Human, Humble, Useful: COVID-19 and Earnings Communications

Over the previous couple of weeks, every single day has been unprecedented. Final week’s unprecedented jobless claims numbers adopted weeks of unprecedented inventory market volatility, which adopted unprecedented information about an unprecedented international pandemic. As March and the primary quarter of 2020 finish, corporations are placing collectively their methods for reporting monetary outcomes in the midst of a world disaster that continues to develop in scale in the US. 

When corporations introduced their earnings steerage earlier this 12 months, the world was completely different. Since then, giant parts of the financial system have been turned off utterly. Shoppers and staff have stayed house, by alternative or by authorities directive, closing many companies or slowing their actions to a crawl. Whereas the – once more, unprecedented – stimulus invoice will alleviate some strain for a lot of People and companies, challenges stay, and only a few have any thought of what to anticipate from company America when earnings season begins in earnest later this month. Many main corporations have already pulled steerage. The SEC has provided extra time for corporations affected by COVID-19 to report their outcomes. 

The punchline? Keep tuned for much more volatility and uncertainty. 

As my staff and I start counseling shoppers on how one can strategy earnings communications, right here’s what we’re considering they need to do: 

Be human. 

All people at Ketchum is working from house. My solely escape from isolation is when my spouse and I stroll the canines a couple of instances a day, swerving six ft into the road to let the occasional neighbor go. Colleagues on video calls are distracted by serving to their children with a math drawback, answering the door for groceries, or ensuring their family members are secure. All of us want area to maintain the issues that ought to come first. That’s the expectation for American firms throughout this pandemic. 

However in terms of quarterly earnings, question #1 is at all times: Was it a beat or a miss? Journalists in fact will need to know COVID-19’s affect on steerage or what technique shifts an organization is making. However I’d encourage senior administration to give attention to individuals greater than they give attention to numbers. It’s the “S” in ESG. Traders, staff and prospects will need to hear that administration’s precedence is conserving individuals secure. They’re not simply there to show you how to beat EPS expectations. They’re human, and corporations must be human too. 

Which means addressing worker safeguards on the earnings name, conserving prospects conscious of any adjustments to operations, and informing buyers of actions to guard individuals whereas delivering shareholder worth. 

Be humble. 

We should always acknowledge two truths: (1) When corporations issued steerage earlier this 12 months, that they had no thought that a international well being disaster would shut companies down around the globe. (2) Most individuals care much more concerning the well being and security of their associates and households than they do about quarterly earnings. 

We’ll quickly discover out that a variety of corporations missed their Q1 outlook. Their inventory costs could take hits, however shares have already been on a curler coaster. Our advice is to acknowledge what went flawed, determine a forward-looking technique to ship in your stakeholders, and get again to serving to your individuals. 

The stage for earnings bulletins can be a lot smaller than it has been prior to now, and that’s a very good factor. Humble leaders are conscious of the place they match into the story. This quarter, they don’t seem to be the celebs.  

Be useful. 

A worldwide pandemic isn’t a time to inform the world how good of an organization you might be. It’s a time to point out it. We’re impressed by companies which might be retrofitting manufacturing amenities to provide N95 masks or ventilators, elevating wages for frontline staff, or funding initiatives to assist staff handle monetary hardships. 

Whereas most corporations can’t activate a dime and redirect operations, they will nonetheless be useful, notably throughout earnings season. Members of the media are navigating the identical coronavirus challenges as all people else, however they have the extra duty of conserving the general public knowledgeable. Firms ought to assist journalists inform the story. Spend a while desirous about how your services or products will assist individuals throughout or after the disaster. Articulate your quarterly outcomes in a manner that fills gaps within the broader narrative. Assist the media, buyers, staff, prospects and different stakeholders perceive why you matter and what you’re doing. Throughout a pandemic, probably the most admired corporations would be the ones that had been probably the most useful. 

Studying from the final disaster to arrange for the subsequent one. 

My first job in monetary communications was at a federal monetary regulatory company instantly after the worldwide monetary disaster, one other disaster with out precedent. Since that point, the broad assumption was that the subsequent massive risk to the world’s monetary markets would come from inside the monetary system once more. COVID-19, nevertheless, has proven that the subsequent massive disaster can come from wherever.  

Irrespective of the supply, the expectations for companies reporting monetary outcomes will stay broadly the identical: Be human, be humble, and be useful.  

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