The Secret to Wooing Investors? Communication

(Bloomberg View) -- When Snap went public on March 2, its stock started trading at $24 per share. Since then, its value has decreased by about a third. Earlier this month, chief executive Evan Spiegel said he’d learned a lesson: Communicating effectively with investors is essential.

“One of the things I did underestimate was how much more important communication becomes,” he said. “When you go public, and you really need to explain to a huge new investor base -- instead of having 10 investors, you have 10,000 -- you have to explain how your business works, and at the same time that you need to do that, there are also all these new regulations about what you can and can’t say.”

New research backs him up -- and shows that communicating with investors is important long after an initial public offering. A study released by the communications agency Weber Shandwick this week found that 80 percent of major buy-side investors give non-financial factors “a lot” or “some” consideration when making their buying decisions. The No. 1 factor they consider is their confidence in management.

What’s remarkable about this survey -- which involved 104 U.S. buy-side investors who work for organizations with more than $500 million in assets -- is that so many powerful investors acknowledged how important intangible factors are to their buying decisions. This means that one way chief executives can maintain their stock positions and increase investor interest is by investing in their own communications, in order to reassure financiers about the quality of their leadership. Here are four ways to do it.

First, communicate often and directly with investors. Weber Shandwick’s study finds that investors want senior executives to communicate with them, on average, 3.1 times per year by email, 2.3 times per year by phone, and 1.3 times per year in person.

Second, openly respond to investor fears. Spiegel, for example, drew criticism on the company’s first earnings call for not adequately answering a question about the threat of competition from Facebook. When asked whether the social media rival scared him, he laughed, discussed creativity and then said: “At the end of the day, just because Yahoo, for example, has a search box, it doesn’t mean they’re Google.” A better way to handle these kinds of worries is by tackling them head-on. Spiegel should have laid out exactly how he was working to counter the threat posed by Facebook, such as by building better features or finding savvier ways to attract users.

Third, convince investors that you’re prepared to handle crises. Liz Cohen, Weber Shandwick’s executive vice president and head of financial communications, believes one reason investors are placing more importance on management factors in their investment decisions is that the “accelerant factor” of social media allows damaging information to spread faster than ever before. This makes crises more damaging to organizations than they were in the past, she says. That’s why chief executives should tell investors what steps they’re taking to get ready for possible future crises.

“It’s comforting for investors to understand where companies are from a preparedness standpoint,” Cohen says. “Companies should show that they have given thought to likely situations and how they’d be addressed and are prepared to handle them.”

Finally, communicate the chief executive’s and company’s values proactively. “Since the 2008 recession, there’s been a lot of distrust in how financial institutions value companies and conduct themselves,” Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist, says. A good way to instill confidence is by transparently discussing the specific policies and governance controls the company has in place to guard against unnecessary risk-taking and other lapses.

In this new study, investors have clearly spoken: They consider management quality a key factor in their decisions to purchase stocks. To promote investor interest, chief executives should do the same.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Kara Alaimo is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She previously served in the Obama administration.

For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/view.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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