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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.

Also, 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

building an IR program

Audacia’s IPO Roadmap to a Successful Initial Public Offering (Part Two): How to Build an IR Program

A successful initial public offering requires syncing up several moving parts. If doing a product launch feels like playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” an IPO feels like playing “Beethoven’s 9th.” Of course, to play a symphony, you need an orchestra. For your successful IPO, that means building an IR program.

If you missed Part One, we discussed how to develop your IPO story. Once you have your story, it’s time to get operational. So, this week we’ll look at answers to the following questions:

How do you structure your IR program?

Who are the key partners and players?

What are the key tools and policies that will set you up for success?

Without further ado, let’s talk building an IR program.

First, Know Your Goals.

We’ve discussed what IR is and isn’t before. The main purpose of IR is to ensure a company’s publicly traded stock is fairly valued by disseminating key information that investors use to make smart buying and selling decisions. IR departments communicate with investors (obviously), research analysts, regulatory and oversight organizations, customers, suppliers, media, and the broader financial community.

A solid investor relations plan will help guide your IPO discussions and ease your transition to a public company. The most important job? Establishing and building corporate credibility with your stakeholders through transparent and consistent communication.

Second, Gather Your Tribe.

Once your goals are clear, you can start to build your dream team of IR professionals. Hopefully, you have established and maintained strong business relationships over the years. Don’t be shy about calling on these contacts now.

Consult the following key partners and players:

Internal relationships: financial planning and analysis (make this a priority!) and finance team, general counsel’s office, external legal counsel, communications team, treasurer, business unit leads, product/service SMEs, and the C-suite.

External Relationships: service providers (Bloomberg, Nasdaq, IPREO, etc.), brokerages (JPMorgan, Jeffries, Goldman Sachs, etc.), stock surveillance (if using), public relations (if using and partnered with your internal communications team), your audit team (e.g., Deloitte, PWC, E&Y, etc.), and investment bankers.

Tools for Building an IR Program

We cover the basics below. Although we could get into using CRM systems, integrated blast email services, etc., for today, let’s keep it simple. Shall we?

Website: Your IR website is perhaps the most important tool for building an IR program and a non-negotiable requirement. Not only is your IR website often investors’ first introduction to your company and a perfect vehicle for disseminating your investment story, it’s also absolutely critical for conforming with compliance and disclosure requirements. I could go on about websites and their importance—a topic for another day!

Here are key recommendations to keep in mind for your IR website:

    • Make investor content easy to access—consider the user experience when designing your site.
    • Provide content that accurately describes your compelling investment thesis.
    • Keep the most requested information easy to find and download, i.e., earnings materials, investor presentations, etc.
    • Make contact information readily available. If you plan to be active on social media, include those links as well.
    • Make it mobile responsive—always good website etiquette!
    • Include governance information—officer and director information, committee charters and ethics documents, committee memberships, etc.
    • Keep a running list of company news/press releases.
    • Ensure that data feeds from the SEC and streaming stock quotes are accurate and timely.

IR platform: This type of tool will help to track consensus estimates on your firm and others, trading patterns, analyze your shareholder base, research and target new investors, review ownership trends, etc. These services also generally offer access to event transcripts, earnings materials, and industry, market and company analyses.

Many providers offer this type of service at varying price points. So, shop around. To operate efficiently and quickly it’s important to have situational awareness of your firm’s position among peers and within the market. These tools help you to track just that.

  • Examples include: Nasdaq, IPREO, Bloomberg, and others.

Stock Surveillance: While not a requirement—it can be pricey—this type of information can be incredibly helpful to understand the ebbs and flows within your shareholder base. It can also be a lifesaver when your CEO sticks her head in your office and says, “what the heck is going on with our stock today?!”

Stock surveillance is a service that focuses on tracking and analyzing movement in your company’s institutional shareholder base. Service providers will use a combination of publicly available data as well as proprietary and research-based methodologies and technologies.

There is a mix of art and science in this tool. It can be controversial, but I’ve found it to be very helpful in providing situational awareness. It is particularly important during times of crisis (market or company).

Key Policies for Staying on the Straight and Narrow

Every public company must decide whether and to what extent to give the market guidance about future operating results. The decision whether to give guidance and how much guidance to give is an intensely individual one. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in this area. The only universal truths are (1) a public company should have a policy on guidance and (2) the policy should be the subject of careful thought. As you continue building an IR program, keep the following policies in mind.

1. Reg FD

We’ve discussed Reg FD policy a few times. Specifically see:

Here are the highlights: Regulation FD is a fair disclosure rule, not an anti-fraud rule. This means that only conduct that is intentional or reckless can be considered a violation. Both companies and individual personnel can be held responsible and are subject to SEC enforcement actions.

Such enforcement actions can include injunctions, fines, and obligations to disclose the violation.

For more information about Reg FD and the SEC’s enforcement of the law, check out this list of frequently asked questions. But always remember that nothing you read online, including this article, is a substitute for qualified legal counsel.

2. Disclosure Policy

Your disclosure policy outlines the information your company will communicate on an ongoing basis and demonstrates your commitment to transparency. Avoid making the policy too narrow. It could come back to bite you during any potential litigation. Decide in advance who will be taking calls from various audiences. Spokespeople should respond to all calls as soon as possible, but most definitely within 24 hours.

This policy generally designates company spokespersons, approved channels of disclosure (website, SEC filings, social media, if your firm chooses to do so), handling of earnings and forward-looking guidance, and quiet periods.

A note on quiet periods:

The purpose of a quiet period is for a public company to avoid making comments about information that could cause investors to change their position on the company’s stock. There are no official guidelines on quiet periods. Practices vary by company requirement—for example, a Mega-cap firm that is part of the Dow may consider its quiet period to begin 2 weeks before the end of the fiscal quarter and conclude with their earnings report after quarter close.

However, a small-cap firm that is lightly covered may need to continue to take calls—even if they cannot answer some of the investor questions. In general, during a quiet period most companies either (a) allow no formal or informal communications at all (AKA all calls go to voicemail) or (b) allow limited communication and interaction with investors/analysts by:

  • Answering only fact-based inquiries
  • Sharing information only on overall long-term business and market trends
  • Announcing if it expects financial results to differ materially from earlier forecasts

Again, it’s hard to generalize here. Having a policy tailored to your IPO ensures that everyone knows the plan and has a common starting point.

3. Stock Trading Policy

The SEC has recently stepped up its efforts to detect suspicious trading. Sophisticated data analysis tools track shady patterns such as “improbably” successful trading across different securities over time. Many firms also make use of behavior analytics to uncover activities that could potentially lead to a range of trading illegalities.

Your stock trading policy should contain information for directors, officers, and employees to prevent insider trading. This article contains a list of best practices from someone charged with and convicted of insider trading. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Concluding Thoughts

As with so many aspects of taking your company public, preparation is critical to success in building an IR program. So make sure that you have positioned your company to be successful in IR. An effective IR program will be critical to avoid stumbling out of the gate with investors and will help you to build shareholder value for the long-term.

Audacia Strategies can assist your company in building an IR program. We offer everything from investment case development to talking points for IR executives to financial guidance and forward-looking positioning. Let us know how we can help!

Next up: Congrats! You’re Public. Now What?

Photo credit: Andriy Popov

business relationships

5 Important Business Relationships to Be Grateful for

One of our company values at Audacia Strategies is “Relationships Matter: It’s not ‘just business.’ It’s about people working together toward a common goal. We bring respect, honesty, and candor to the table every time.” This week, as we pause to reflect on everything and everyone that make us feel grateful, let’s specially consider the business relationships that too often go unrecognized.

In business, as in life, it is relationships that are the most important. While it is easy to be grateful for business relationships that are simple and especially lucrative, when it comes to those relationships that take a little more effort, feeling the appropriate level of appreciation can be difficult.

What are the benefits of being grateful?

Expressing gratitude makes you happier.

The next time you are having trouble mustering up appreciation for clients who treat every project like it’s an emergency or investors who question every piece of advice you offer, keep in mind that a little bit of gratitude can go a long way.

Research shows that being grateful makes you happier. Having an attitude of gratitude really is a choice we can make. And while there’s more to genuine gratitude than saying a distracted “thanks,” we often do underestimate the value of a heartfelt “thank you.”

Expressing gratitude can affect your bottom line.

Given that feeling grateful makes you happier, it’s also not surprising that others are more likely to want to work with those who adopt a habit of expressing gratitude. There is also research showing that being truly grateful can have a meaningful impact on your bottom line.

According to one survey, 90% of financial advisors who made an effort to regularly thank clients experienced greater success than those who were less consistent in expressing appreciation for their business relationships.

Expressing gratitude brings others to the table.

Beyond the personal benefits of expressing gratitude, it also uplifts those to whom you express gratitude. We all know how nice it feels have someone else acknowledge the effort and work we put into a project. This is no less important when you are working toward a common goal with your team.

Being grateful for the work that others do is especially important in cases where you know you will be interacting with the same individual or group multiple times, which is in most cases. Thankfulness invites others to the table and engages them as a vital part of the team.

So, in the spirit of feeling gratitude during the season of reflection, let’s take some time out to remember those business relationships that we sometimes take for granted:

1. Your financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team.

This team works hard all year to crank through your business data, strategize, and manage your corporate forecast. In addition to creating your organization’s extended financial plan, FP&A departments also generate management reports, analyze financial trends, calculate the monetary effects of potential business decisions, and advise company leaders.

When it comes to getting your budget done, managing earnings, and reporting on whether you are hitting your goals, where would your company be without this team of individuals?

2. Your most challenging client.

We all deal with difficult clients from time to time—when you see his number on the caller ID, you have to take a deep breath and review the meditation methods your yoga teacher taught you.

Even if worrying about this client keeps you up at night and makes you question your career choices, this client also pushes you to work harder and provide more value than you thought possible. Challenges are what keep us on our toes and keep things interesting. So, send that client a special note expressing your appreciation.

3. Your most challenging investor or analyst.

Being stuck in our own perspective for too long can give us tunnel vision. In these situations, anyone who can help us see our company in a different way is a huge asset. This is the value that a challenging investor or analyst can provide.

These individuals might not always express their feedback in the most constructive way, but if you have a tough skin, you can really learn a lot from them. As long as you remember that the criticism isn’t personal, this kind of challenge can help you and your extended team better articulate your messages and evaluate your business strategy.

4. Your spouse, significant other, best friend, etc.

All of those who listen as you talk through your work “dirt” are crucial to helping you stay grounded. When you have a hard day at the office, nothing is more comforting than being able to come home to someone who loves and supports you unconditionally. Hug your loved ones and tell them how much they mean to you whenever possible.

5. The Service Professionals Who Make Our Lives Easier.

Last, but not least, there are service professionals and other support personnel who work extra hard to give you the time to focus on what is important to you on a daily basis.

I’m talking about the local barista who knows you take your triple-shot mocha latte with soy milk and extra whipped cream. Or the waitress at your favorite lunch spot who makes sure your dressing always comes on the side. When was the last time you took an extra second out of your day to make eye contact and say “thank you?”

At Audacia Strategies, we make a special effort to live up to our company values and cultivate strong business relationships. I want to extend the deepest gratitude to all our clients (who are never challenging), friends, and family for their continued support over the past year.

Photo credit: kritchanut / 123RF Stock Photo

authentic voice

Drop the Buzzwords. 3 Ways to Find Your Authentic Voice.

If there’s one big lesson to learn from last week’s Presidential election, it’s never underestimate the power of an authentic voice. For months, political pundits called the 2016 Presidential election the “authenticity election.” And the Trump team can largely attribute their win to developing an (at least perceived) authentic communications strategy that resonated with millions of Americans.

Candidate Trump never missed an opportunity to remind voters that he was “from outside the Beltway.” Additionally, he used social media to speak directly to his constituency without the media’s filter. In other words, the Trump campaign successfully managed to capture their candidate’s authentic voice.

In corporate communications, just as in politics, the power of authenticity can go a long way. So what is a good strategy for capturing your organization’s authentic voice?

Skip the Buzzwords

While it’s tempting to get caught up in business jargon when talking to other experts in your industry, just consider how stale industry buzzwords sound when you hear them used constantly in messaging. How many times have you heard someone refer to a budget item as “mission critical” or an industry leader as a “change agent” or a “thought leader?”

While insider industry buzzwords might make sense to us, they are rarely informative for investors or customers. Imagine how frustrating it must be to make financial decisions based on such empty, generic talk.

To differentiate yourself from your peers, as well as persuade both customers and investors to give you more of their hard-earned dollars, it is crucial that you eliminate buzzwords from your communications. But this is the easy part.

How to Capture your Company’s Authentic Voice

Once you have eliminated the buzzwords, it’s time to get proactive in finding your company’s authentic voice and incorporating it into your messaging. Here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Pay attention to the voice of your leadership team.

The key to developing an authentic voice when communicating is for the talking points to align with the actual language and tone of the speaker. This is Communications 101: If the voice of the message is completely foreign to the one presenting it, the message will sound artificial and insincere.

This means if you are the CEO or CFO of a business developing messaging to present to investors, make sure the voice you use is your own. Don’t get bogged down in trying to sound like someone you think investors want you to be. Speak to the values that motivate you and be genuine.

Alternatively, if you are charged with the task of developing messaging for your leadership to present, remember that tone is important. A similar message presented in a cautiously optimistic tone can achieve radically different results from one presented using a cautiously pessimistic tone. So consider what tone best represents your leadership.

2. Find a voice that accurately represents the culture of your company.

Beyond making sure that your communications reflect the authentic voice of leadership, it’s also important to consider the unique voice of the company. For example, even though Coke and Pepsi offer similar products, their public personas are very different.

Don’t think of your branding and voice as simply a matter for the marketing department. If you want your customers and investors to immediately connect your company with a perceived culture (for example, innovative engineering with a global reach) that message needs to be consistent in communications across all departments.

3. When responding to questions, take a step back and consider the big picture.

Often the scariest part of communicating with investors are the off-the-cuff remarks. It’s one thing to develop precise language and practice with your team before a presentation. But when it comes time to answer questions, do you revert to vague jargon or hide behind your quantitative models?

During these times it’s especially useful to take a step back and simply talk. Don’t be afraid to “get real” with your audience. Yes, being honest requires you to be vulnerable and potentially face tough questions, but avoid the mindset that these circumstances are necessarily bad. No matter who your audience is -Investors, customers, employees- they want to hear your real thoughts on your business otherwise why would they listen? To take the pressure off, learn to approach these conversations from a position of collaboration, rather than confrontation. It’s an opportunity to share and educate.

At Audacia Strategies, we’ve seen it all and we can help you sort out your authentic voice. We know which questions to ask and how to help you zero-in on what matters most. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you develop a corporate communications strategy to address your needs.

Photo credit: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

3 Steps to a Competitive Intelligence Strategy

In my post last week, I kicked off our series on situational awareness with a discussion of the importance of knowing your company when it comes to discussing earnings with investors. This week we continue the conversation breaking down a second component of situational awareness, competitive intelligence.

While knowing yourself is key to putting your earnings in perspective for investors, another piece of this puzzle is knowing where your peers stand. In simple terms, figuring out a viable strategy for competitive intelligence means understanding your competition relative to your company and relative to major industry challenges.

Where do I even start?

Of course, figuring out where to start is far from simple. Clients often ask: How do I keep tabs on my competition in a respectable way? How do I create and implement on-going systems for competitive intelligence? And how do I translate the relevant information I find into the most meaningful format for my team?

Before I start going over details, let’s consider the big picture. I often describe competitive intelligence in terms of your company maintaining a “ready stance.” Like an athlete entering the ring with her opponent, you don’t want to be caught flat-footed by your competition. You want to be ready for anything and able to anticipate the moves your competition makes, so you can adjust accordingly.

So, what steps will help you take the competition by storm?

1. Rethink your competitive intelligence process.

Having a strategy is the best move you can make. Before you approach your board and investors, sit down with your team, develop a clear sense of scope, and think through the different roles members will play.

To guide your strategy, read through your competitors’ earnings transcripts. If their investor presentations are available online, look for clues about their perspective on the market. Are they taking a conservative, moderately conservative, or more aggressive approach? Finally, study their research reports. The more you know about their models and go-to sources, the more you can develop a competitive profile.

Also, make sure you don’t miss the forest for the trees. In other words, don’t just think hard about, say, your closest individual competitor. Looking at the market dynamic between several competitors can yield an innovative strategy, which could offer more guidance than studying any single competitor in isolation.

2. Talk to others in the industry.

When you see others in your industry at networking events or conferences, don’t shy away from talking shop. For example, when a colleague from research and development calls you up to ask about one of the models in your report, strike up a conversation about new federal regulations. While you should never ask about a specific company, it doesn’t hurt to ask for general feedback about your shared industry.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you do anything underhanded or anything that makes you uncomfortable here. Don’t think of this as digging for dirt. If you think of those you talk to as thought partners, your conversation will be cordial and mutually beneficial.

You will be surprised at what people are willing to disclose if you simply ask. Chances are you will come away from your conversation with information that can guide your investment choices and give you a better sense of where your competition is headed in the upcoming months.

3. Put processes in place for developing feedback loops.

Once you have thought about your own processes and gathered information about the competitive landscape, you can make the most of the information by establishing the right processes for getting it up the chain to your executives.

Bringing the information to the executives is really the final step though. You want to come to the table ready with a plan for implementing policy changes and systematically measuring results.

Also, keep in mind that data collection does not equal competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence is more about creating strategy than it is about gathering loads of information. A little bit of information can go a long way. This means you don’t need to spend millions on a massive database and you shouldn’t simply dump data into the lap of analysts asking them to come up with a strategy.

Developing the right feedback loop requires an “all hands on deck” approach. Have a clear sense of the scope and role for each member of your team. Then take a few simple steps: mandate intelligence reviews at critical decision making stages; have a designated competitive intelligence analyst who sits in on all strategic meetings; and tap into any internal channels that can help implement strategies for competitive intelligence.

Parting thoughts

When it comes to competitive intelligence, the name of the game is to be proactive, predictive, and to revise your strategy according to what your competition might do. If you follow the above tips, you’ll be on your toes when it comes to monitoring your competition and staying on top of industry trends.

Used well, competitive intelligence will lead to increased strategic agility and the ability to adapt to market shifts. Don’t miss next week’s installment of our series all about what to do when markets behave badly. While we all have our fingers tightly crossed that the US election won’t upset the stock market, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the worst, right?

At Audacia Strategies, we’ve been practicing our “ready stance” for a long time. We don’t just provide flashy presentations and strategic advice from the sidelines. We roll up our sleeves and stand with you shoulder to shoulder until we achieve the measurable results you are after. Are you ready to schedule a free consultation and find out what a difference Audacia Strategies could make for your company?

Photo credit: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

investor relations

Investor Relations Starts At Home: 3 Tips for Disclosing Q3 Earnings

This week it seems like everyone in the financial world has been obsessing over companies like Apple and Google releasing their Q3 earnings reports. For analysts, preparing to disclose earnings is one of the biggest challenges of investor relations. Wall Street has been in a holding pattern during the past 30 days. But the perceived wisdom is that if any of these big companies reveals an earnings surprise, it could be just the jolt investors need to bring them out of their malaise. I’d say the jury is still out though.

There is no doubt that quarterly earnings are a crucial measure to watch. Still, as you develop a strategy for communicating your company’s Q3 earnings to investors, consider that finding the right message is as important as the actual data you are communicating. It’s always a good idea to keep things in perspective. Since companies aren’t valued in a vacuum, having situational awareness is essential to communicating the right message to your investors.

In fact, situational awareness is so essential to investor relations that we think it deserves a three-part series of its own. So we’ll start off in this post with tips for helping you view your company from the outside in. We will follow up with posts about knowing your peers and knowing the market.

What is situational awareness and why is it key for your quarterly earnings strategy?

As you might have guessed, there are three main components to situational awareness: knowing yourself, knowing your peers, and knowing the market. Each of these components plays a role in preparing you to discuss your company’s valuation with investors. Investors want you to give them the numbers, but they also want you to help them interpret the numbers. Remember that they are looking to you as an expert on their investment.

This is especially true when it comes to disclosing earnings. Building a successful investor relations strategy is about getting into the minds of your investors. From an investor’s perspective having more information is always preferable to having less, so anything you can do to put those numbers in context will be well received.

Think of it this way. Which is more helpful for investors to know:

  • Your earnings rose 10%?
  • Or your earnings rose 10% while your closest competitor’s earnings rose 8%?

That the second one jumps out as more helpful demonstrates the power of situational awareness. Now, we’re not saying you call out your competitors’ results specifically but you definitely want to note the “industry-leading” results during your earnings call. An investor relations strategy that integrates situational awareness doesn’t simply focus on telling the story of your quarter. It also positions your company relative to how your peers performed and to how the market itself performed, giving your investors a more complete picture of your company’s performance.

So let’s talk strategy.

What does it mean to know yourself?

1. Know your company better than anyone else.

This should go without saying, but no one external to your company should understand your company better than you do. So develop your own models, craft earnings polls, and get into the minds of analysts to understand how they are really evaluating you.

Additionally, rather than making assumptions about what analysts are thinking about your company based on their research, reverse engineer the research whenever possible. Get your sell side analysts’ models and compare and contrast. If it becomes obvious to you that analysts are operating under incorrect assumptions, build some commentary into your earnings call discussion to explain any discrepancies and to give more context for their revised models.

2. Know what the analysts ask.

Examine the questions analysts asked about your company and your peers during the last quarter (or even during the last few quarters). Compare those questions to what they are asking during the current earnings season. For example, if analysts asked about the risks associated with a particular raw material three quarters ago, but haven’t asked since, this might explain discrepancies between your internal reports and the external reports you’re seeing.

Don’t simply assume the questions analysts ask are consistent from quarter to quarter. While it can be tempting to dismiss a lower than expected valuation from analysts on grounds that they don’t have the complete picture, investors will rightly hold you accountable for failing to anticipate and adjust internal models.

3. Know yourself relative to your peers.

This bleeds over into what we’ll talk about in more depth next week, but part of knowing yourself includes knowing how you will handle the release of peer earnings reports. Because many data points are more meaningful in the context of understanding industry trends, keeping tabs on your competition is key to understanding how to position yourself with investors.

For instance, in the defense industry where there has been a mostly flat business landscape for much of the past year, it makes sense for defense contractors to pull back and take a more austere approach to allocating resources. But if you know your competition is taking this approach, while your company is increasing its investment in research and development, for example, you may have a powerful discriminator that sets you apart from your peers. Well communicated and in context, a carefully considered, seemingly contrarian investment strategy could really pay off in potential valuation.

Long story short, if you aren’t keeping tabs on your competition and how they handle macro-issues facing your industry, then you are operating at a serious disadvantage. It’s a little bit like showing up to a tennis match with a ping-pong paddle. Of course, it’s important to work on your backhand, but if you haven’t studied your competition carefully, you risk underestimating them.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of this series on situational awareness and investor relations when we’ll discuss knowing your peers on a deeper level. In the meantime, if you would like help communicating a consistent and compelling investment story, we’re always ready to talk disclosure strategy (with as much geeky detail as you can handle, of course). No matter how well you know your company, we understand that it can be challenging to know how to frame your message and to develop the right outreach plan. Contact us today. We’ve got your back!

Photo credit: Wavebreak Media Ltd

weekend reading

Weekend Reading

We survived another political convention season, my friends. High fives all around.

You may be shocked to hear that there has been plenty of news cycle beyond the U.S. presidential race with Q2 earnings, economic reports (hello July nonfarm payrolls!), and a new all-time high for the S&P500. So much for that old saying about “sell in May.”

As we head into the weekend, here’s a quick round-up of some of the news that caught our attention. Consider it our gift to you to keep you entertained and informed during your evening commute (for my train/subway riders), Friday afternoon wind-down (wine-down?) or over your weekend morning coffee. Cheers.

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Companies Routinely Steer Analysts to Deliver Earnings Surprises (Wall Street Journal)

We received a LOT of calls and emails over this article.

Audacia takeaway: Investor Relations is about making sure that there is transparency in company communications with investors and analysts. Ensuring that investors and analysts are well aware of public information is a legitimate and very appropriate activity. Analysts, like all of us, are awash in news and data. Many sell-side analysts cover upwards of 20 companies; buy side analysts may cover hundreds of companies. It is critical that companies ensure that their public messages are heard and comprehended so that they can be fairly valued.

That said, investor relations professionals (IROs) operate within SEC regulations called Regulation Fair Disclosure. There are legal ramifications for those companies who do not operate within those regulations (see: Office Depot). Additionally, investor relations professionals should encourage their employers to have a well-documented quiet period policy and stick to it.

We are always happy to discuss disclosure strategy. If you or your organization has questions, drop us a line, a tweet, or give a call. We’ve got your back.

Daily Report: Venture Capital’s Endangered Middle Class (New York Times)

Two weeks ago, we highlighted Entrepreneur.com’s report that venture capital placements are up 20.5% over Q1’16. This week, we are looking at venture capital fundraising. Per the New York Times, “In the first half of the year…just five venture firms raised $7.4 billion, or about one-third of the $22.9 billion raised over all by V.C.s.”

What could this mean? Well, it could mean that with a significant concentration of funds in a few firms we could see more concentrated placements, potentially leaving mid-sized funds and companies at a disadvantage.

Audacia Takeaway: Lots of game left to play here but it’s worth keeping an eye on… and it may open a unique business opportunity for those willing to step into the void.

Regulators Ask Big Banks to Give More Details About Trading Activity (Wall Street Journal)

In this era of high-frequency trading and dark pools, it is interesting to see that the SEC may request that big banks report trading revenue by product line (e.g., bonds, stocks, commodities, etc.). Today, trading revenues are reported en masse with little transparency into what might be driving a bank’s trading results.

Audacia Takeaway: This could be an interesting turn of events for investors by shedding light not just on what is trading but how it trades.