5 ways companies can ace the communication game in the COVID-19 era

Disclosures and communication maybe delayed due to COVID-19 challenges, but companies must try to alleviate concerns around business continuity, growth strategies, and overall financial well being.

COVID-19 has upended the world as we know it, hitting businesses and companies. Analysts and investors are constantly seeking information, which can be a challenge with the current government-mandated restrictions on traditional workplaces.

Investor communication directly influences investor relations, which determines the health of the company balance sheet in the coming quarters. However, a major setback is the multiplicity of channels that disseminate breaking news every couple of hours, which leads to the dilution and probably passing off of genuine breaking news having potential gargantuan effects.

Breathless news channel commentary apprises viewers of latest advisories, notifications, legal amendments, corporate actions, etc. made by companies, regulators, and central and state governments that impact Indian citizens at large.

Without a comprehensive crisis playbook in sight, credible and timely communication is of paramount importance to investors. With this in mind, companies should adopt some of the best industry practices as outlined here:

1. Dedicated communication team

Amid changing circumstances, companies must furnish accurate information in a timely and consistent manner to partners, vendors, and employees. In larger companies with complex organisational structure, decentralised communication may be encouraged with groups of about five to seven individuals - a key member from the leadership team, a legal counsel, corporate communication specialist, human resources head, a technical expert in the domain area, etc.

External communication may prove to be troublesome in case employees fail to comprehend it. Studies show that interaction with company leaders boosts productivity, lessens uneasiness, and as a consequence gives hope, regardless of the medium i.e. emails, telephone messages, or webinars.

Communication of business fundamentals and investment values with employees will be a good litmus test because if companies fail to engage employees and vouch for their business position, or initiative, then its success outside the organisation is unlikely.

2. Leverage technology for enhanced communication

The medium of communication with external stakeholders is of prime importance and online communication is the way in the time of social distancing.

Technology-backed virtual options provide flexibility to groups in different geographies to connect and have an open dialogue with investors. This way, companies can continue to connect and furnish information.

But, prior to taking the tech plunge, it is important to test technology internally among employees from different rungs of the corporate ladder who will be dialling remotely through phones, computers, or other devices, to attend videoconferencing, webinars, and presentations to interact with current and prospective shareholders.

The success of virtual meets is contingent upon participation of its stakeholders, which is largely dependent on the presence of adequate equipment, internet connection, and a comprehensive understanding of the virtual meeting platform.

In the event of several conference and road-show cancellations, investor conferences must make the transition from in-person to virtual formats of communication.

3. Communicate solutions and commitment

Unprecedented times necessitate unprecedented measures. So it is vital for companies to demonstrate the capacity and resolve to weather the storm by opening its cards on business strategy, corporate governance, and financial updates – now and even after the coronavirus dust settles.

Companies can achieve this through two modes – first, transparent and candid communication of impending challenges in the way of growth and expansion plans with all stakeholders. Transparency should not be misconstrued as vulnerability but a sign of the company’s grasp on its current situation and resolve to effectively navigate challenging circumstances.

Also, in the interest of investors and other stakeholders, companies should avoid downplaying the impact of short-term disruptions or brushing them off; instead, challenges must be addressed in a clear and transparent way.

Second, companies must highlight and reinforce long-term business fundamentals. This will support a gradual recovery and deliver long-term value. Apprising stakeholders of the company’s financial health without window-dressing or downplaying the impact on its business, while shifting gears to concentrating on the company’s strengths leading to innovation is the way forward.

4. Responsiveness and reactions

While managing communication during a crisis, the management and leadership should analyse the situation through the lens of its audience. The existing situation poses a prolonged challenge that may persist for a long time, but companies must address concerns from the investment community with compassion, while being prepared for worst-case scenarios.

Interests of an investor are divergent from those of a promoter or a shareholder, but companies must illustrate its conviction in delivering the needs of each stakeholder despite the challenging times. An alignment of business objectives with those of shareholders, leading to a shared business goal during the pandemic, may create sustainable value for investors in the long run.

5. Protect your flanks

Lastly, the pandemic has hurled numerous businesses in the quagmire of opportunistic manoeuvres by activist shareholders. This makes it imperative to monitor the dialogue with investors so as to identify challenges, motives, and opportunities from an investor’s standpoint.

Companies must foresee this, review corporate defenses, and place an equipped communications team to respond to potential activism. The actions taken will be remembered long after the COVID-19 dust settles and may set the perception of a company.

The ongoing pandemic has cast a cloud over the economic recovery of companies, stock markets, and economies across the world. The tumultuous start to businesses in FY20 along with rapidly evolving changes in terms of company policies, government-mandated amendments or advisories, coupled with day-on-day disruptions caused by the spike in coronavirus cases, necessitates clear and open communication channels by companies for its investors, vendors, customers, and other stakeholders alike.

Although disclosures and communication maybe delayed due to current challenges, companies must try to alleviate concerns around business continuity, growth strategies, and overall financial well being.

With many unknown variables and contradictory information being published on the web or broadcasted through TV, financial insecurity and panic will increase further, deepening the hole of uncertainty.

Investors should receive complete and accurate information at the same time and with the same degree of candor, irrespective of their shareholding percentage.

In the view of quick-changing dynamics, the central objective should be demonstrate long-term resilience and confidence, by striking a balance between providing guidance to shareholders and a clear assessment of the impact on business.

Edited by Teja Lele

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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