Shaping Governance Messaging that Builds Corporate Brand

By Andrew Blum and Robert E. Swadosh

Remember the Emotional Drivers

With the 2017 proxy season well underway, it’s important to remember that what you convey about corporate governance impacts far more than investors alone. It also has the potential to leverage the power of your corporate brand and enhance your corporate reputation. Just ask the scores of activist investors who increasingly focus on issues much broader than operating performance – and do so in real time.

Messaging is key at all times, not just at the Annual Meeting but also during proxy fights and in response to activist investors, such as the May 10 move by Whole Foods to revamp its board. Developing proper investor messages is not simply about responding to governance issues or updating the same old metrics. Ironically, perhaps the most effective way to create compelling investor messaging is to know what your client’s key audiences are thinking.

At the start, understand that up to 20% of non-algorithmic investment decision-making is affected by emotional, rather that rational, factors. So, in addition to providing strategic communications advice, you also are acting as a de facto psychologist. This is particularly relevant as you help a CEO and CFO better understand the underlying dynamics that move investors.

One way to ensure accuracy and consistency in company messaging is to use the PR quiver in your IR toolbox:

  • Today that includes social media content as well as traditional media vehicles such as press releases and advisories for business and trade media relevant to all constituencies.
  • And don’t think its passé to reach out to key reporters.

Approaching IR communications generally, it’s important to tell your client upfront that all companies face heightened uncertainty and increasing doubts about the best path forward – especially in an era of social media and humongous amounts of data (useful or not).

In fact, all of a company’s constituents – employees, customers, investors, and competitors alike – find themselves in the same web. Clients need to understand that now is the time to ensure they have a handle on their most important audiences – and continuing in real time.

We as IR/PR practitioners need to help clients evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their efforts by providing objective guidance that:

  • Identifies the most promising directions for communications strategy
  • Establishes priorities
  • Sets reasonable expectations
  • Implements positioning and messages that address multiples audiences and similar needs.

How To Make It Happen

We recommend using qualitative and quantitative techniques to develop a holistic view of the corporate brand – one that considers cultural as well as business and financial factors. This provides significant actionable insights into the attitudes, motivations and behavior of a company’s most important constituencies.

The first step is to establish a baseline, a rolling, qualitative research study that generates rapid-response strategic development feedback. It will quickly provide an understanding of how investors, business and trade media, a cross-section of C-suite influencers, and others assess the client’s issue or situation and its longer-term impacts.

The objectives of this study are:

  • To gauge the attitudes and beliefs of key audiences about the client, and
  • To identify sources of discontinuity between these perceptions and the messages the company is intending to convey.
  • To determine the Company’s strengths and weaknesses and whether its messages are clear, credible, persuasive and differentiating.

How often? Quarterly at minimum, typically tied to earning reports, and then attendant to significant events, whether planned or responsive.

At minimum, this will help create opportunities. At worst, it may prevent one of those feared “jump off the cliff moments.” At best, it provides valuable insight into the psyche of your key influencers and decision makers.

*Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms

*Rob Swadosh is Senior Consultant – Crisis Communications and Predictive Media Training for Huss Group. He is a trusted corporate advisor who develops strategies to manage crises, enhance brand and reputation, heighten consumer awareness, support a company’s business model, and enrich valuation. He has held senior management roles at The Dilenschneider Group, Golin/Harris, MWW Group and Georgeson, and helped shape iconic brand transformations for clients including Allstate, Cutwater Asset Management, IBM Services, Johns

This story originally appeared in CommPro on May 16, 2017.  https://www.commpro.biz/shaping-governance-messaging-that-builds-corporate-brand/