Communication considerations for companies pre- and post-IPO
Companies are facing a more diverse and empowered stakeholder group than ever before. The Business Roundtable shifted the purpose of a company away from solely focusing on generating value for shareholders. Companies must now consider their ultimate purpose in the context of their role for customers, suppliers, employees, the communities they impact and investors.
This means that a single voice matters and everything is a business story. You only need to look at some examples of company culture hitting the headlines – negatively and positively – to know that a single comment on social media can escalate quickly.
It is stating the obvious to say that any company considering a public listing needs to focus on investors and establishing a clear investment case, as without this an IPO will not succeed. But this applies for private fundraising too. A company needs to think about other stakeholders and who among them would be a potential advocate for their business (and them as leaders). We know that in the age of ESG – a phrase which may be nearing saturation – the non-negotiable is being a responsible business.
Try to think about what your impact is in the widest sense. Are you clear on your answer to the question: “How is the world a better place with you in it?” It might feel very grand and aspirational, but knowing your impact on society is imperative.
The IPO process can be intense for a company, especially if valuation goalposts shift, and the last phase can leave you feeling drained and then elated (and then relieved). Please try not to burn yourselves out with the IPO process. The first day of dealing isn’t the end of the journey, it is merely the start. You need to leave something in the tank to showcase you and your company. You can’t assume that a successful IPO means that all stakeholders understand your business and your ambition. As a newly listed company, you will face additional scrutiny in your first year and taking the time to educate all stakeholder groups is invaluable. Don’t fear the media, take the time to get to know those people who are going to be part of your journey.
Be pragmatic and know that bumps will inevitably come. At the end of the day, it’s so much easier to build advocates and make friends when you’re not facing a time of challenge and change.
To build awareness and understanding, it is key to showcase your credentials as a responsible business and an authentic leadership team. At CDR, we talk about the 3Hs of authentic communications – being honest, humble, and human. This is at the heart of The Truth Report, our reputational due diligence product, which is very relevant for any company that is considering a liquidity event or already on this journey.
Authenticity is also about being yourself. It can be tempting to copy what peers are doing, but it’ll be easier – and less tiring – if you carve your own path that reflects your DNA and culture. In a world where the fight for talent is real, you need to be an accessible and inspiring leadership team. This means being unafraid to talk about what matters to you and showcases your motivation. For me, it is about social mobility and giving everyone a chance, as well as offering support to anyone who’s got a life limited child, as one of my triplet daughters was born severely disabled and died aged 18 months.
The final piece of advice I can offer is don’t spin and don’t save things up for the ‘ta-da’ moment. These rarely land in the way you hoped, especially when you’re building awareness and understanding of your company. Any company recently listed, or considering a listing, needs to focus on clear and consistent communications. It’s about those 1,001 things you do each day that add up to show your values as a business (and a leader). Not the ‘ta-da’!
By Lorna Cobbett, CEO London