Investor Relations Practitioners Drive Communication Initiatives To Preserve Corporate Reputations
The Battle for the Corporate Conscience
In today’s scandal-ridden business environment, investor relations practitioners and their counterparts in public relations and corporate communications have a vital role to play. Their voices must be heard in the boardroom and they must assume the role of corporate conscience as a means of safeguarding a company’s reputation, which can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. In serving the public, however defined, public relations practitioners possess keen understanding of what a company’s constituents are thinking and how to best serve their needs as consumers, shareholders, business partners and so on.
And, while much of the latest financial turbulence has focused on PR and Investor Relations professionals alike, no one is immune as corporate issues have emerged throughout the world.
Much has been written about the need for greater regulation of the business world. However, would we not be better served by greater enforcement of the rules that already exist? Will more regulations restore investor confidence? Make for more ethical corporate management? Many investor relations professionals and PR professionals share a common belief in that the faster the corporate sector moves to put its own house in order, the faster it will restore investor confidence, and the less likely it will be that the long arm of government will be called upon to replace the invisible hand of the market.
The problem for investor relations professionals as well as their PR counterparts is how can a company communicate that its management is ethical and that its house is in order? Someone who lies, cheats or steals is a liar, cheater or thief, respectively. And no words — however effectively delivered – or ethics statements, for that matter, will change that fact. When it comes to trust, actions speak louder than words and effectively communicating those actions will be critical to restoring trust.
Some ideas to consider…
* Educate the media and investors – While some companies have relatively easy stories to understand and are unfettered by complicated balance sheets and financial transactions, others have more complex structures. Such companies must educate investors and the media in order to achieve a valuation commensurate with their prospects.
* Don’t play follow the leader … be a leader – It seems to be common practice these days to jump on the bandwagon of a popular issue. These times require real leadership and leaders, well… lead. Get out in front of an issue that is particularly important to your company and its constituents.
* Use plain English and provide detail – Former SEC commissioner Arthur Levitt was onto something when he mandated that official filings be made in plain English as opposed to “legalese.” Given an environment in which skepticism abounds, investor relations professionals and their PR colleagues are advised to provide extensive detail on their company’s financial performance. Of course, your communications should be in easily understood language. If an explanation is convoluted, it will be subject to interpretation, perhaps erroneously, by the media, investors and others.
* Being transparent doesn’t mean being invisible – When a crisis hits, there is a tendency to hide in the hopes that it will blow over. Chances are, it won’t and, in this age, of round the clock media reporting, there is a good possibility that your crisis will quickly rage out of control. In addition to having a crisis preparedness plan, investor relations and PR pros should prepare their company’s management team to be visible and available to all constituents and present a credible plan and timeline for remedying the situation.
While today’s times are presenting great challenges to Investor relations and PR professionals, there are great opportunities to advance the profession. Practitioners must play a more active role in shaping a corporation’s ethics policy and safeguarding its reputation through a communications program that addresses the needs of all of its constituents.