5 ways to speak up as a public company. Taking disclosure to new levels
Operating in an era of scrutiny is exhausting. Some days, it can feel like everything your company does is subject to examination and criticism. If you’re a publicly listed company, the expectations to report clearly and frequently on a full range of issues are unrelenting. At the same time, the whims, opinions and experiences of customers, competitors and activists circulate freely on digital platforms, picking apart every perceived slight or missed step and savaging hard-earned reputations with poor reviews and acid comments.
Senior decision makers tell us the realities, and the anticipation, of this barrage of inspection, criticism and hashtags can be crippling. For some, bracing for how others might react stifles their willingness to push out the boat from a reporting point of view. They hunker down, do what they must, and resist talking about anything that could ‘go either way’.
Aversion to criticism is perfectly normal of course – no-one wants to be mocked or cancelled – so how should reporting companies see past this dread to offend and get on with communicating how they intend to be the best they can be? Here are five ways we suggest businesses take back control and look to confidently give voice to who they are and what they stand for.
- Recognise that silence is not an option. Start by acknowledging that no brand, and no company, today can afford to keep quiet. It’s a critical admission – and a far-reaching one, because it requires management teams to take ownership of the need to stand for something in the market. When you recognise that disclosure is the minimum, the starting point, conversation shifts from “should we speak?” to “what will we speak about?”. Even that simple question can be confronting for companies that have never felt the need to tell the world what they believe. Our advice: start small. Form some simple and interesting messages that your audiences will find intriguing, and build from there. If you want to have control, you need to take control. Your voice won’t find itself.
- Be true to what you stand for. Actively use your purpose and values in your decision-making – and talk about that publicly. In our experience, these are two of the most powerful filters that any business has. Bringing things back consistently to your purpose and vision and using them to explain your actions gives your company a reassuring presence in the market. People feel like they know where they stand with you. If an initiative or a message does not align with your brand’s core DNA, then it is off-brand. Equally, ideas that at first glance may seem ambitious are absolutely worthy of further investigation if they take your commitments to a new level. Just make sure that the markets and investors have line-of-sight as to why you are doing what you have planned.
- Take ownership of their frustrations. Investors look for brands that they feel will benefit them – and so they will always have an eye for potential. One of the most powerful ways you can do as a reporting entity is to articulate improvements you would like the wider sector to make – and the journey you have taken, or are taking, to get to this position. Many brands today are reluctant to state shortcomings, but in point of fact, admitting that you used to believe something and you have changed your mind can be a powerful revelation. It paints you as a company prepared to speak honestly and vulnerably about things you might not have got right. By extension, it positions you as a company that investors and customers can expect to talk candidly.
- Find reasons for optimism. We are all inundated by messages intended to shock and startle. There are experts everywhere explaining why and how things will go wrong and the consequences of those developments. Our advice is to resist the urge to join this chorus of despair. Instead, champion the things that should give your customers, your investors and your own team hope, and explain why you feel this way. Direct their attention towards the light – and position your company as one that remains energised and inspired by what’s possible.
- Be resilient. It’s important to recognise that no-one today is immune from criticism. If you run a high-profile brand, or as you become one, others will look to belittle you and play mind games. Take on board the criticism that’s valid and that pulls you up for things that you have done that were wrong or missed expectations. But equally, don’t allow your brand to be intimidated into not performing and communicating to your potential. One simple way to harden your shell against criticism is to prepare for it. For example, in your strategy and decision-making sessions, allocate some time to thinking about what others might say about what you’re planning and how you will maximise the positive messages and mitigate or respond to those that are negative. That way, when you do go to market with something, your company is less likely to find itself caught unawares.
Voice has helped a number of publicly listed companies to open up and tell more interesting stories. If speaking up about what you believe, what you intend, your ESG or other changes is on your management agenda, let’s have a chat about what you’d really like to say and how you can make your positions better known.