Be Human, Be Humble, Be Useful: Earnings Communications within the Time of COVID-19

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, firms are placing collectively their methods for reporting monetary outcomes in the course of a worldwide disaster that continues to develop in scale in the US. 

When firms introduced their earnings steering earlier this 12 months, the world was completely different. Since then, giant parts of the economic system have been turned off fully. Customers and staff have stayed residence, by selection or by authorities directive, closing many companies or slowing their actions to a crawl. Whereas the – once more, unprecedented – stimulus invoice will alleviate some stress 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 firms have already pulled steering. The SEC has supplied extra time for firms affected by COVID-19 to report their outcomes. 

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

As my workforce and I start counseling purchasers on method earnings communications, right here’s what we’re considering they need to do: 

Be human. 

All people at Ketchum is working from residence. My solely escape from isolation is when my spouse and I stroll the canine a number of occasions a day, swerving six toes into the road to let the occasional neighbor move. 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 protected. All of us want area to care for the issues that ought to come first. That’s the expectation for American companies throughout this pandemic. 

However on the subject of quarterly earnings, question #1 is all the time: Was it a beat or a miss? Journalists after all will wish to know COVID-19’s influence on steering or what technique shifts an organization is making. However I’d encourage senior administration to deal with folks greater than they deal with numbers. It’s the “S” in ESG. Traders, workers and prospects will wish to hear that administration’s precedence is preserving folks protected. They’re not simply there to make it easier to beat EPS expectations. They’re human, and corporations must be human too. 

Meaning addressing worker safeguards on the earnings name, preserving prospects conscious of any adjustments to operations, and informing traders of actions to guard folks whereas delivering shareholder worth. 

Be humble. 

We must always acknowledge two truths: (1) When firms issued steering 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 in regards to the well being and security of their buddies and households than they do about quarterly earnings. 

We’ll quickly discover out that quite a lot of firms missed their Q1 outlook. Their inventory costs might take hits, however shares have already been on a curler coaster. Our suggestion is to acknowledge what went incorrect, determine a forward-looking technique to ship to your stakeholders, and get again to serving to your folks. 

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

Be useful. 

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

Whereas most firms 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 everyone else, however they have the extra duty of preserving the general public knowledgeable. Firms ought to assist journalists inform the story. Spend a while eager about how your services or products will assist folks throughout or after the disaster. Articulate your quarterly outcomes in a means that fills gaps within the broader narrative. Assist the media, traders, workers, prospects and different stakeholders perceive why you matter and what you’re doing. Throughout a pandemic, probably the most admired firms would be the ones that had been probably the most useful. 

Studying from the final disaster to arrange for the following 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 following huge menace to the world’s monetary markets would come from throughout the monetary system once more. COVID-19, nonetheless, has proven that the following huge disaster can come from anyplace.  

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

If your organization has questions on speaking monetary outcomes towards the backdrop of COVID-19, please get in contact.

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