once you have your head wrapped around the business valuation and the inner workings of this new mash-up of a business being born, you’ve got to think about relationships external to the organization. Get into the weeds about how strong the current customer relationships are and how they affect the bottom line.

Ask these questions:

  • How much of current revenue depends on repeat customers vs acquiring new customers?
  • What is the cost of acquiring a new customer?
  • How strong is the current business pipeline?

4. Get Real About Your Competition.

You definitely want to take a look at where your target stands when it comes to market share, revenues, and profit, but also dig more deeply. Keep in mind, you are proposing a potential shake-up of the market here. Even if they’re tough to predict, consider all the ways in which this bombshell of a deal is going to have significant ripple effects outward.

Ask these questions:

  • Where in the value chain is your target excelling? Failing?
  • What changes can you realistically make to capitalize on strengths or cut the dead weight?
  • How do they stack up against their peers?
  • How do you expect competitors to react to a combined firm?
  • Will you have the wherewithal to combat a price war for example?

5. The Problem With “Synergies.”

I can’t really remember if Professor Mariann Jelinek shared this pearl of wisdom with us on the first day of my strategy class at The College of William and Mary, but she definitely shared it early and often: “When someone says ‘synergy,’ hold onto your wallet.” Throughout my MBA program and even to this day, I think no truer words have ever been spoken.

As a buzzword, synergy is overused and honestly, a red flag in most cases. Like pretty wallpaper covering an ugly stain, “these teams have a lot of synergy” is a pretty-sounding way of saying very little. As easy as it is for deal participants to get caught up in the possibilities and truly, badly, deeply underestimate the time it will take to achieve whatever they’re dreaming of, it’s equally as easy to overestimate the value of both cost and revenue synergies.

In the rush to eliminate redundancies and expand market share, a lot of details can get overlooked about what the new procedure will look like. Slow down and think things through at each stage.

Ask yourself:

  • How are we going to make more money by putting two firms together?
  • Do we have a crackerjack post-acquisition integration team ready to put our plan into action?
  • Do we have a good sense of what might go wrong in this integration? What’s our worst-case scenario?

Yes, there is a lot at stake when you’re spearheading what could easily be the biggest deal in your company’s history. But you can handle it. You’ve done the work and now you’ve got these 5 keys in your pocket. So you’re ready to seal that successful M&A deal.

Have questions? Want to talk through your deal with an experienced team? Audacia Strategies is here for you. We’ve helped businesses successfully navigate M&A deals and other big transformations. And we’re fun to work with! Contact us at info@audaciastrategies.com or give us a call at 202-521-7917 to schedule a consultation.

Photo credit: kzenon

business valuation

Are Apple and Tesla Using Monopoly Money?—Business Value, Valuation Myths, and Your Business (Part 1 in our series on Business Valuation)

This is the first part of our series on business valuation. Check out part two where we dig into what influences these different types of valuation.

Business valuation is making headlines these days. With the announcement that Apple is the first publicly traded company to surpass the trillion dollar mark and Elon Musk making Twitter waves about taking Tesla private putting its value at $72 billion, it can feel like some of the big dogs get to play with Monopoly money.

Adding to this perception that business valuation isn’t always (completely) based in reality (hint: there is a big difference between what a company’s worth in “real money” vs. what it could be worth in an acquisition), consider what’s happening in the Venture Capital (VC) ecosystem. VC investors love to reward growth metrics with higher valuations. So it’s common for startups to shop VC firms looking for the best price. This practice has some experts worried that the VC industry is the next bubble.

However, before we throw our hands up, let’s look at what we know about types of business valuation and what these mean for successful non-unicorns and their investors.

Public vs. Private Company Valuation

One of these things is not like the other.

The first thing to understand about business valuation is that we can’t easily compare the values of publicly and privately held companies. Determining the market value of a company that trades on a stock exchange (e.g., Apple, Tesla, Facebook) is fairly straightforward (though we’ll see below that this method doesn’t take into account all types of value investors might want to consider).

business valuationHowever, for private companies, the process is not as straightforward or transparent. This is because unlike public companies that must adhere to the SEC accounting and reporting standards, private companies do not report their financials publicly and since they aren’t listed on the stock exchange, it’s more difficult to determine a value for a private company.

Public company valuation: generally in the press you see market capitalization (AKA market cap, in slang) used as a valuation description (see: Apple, Tesla).

  • Market cap = stock price x number of outstanding shares
  • Example: Apple shares outstanding: 4,829,926,000 x $219.01 (closing price on 8/27/18) = $1.06T

This is pretty simple, but keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily take into account the full range of measures used to assess the potential purchase price (aka value or market value or valuation) of a business. One of the most commonly used valuation metrics for a public company is enterprise value.

  • Enterprise value = a corporation’s market cap (see above) plus preferred stock plus outstanding debt minus cash and cash equivalents found on the balance sheet

So, let’s say that you wanted to buy Apple. The enterprise value is the amount it would cost you to buy every single share of a company’s common and preferred stock, plus take over their outstanding debt. You would subtract the cash balance because once you have acquired complete ownership of the company, the cash is yours.

  • Example: Apple’s Enterprise Value

Apple’s market cap: $1.06T + outstanding debt: $114.6B – cash and cash equivalents: $70.97B = 1.1T

Okay, so how do we determine the value of a private company. Here there are several different approaches.

Headline valuation: private company valuation metric generally based on the price paid per share at the latest preferred stock round (i.e., investment round) multiplied by the company’s fully diluted shares (see: Slack).

  • “Fully diluted shares” = Common Shares outstanding + Preferred Shares outstanding + Options outstanding + Warrants outstanding + Restricted Shares (RSUs) + Option Pool (sometimes)

See. It’s complicated. And, also a bit of a black box for the average investor. It infers that all shares were acquired at the same price as the latest round, which isn’t typically the case.

Generally, this type of valuation is used because it’s impressive on paper and in the paper (or on the screen). Keep in mind that this basic formula, while it may seem complicated, avoids a lot of the technicalities of private company valuation (but if you’re interested Scott Kupor of Andreessen Horowitz did a great post on VC valuation here).

Although private companies are not usually accessible to the average investor, there are times when private firms need to raise capital and, as a result, need to sell part ownership in the company. For example, private companies might offer employees the opportunity to purchase stock in the company or seek capital from private equity firms.

In these cases, investors can assess business valuation using another common approach:

Comparable company analysis (CCA): a method of business valuation that involves researching publicly traded companies that most closely resemble the private firm under consideration. Such analysis includes companies in the same industry (ideally a direct competitor) and of similar size, age, and growth rate.

Once an industry group of comparable companies has been established, averages of their valuations will be calculated to establish an estimate for the private company’s value. Also, if the target firm operates in an industry that has seen recent acquisitions, corporate mergers, or IPOs, investors can use the financial information from those transactions to calculate a valuation.

Discounted cash flow (DCF) valuation: similar to the above method, this approach involves researching peer publicly traded companies and estimating an appropriate capital structure to apply to the target firm. From here, by discounting the target’s estimated cash flow, investors can establish a fair value for the private firm. A premium may also be added to the business valuation to compensate investors for taking a chance with the private investment.

Misconceptions About a Company’s Worth

So, what’s your company “worth?” If you’re not running a billion or trillion dollar company, you may be wondering where to start in figuring out your company’s valuation. We discussed the basics of business valuation in a previous blog article, which will give you some answers.

And, of course, you may now be wondering whether to take your company public. Or perhaps you’re thinking about raising money to fund your business. You can find out more in Audacia’s IPO Roadmap series (Part One is here).

Now that you know the basics, let’s bust a few common myths:

Business Valuation Myth #1: Valuation is a search for “objective truth.”

This may be obvious already, but all valuations have some bias built-in. Yes, investors will pick and choose the model or approach they want to use. So if you want to put your company in the best light when raising capital, it’s important to understand your target investors so you can tailor your pitch.

Business Valuation Myth #2: A good valuation provides a precise estimate of value.

In some sense, investors are not that interested in precise value. Think about it. What does the value of a company today tell you? This is a measure of what the company has done in the past. But investors are really interested in what the company will do in the future. So, the current value need not be precise to determine whether the business is a smart investment.

In fact, while this is somewhat dependent on industry, it’s arguable that the ROI is greatest when the business valuation is least precise. This could be one of the lessons learned from analyzing the VC industry in Silicon Valley.

Look at Uber, for instance, the world’s most valuable VC-backed company, with an estimated valuation of $62 billion. It’s burning through cash, losing between $500 million and $1.5 billion per quarter on a run-rate basis since early 2017. Yet the company still raised a $1.25 billion Series G led by SoftBank earlier this year, according to the PitchBook Platform.

Business Valuation Myth #3: The more quantitative the model, the better the valuation.

There are a few different schools of thought here, but often the more numbers contained in the model, the more questions investors will have. The best valuation is the one that makes sense and is clear enough to be pressure tested by investors. So beware of overly complex quantitative models and numbers that need a lot of explaining.

As you can see, business valuation for private companies is full of assumptions, educated guesses, and projections based on industry averages. With the lack of transparency, it’s often difficult for investors and analysts to place a reliable value on privately-held companies. However, this is really not much different from other aspects of business. Whether you’re a business owner considering how to raise capital or an investor looking to take a chance by getting in on the ground floor of the next big dog, business is all about taking calculated risks.

At Audacia Strategies, we love to help companies in all stages. You choose the next calculated risk and we’ll be there to support you in making bold moves confidently. Business valuation is not for the faint of heart. Get the right team on your side!

Photo credit: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo

business best practices

Scale and Transform Your Firm: 4 Business Best Practices that Really Work

Audacia Strategies doesn’t just help other companies scale and transform. We are also scaling and transforming our business. (Gotta live up to our name, right? Be bold, be daring, be audacious!) When it comes to business best practices, we believe in continuous adaptation as a necessity—not something to fear.

What this means for clients is that we approach each project with a focus group mentality. We aren’t afraid to experiment. In our philosophy, that we haven’t yet worked out the perfect pitch deck is not a good reason to sit quietly on the sidelines. We do our research, of course, but we also recognize that significant insights can be gained by stepping out of our comfort zones.

business best practicesI’ve been thinking about successful business best practices that we use with our clients and that we’re applying at Audacia Strategies as well. Over time, I’ve identified a few tactics that help businesses successfully scale and transform.

Start with the Goal in Mind

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” ﹣Zig Ziglar

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Norman Vincent Peale

These quotes might belong on one of those motivational posters we all love to hate, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth to them. Often when leaders or teams are feeling lost on a project it’s because they have lost track of their goal. So start with a goal in mind and refer back to it often.

Ask yourself and key players: Where do we want to be?

For Audacia, this means living up to our core values and thinking big. One value that we hold especially close is: Bold Actions Get Bold Results. But taking bold actions and getting bold results doesn’t have to mean selling out. Too often, firms treat big moves as a zero-sum game. They see transformation as synonymous with volatility.

True, there was a time when business best practices directed managers and leaders to seek out stability as a primary tactical goal. Now, with technology and automation bringing down the cost of starting a business considerably, leaders at large corporations must learn to adapt. They need to ask themselves where they want to be and figure out how to get there without disrupting what is working well. To be successful here, anchoring themselves in their core values is essential.

Breakdown the Walls Surrounding Your Goal

Ask yourself and key players: What do we need to achieve our goal?

When we miss our business goals it’s because we haven’t figured out (yet!) how to circumvent an obstacle. This is one reason we spend time in the beginning working with our clients to do a full analysis of what it will take to hit their big goals. It might feel like overkill in the beginning, but it’s better to identify potential problems and work solutions into the plan from the start.

Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? The potential problems don’t actually arise and your project finishes ahead of schedule.

In strategizing with clients and other business partners, I welcome opportunities to consider where we might face gaps in talent, technology, or process. I don’t shy away from looking for these gaps because I trust that we can come up with creative solutions. So, bring on the Murder Board!

Scaling can happen in different ways, for example. You might not have the resources to bring in the big shot consultancy firm, but perhaps you could hire a freelance consultant to assist your startup on a project basis.

Sometimes by thinking differently about employee engagement or adjusting internal processes you can find new ways to shift time away from administrative and toward strategic tasks. Figuring out how to get more hands on revenue-generating tasks is a perfectly acceptable way to scale.

Prepare for Talent Gaps

One challenge rapidly scaling companies face is a talent gap. You hustle and hustle working your sales funnel for months, then suddenly you’re inundated with work. It could be more work than your current team can handle or it could be work that calls for a skill-set no one on your team currently has.

Ask yourself and key players: What do we need today vs. tomorrow?

If you can anticipate the talent you’ll need for when you meet your goals, you can hire talent beyond the current need and avoid gaps that hurt the bottomline. Great people are hard to find and in a lot of industries they’re even harder to keep. Bear in mind that while you can train for business skills, you can’t train for passion or engagement.

Whenever you can, hire the best. Look to hire those with diverse thought, processes, and backgrounds. Studies show that diverse workforces are more innovative. Under strong leadership, collaborative teams that value constructive criticism as much as uplifting praise will bust through any challenge you put in front of them.

Best business practices for hiring:

  • Don’t be afraid to get creative: Do you really need to go through a lengthy hiring process to find a full-time employee or can a part-time employee or contractor fill the gap? Could you outsource any part of the project?
  • Don’t forget about onboarding: I’m working on this one for Audacia. How do we bring new team members up to speed quickly? How do I introduce contractors who are geographically dispersed? And how do I help them come together on the various projects they’re each responsible for?
  • Do document key policies and processes: Start doing this as soon as possible. Make sure these align with core values and beliefs about how to engage with clients and partners. Bonus: Looking at key policies and processes forces you to be very intentional. You will be deeply aware of critical interactions and intersections within your business as well as the roles and responsibilities required for success.
  • Do spend time thinking about company culture: Build it and reinforce it every day in every interaction and with every hire, client, and partnership.

Bring Partnerships in Alignment with Strategy

A list of business best practices wouldn’t be complete without discussing how strategy and partnerships inform one another. We are better when we cooperate with peers. Of course, you don’t want to give away your secret sauce, but be confident enough in your product or service to share when it’s mutually beneficial.

Ask yourself and key players: Are there opportunities for co-marketing, surge capacity alliances, filling in vertical vs. horizontal gaps in explicit capability and experience?

When you align partnerships with business best practices strategy, you will be more likely to spot 1 + 1 = 3 partnerships. I’m talking about business partnerships that go way beyond basic synergy. It all starts with knowing your business strategy and focusing on building the right business relationships.

These business best practices are really the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more. If your firm is ready to take bold actions with a team that gets bold results, let’s talk!

Photo credit: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo

murder board

Murder Board—It’s Not As Bad As It Sounds. How to Use Criticism to Prepare Your Team

When you have what seems like a game-changing idea, what do you do? You probably start by doing some low-stakes, crowdsourced testing. You tell trusted friends and family before taking the idea to friendly colleagues. Eventually, you get around to proposing the idea to those who can help you implement it.

When you go through this early testing phase, you’re looking mostly for validation. This can bolster your confidence, which is great if you’ve hit on a truly great idea. But how often have you watched an idea fizzle and die a slow death all the while wishing you had killed it sooner? This is one reason to seek not only validation, but criticism in the early stages.

In the investor relations and corporate communications world, we have a name for doing this in a formal setting: Murder Board. What is it and how does it work?

Murder Board in Context

The term murder board originated in the U.S. military, specifically from the Pentagon, but is also used in academic, journalistic, government appointment, and business contexts.

Here are a few recent examples:

Political Hearings: As soon as Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee, Ronny Jackson, was scheduled to go before Congress for his confirmation hearing, officials began intense preparations, including murder board sessions. Reportedly, these sessions went on pretty aggressively during the past few weeks, but have probably slowed a bit now that the Senate has postponed the hearing.

PR Crises: When Mark Zuckerburg went on his recent apology tour after agreeing to testify in front of Congress, he was put through the wringer by a team of lawyers and outside consultants. In addition to a “crash course” in charm, Zuckerberg received a real grilling during murder board sessions. Essentially, his team created as identical an environment as possible and went through a series of real run-throughs of what’s likely to occur. These lengthy sessions were strictly private and videotaped for review and critique.

murder boardAlso, known as a “red team,” the murder board team’s main job is to poke holes. In the military, the red team tries to penetrate your defenses. In the high tech world, the red team tries to hack into your system. In short, the murder board finds the problems, risks, and bugs that the insiders miss. In high stakes situations, murder board sessions can save you from making a terrible mistake.

Why Is It important?

Murder board sessions might seem like overkill. It’s easy, especially for less experienced spokespeople, to believe that they are prepared for Q&A. But until they have practiced responding to questions under pressure, your preparation is not complete. So, make sure you impress upon your team the importance of setting up a murder board.

1. Prepares you for real-world experience and Q&A.

It’s helpful to consider worse-case scenarios before facing one in real life, so you can strategize as a team. Otherwise, you risk your spokesperson going off script and saying something that makes matters worse. I want my executives and clients to face the toughest questions for the first time in the room with me, not in front of an investor, a client, or a camera. The preparation will remind your spokesperson to focus on the facts and not speculation.

2. Stress tests company-held beliefs.

When pitching an idea or trying out new messaging, It’s always hard to be objective. This is as true of individuals as it is of teams. When you really want to step outside of the echo-chamber of your firm, a murder board with external voices can help.

Use a murder board to test beliefs about:

  • Company preparedness—especially good for crisis communications
  • Messaging—Is your message really resonating?
  • Customer relations—What do we actually know about our customer?
  • The organization—Does our message really hang together? Where are the confusing parts?

3. Stress tests your sales team and sales message.

Role play scenarios with your sales team ahead of a high-stakes pitch. Ask questions such as: How could the meeting go off the rails? What are the toughest questions the client could ask? What are the worst responses to our message we could imagine? Murder board sessions will ensure your team arrives prepared and ready to keep the meeting productive.

4. Gets you away from group think.

The most important part of the murder board process is bringing in a fresh perspective, often that of the client or stakeholder. Forcing a team to consider worst case scenarios requires them to think critically and figure out how to defend their position. Alternatively, forcing them to consider the client or stakeholder view, helps identify any gaps or missing angles that need strengthening.

Murder board sessions are simply the most powerful way to ensure that your media relations, investor relations, or sales team are ready for high stakes interactions. If any of these teams are “winging” high stakes meetings, their lack of preparation could put the whole firm at risk. So, let’s talk about when and how to use a murder board.

When to Use a Murder Board

A murder board can be used for any written or oral communications. It’s all about ideas and messaging. Here are three areas where a murder board can be most beneficial for improving communications.

1. Preparing for crisis situations.

If your firm has never had to deal with a full-on crisis, consider yourself fortunate. But also realize that your big crisis could be lurking just around the corner. It’s always a good idea to have a plan for dealing with a crisis and murder board sessions can play an important role in such a plan.

Assemble your damage control murder board and have them begin identifying issues and vulnerabilities within the company. It’s best if you can assemble a team who understands both the media and your firm’s weak spot. Next, have the team work on questions and ideal answers. These should be the toughest questions they can come up with and the best possible answers based on the facts. Finally, refine the answers and work to prep spokespeople.

2. Preparing for investors.

Murder boards are also great prep for analyst meetings, especially one-on-one meetings where executives need to be on top of their game. Here you’ll want to focus on both the message as well as recalling key company metrics.

For this one you’ll want to call in your toughest internal financial analysts and encourage them to live out their wildest inner Shark Tank dreams. Assemble your investor relations murder board and have them begin coming up with “tricky” questions regarding different angles on the numbers.

For example, suppose your firm calls for 10% year-to-year growth with sounds amazing, unless your biggest competitor comes out with an expected 15% growth rate. Now you’re behind in the investor’s eyes. What does it mean for your business and key competitive differentiators?

3. Preparing for customers.

Customers can be one of the toughest audiences. Murder board sessions are great training for sales teams. Use these sessions to prep them for their sales calls, a big pitch, or proposal presentation.

Assemble your customer relations murder board by having sales people role play with each other. Have newer salespeople play the “customer” role first to test the more experienced team members. Besides the benefits of being prepared for hard questions, this kind of exercise forces salespeople to put themselves in their customer’s shoes.

Final Thoughts

A murder board is an effective way to test your firm’s communications skills in a close to real-world situation. For high stakes interactions, there is no better preparation. Remind your team, though, that this is NOT a hazing experiment designed to throw off another team member. The point is to prepare your team, better understand your messaging, and better relate to key stakeholders.

One way to ensure that you get an objective perspective is to bring in an expert from outside your firm. Audacia Strategies can be that expert voice. We’ve prepared teams for investor meetings, crisis communications, and high stakes business transformations. We’ll help you put on your game face!

Photo credit: racorn / 123RF Stock Photo

ROI

3 Reasons the Boldest Investments Have the Biggest ROI

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

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

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

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

1. Businesses don’t just happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. It takes a village to build a business.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: dinozzz