Although it has dominated the news for many weeks, the coronavirus epidemic has become very real, very quickly for many people.
There has almost been an audible scramble by many companies looking for an appropriate coronavirus response strategy in the past few days and many business leaders have been left questioning whether, if they haven’t got anything good to say, it is best to say nothing at all?
So, in these uncharted waters, what should publicly listed companies be doing to reassure investors and what steps should they take to weather the global storm which has suddenly engulfed us?
As with all crisis communications, the key is to communicate early and often. Business leaders may instinctively wish to put their heads in the proverbial sand until there is more clarity regarding the wider impact on their company, but experience tells us that stakeholders expect and appreciate regular contact – even if a company is still trying to comprehend the extent of disruption. In order to maintain credibility in challenging situations, let empathy lead the way in your communications strategy and try and anticipate the anxieties which your investors, customers, employees and partners may have.
Publicly listed companies have a clear framework through which to disseminate regulatory and price sensitive information, and this will of course remain the core pillar of your communications strategy during periods of market upheaval. Notwithstanding this, there is an opportunity to go above and beyond these regulatory obligations and build on your established following, and potentially start new conversations.
Here are our pointers to business leaders looking to connect, comfort and convey confidence:
Agree a formal communications strategy amongst a small response team and your PR/IR agency – the guidance surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is changing daily and you need to have an agile team in place to ensure the key messages are disseminated across your business. Although the strategy will evolve continuously, there needs to be uniformity across your business with no individuals or teams deviating from this. A primary consideration should be the use of social media – draw up clear guidelines for everyone in your business to adhere to. Clearly there should be no price sensitive information shared but think also of the tone of your posts. Everyone will have an opinion on the government response to the COVID-19 emergency and whether herd immunity is the logical course of action or puts lives at unnecessary risk but sharing these views on social media is neither helpful or prudent so try and stay clear of the debate unless you are a genuine medical expert!
Don’t assume that no news means good news – the current pandemic has created numerous global anxieties on a scale that, arguably, we have never seen before. On a macro-economic level, the slowdown – and potential regression – of many major economies is an area of huge concern and coupled with this, people also fear for their families, loved ones, neighbours and local communities. With this in mind, most people are cognisant that the pandemic will, either directly or indirectly, impact almost all companies whatever their size or industry. For this reason, it is important to set out exactly what your business is doing to mitigate this impact focusing specifically on the areas which are likely to be of concern to your audience. Be proactive with your approach to communicating near-term challenges as your investors, customers and employees may well fear the worst unless informed otherwise.
Be balanced – it may well feel as though the world as we know it has changed irrevocably but try not to catastrophize. Use your internal and external communications as an opportunity to reiterate the long-term strategy of your business and why, notwithstanding the inevitable shifts in behaviours which the COVID-19 emergency has presented, your product/offering/service or investment proposition remains compelling. Despite the market volatility we are seeing, at the very least this could help negate selling amongst your established shareholder base.
Talk to the people who are willing to listen – there is no escaping coronavirus in the news but believe it or not, there are journalists out there writing about other things! Speak to your PR/IR agency about alternative updates or angles which may be of interest as they should be able to set up calls with appropriate journalists to get the story out there for you.
Use your time constructively – it is almost impossible not to feel panicked when looking at the stock market volatility and your own share portfolio performance, but try to use this time to assemble a high impact marketing campaign for when the market does turn. Business leaders should look to be as prepared as possible for when the market shows signs of recovery as there will inevitably be a clamour to attract investors and you want to ensure your business stands out from the crowd. Work with your agency now to assemble presentations, develop websites and expand social media campaigns to get you noticed when it matters.
If you would like to discuss your communications strategy with us, please give St Brides a call on 020 7236 1177 and we would be happy to advise.