Economic downturns are as inevitable as the good times that precede (and follow) them. Making it through the volatility requires effective and honest communication.
One minute we’re up, and the next we’re down: the financial crisis of 2008 and the more recent turmoil associated with ‘Brexit’ are perfect reminders of how quickly we can plunge into economic uncertainty. Fortunately, uncertainty is one of the few certainties of life, and this simple truth serves as a useful framework for all investor relations. Indeed, according to Jo Mira Clodman, partner at Clodman Hecht Communications, “The fundamental tasks, responsibilities, and requirements for IR in good times and bad are much more similar than they are different.”
“But it’s harder to fulfill them in an economic downturn,” Clodman told PR Newswire. The key, then, is to stay committed to the same IR best practices during difficult times that you would during a bull market — chief among them, proactive and honest communication with shareholders.
Some of the best IR management teams travel more frequently to meet with shareholders during difficult periods. “When times are tough, there is nowhere to hide. Your mistakes come to the fore. And that’s when good management teams with good assets can really differentiate themselves,” says David Carey, senior vice president of capital markets at ARC resources.
Janet Craig, the vice president of IR at Fortis, Inc., agrees. “You need to over-communicate rather than under-communicate,” she says. “In tough times, you have to increase your communications rather than decrease your communications.” Such consistency builds trust between you and your investors — perhaps the most valuable commodity when times are hard — and reassures your shareholders that things will improve. The economy is, after all, a cycle of ups and downs that will inevitably rebound in time.
Nonetheless, when the news is bad, it can be tempting to try to sugarcoat the information or delay delivering it to your shareholders; in the end, however, there is no avoiding the inevitable. Face the challenge head on, but do so strategically. Downturns give you the perfect opportunity to tell your story while highlighting the strengths of your management team. Address the issue directly, then walk your shareholders through the steps your organization is taking to weather the troubled economic times.
“Let everyone know what the upcoming milestones are—and what management is working on,” says founder of Ste-Marie Strategies & Communications, Danielle Ste-Marie. “When you see management executing against these milestones, it’s very positive.” At the same time, you need to contextualize your efforts within the broader industry climate to prevent investor tunnel vision. As Clodman notes, “Companies don’t operate in isolation…Take note of what’s happening out there more broadly, and if your peers are doing something that’s a good idea, try it yourself.” During an economic downturn, everything is relative.
Staying in Touch
During economic downturns, resources tend to be more limited, making regular in-person meetings difficult. Yet, to assuage their unease, shareholders are likely to reach out to IROs more frequently during these periods; so developing a cost-effective way to keep in contact is critical. Technology — particularly smartphones and tablets — offers an affordable option which facilitates the rapid exchange of information: IROs can update their shareholders in real time without costly travel. Moreover, because we are rarely without our phones in this day and age, mobile updates cast the impression that you are with your shareholders wherever they go, acting as a reassuring presence, no matter the economic climate.