Communicating Effectively During COVID-19 [Webinar Recap]
6 April 2020
By Vanessa Hartung
We hosted a webinar in partnership with IR Society UK to discuss how IR professionals can effectively communicate with investors during COVID-19. The expert panel discussed the importance of clear and frequent communications, investor event planning, and the use of technology. With AGM season right around the corner, panelists shared their advice on what information to share and the best methods of connecting. In the end, the conversation boiled down to three essential take-aways:
Communicate clearly, and consistently
With things developing so rapidly, the panelists reminded attendees that no one has the answers for how this will turn out in the long run. However, that doesn’t mean you should go radio silent, as tempting as it may be. When it comes to your shareholders, stay in frequent contact, even if you are unable to provide specific information or guidance on forecasts.
Panelist Helen Parris, Director of Investor Relations at G4S, shared that “in past experiences dealing with a crisis, like with the Olympics, even if you can’t give information and numbers, it’s still really important that you carry on communicating. People take comfort and reassurance from you speaking to them, even if you can’t give all the details.”
Communicate with the financial community, but stick to your messaging and stay in frequent contact with internal stakeholders to ensure alignment. Keep the market updated but restrict public announcements to those where there is new information to disclose. Focus on providing information that delivers actual value to the sell-side and buy-side, and release it publicly as it becomes available.
Understand what your investors expect from you
Market volatility is at an all-time high, and investors have gone from focusing on earnings growth to focusing on balance sheets and liquidity. Panelist Thomas Toomse-Smith from the FRC shared his perspectives on the valuable research the Lab has been conducting into what investors want to see.
At the moment, investors are primarily focused on company resources, like cash and liquidity, the actions a company can take to manage its resources and ensure it remains viable, and how it can protect key assets and value drivers for the future. However, Thomas reminded attendees that “this an evolving area, and the information wanted today is not the same as the information that they’ll want in two weeks’ time.”
Maintain focus on your companies resources, actions, and plausible future scenarios, but be prepared to adjust course. Any information on your company’s debt maturity, liquidity, and covenants should be posted to your website for easy accessibility, and so your company has control over the information shared. Having a single source of information, such as a website, can help guide conversations and ensure any information shared is in line with the company’s current status.
Find new ways to connect
In addition to leveraging digital platforms, like your website, to share information with investors, many IROs are now looking for different ways to connect with investors now that physical interactions are essentially off the table (especially as AGMs get closer). Technology is already integral to the IR function, and panelists expect technology to play an even bigger role as we go forward.
“It’s so important that you don’t lose touch with your investors during such a critical time,” shared panelist, Karen Greene. “Right now, we’re trying to get through assessing the impact as we head into an earnings season that will be one we’ll never forget, and being able to reach out virtually will be important.”
We should note that “virtual” doesn’t always mean “visual”, like live streaming. It can take the form of a webcast or a conference call as well. Understand your executive team’s strengths and select the option that best suits their communication style. Not everyone is comfortable being on video, which could make someone appear to be nervous, leading to an erosion in investor confidence. In this case, hosting a webcast with presentation slides may be best.
Communicating effectively by using the technology available is going to be where we all end up after this. This could even translate to lower travel budgets and more time in the office in the future, while still having the ability to connect effectively with investors through virtual means. To ensure you deliver a successful virtual event, check out our list of best practices.
Thank you to session moderator Claire Mogford, Head of IR at Segro and IR Society events committee’ member, and panelists Emma Burdett, Partner, Head of IR & Governance at Maitland/AMO and Chair of the IR Society policy committee, Helen Parris, Director of Investor Relations at G4S and IR Society board member, Thomas Toomse-Smith, Project Director, Financial Reporting Lab at the FRC, and our very own Karen Greene, Investor Relations Partner at Q4 Inc. for sharing their insights and advice.