When faced with a crisis, even senior IR executives can benefit from an outside perspective, particularly when that perspective is based on years of experience. In the following conversation, David Calusdian, president at Sharon Merrill Associates, discusses crisis management issues and the most effective strategies to protect corporate reputation and credibility.
Q: Can you share some recent examples of your crisis communications work, to give readers a sense of the many issues that can ensnare a public company, and discuss how you solve them?
A: Today the potential for a crisis lurks in any piece of market-moving information that originates from somewhere other than the company. It could be a social media post about an impending management shakeup, an FDA product recall or a data breach. The potential scenarios are endless, but an effective response shares a few common themes:
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The Equifax data breach, which affected some 143 million people, is just the latest high-profile incident reported by a large corporation. Verizon announced that 14 million customer accounts were exposed; Bell Canada said the data of 19 million customers was hacked; education platform Edmodo said the data of millions of its 78 million users were sold on the dark web. And Yahoo’s 2013 data breach reached epic proportions this month, when it announced all 3 billion customer accounts were hacked in that attack four years ago.
The good news -- and there is good news -- is that companies are stepping up their efforts to protect data. Ten years ago, information security was seen chiefly as an IT topic. Now, it has been elevated to the status of a strategic boardroom issue. I attend a monthly meeting of corporate board members, and at nearly every event there is discussion about cybersecurity and how to prepare – at the board level –for cyberattacks.
There’s a saying in the IT world: There are two kinds of companies, those that know they’ve been attacked, and those that don’t know they’ve been attacked. With that in mind, here are five critical things every company can do to prepare for a cyber crisis.
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cybersecurity communication plan
You probably have heard your CEO or a member of the board expound on the need to have a succession communications plan. (Perhaps you have been the one doing the expounding.) And it’s true: public companies should put significant thought into how they will communicate the transition of a C-level executive or board member. But usually, that’s where the conversation ends.
More often than not, communications professionals walk away from these discussions wondering what goes into the plan. With that in mind, today we discuss the five essential elements of a successful succession communications plan.
As soon as you know your board is conducting a CEO search, create a detailed timeline that will keep your succession communications on track. Name each task with the target completion date and the name of the person or people responsible for implementation. List all the materials that are necessary for the
Timing is everything. On Tuesday, one of the “Original Six” hockey teams fired its long-time coach Claude Julien, who in 2011 led the team to a Stanley Cup victory. The Bruins had underperformed in recent years, especially this one, and Julien, who had been the NHL’s longest-tenured coach, was shown the door. The announcement of the firing caused immediate backlash among the media and fans in New England.
What caused the uproar, however, wasn’t the actual firing of Julien, although he certainly had his defenders among Bruins fans. The problem was timing. The Bruins fired Julien two days after the New England Patriots had won Super Bowl LI in historically dramatic fashion. And in what is undoubtedly no coincidence, the announcement took place on the day of Boston’s celebratory parade and rally for the Patriots -- a day when hundreds of thousands of fans clogged the city streets to get a glimpse of their gridiron heroes. The city’s sports focus was most certainly on the Patriots. And that’s what the Bruins were counting on.
Note: This is the finale in our three-part series on succession communications.
As you’ve no doubt noticed from our previous posts on communicating CEO and CFO transitions, there’s no such thing as a “standard” executive announcement. And messaging board-level succession carries additional nuances you’ll need to consider as you frame a board change in the best position for long-term success with the investment community.
To assist in that effort, here are five points to guide you in announcing a change on your board.
1. Change is good. Change carries inherent uncertainty, and investors typically frown on that. However, institutional shareholders, and shareholder activists in particular, have emphasized board refreshment in recent years as a means of improving corporategovernance. Proxy advisers Glass Lewis and ISS also view it favorably. The theory here is that more frequent board turnover opens a company to new thinking and the best possible strategic benefits in the long run. Put another way, your board either can be stagnant or growing. Approach your announcement from a confident perspective, because chances are your shareholders will welcome the addition of new viewpoints.
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Note: This is the second in our three-part series on succession communications.
A new CEO is the highest-profile personnel announcement a company can make, but a new CFO isn’t far behind. As with any executive transition, the reasons can vary widely – from termination to mutual separation to a legitimate retirement. Regardless of the rationale, however, you’ll need to negotiate a different set of questions when communicating a CFO transition.
When it comes to corporate governance, board members and shareholder activists do not often agree. But there is at least one opportunity for common ground: better communication.
Board of Directors,
When you do work in crisis communications, you’re often asked to share war stories alongside other communications professionals on conference panels. The cases that are analyzed run the gamut of private and public companies, from small start-ups to large multinationals, in industries from consumer goods and high tech to pharmaceuticals and financial organizations. But there are consistent themes that typically rise from these discussions.
“Somebody’s Watching Me”
In the age of social media, somebody is watching every move that companies and their employees make. And more and more frequently, they are reporting their findings and opinions as fast as Twitter and Facebook will allow. Social media are not only accelerating the pace that information is being delivered but reshaping the entire communications landscape. In today’s crisis situation, anyone and everyone can now add their opinion into the conversation at a moment’s notice.
Communicating That 1+1 = 3
By David Calusdian, Executive Vice President & Partner
A well-known portfolio manager once said to me that he loved diversified industrial companies “for their break-up value.” If you’re in the industrial space, this is the polar opposite of how you want investors to think about your company. For an industrial, it all comes down to ensuring that investors see your company as being more than a sum of its parts – not less. Here are four tips to ensure that investors believe your company is worth more than its breakup value.
Synergize! An industrial company’s collection of businesses can either be viewed as just that - a disparate group of autonomous operations individually contributing to the corporate P&L. Or they can be seen as interconnected, mutually supporting components of a single profit-generating machine. The first way to demonstrate that your company’s whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts is to communicate how the portfolio management philosophy of the business fosters cross-selling throughout the organization, driving revenue growth. Also focus on how management realizes cost synergies across the enterprise, such as through lower fixed costs due to shared overhead or greater combined purchasing power.
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The new reality is that no public company, no matter how highly regarded or well managed, is immune from activist attention. The number of activist campaigns waged against public companies increased in 2015 to 375 according to the research firm FactSet.
Once an activist surfaces, every move a company makes can have a profound and cascading effect on its long-term viability. Therefore, it is essential to craft response plans before any sign of danger emerges.