Communicating during uncertainty or structural realignment requires a close and experienced eye from professionals well used to periods of change, says Richard Barton
Investment banks are often seen as corporate trailblazers but in today’s markets they are having a tough time and taking the knife to costs, the effect of which in Asia is creating a surge of bankers and asset managers back on the street, literally.
Headline-grabbing redundancy news from bulge bracket i-banks in recent weeks highlights this stark reality. So with scores of talent now looking for their next ‘big opportunity’, hopefully at least the Fintech start-ups stand to gain, at least until the banking sector improves.
Of course it’s not new that companies need to get through tough times and re-engineer existing organizational structures. But how does an organization prepare to communicate with its stakeholders and how do they manage to protect their brand while doing so? After all, livelihoods, high-flying careers and keeping a happy investor base are at stake.
Having helped implement many change programmes with companies across APAC, ranging from global MNCs to SMEs in need of advice around pre and post-merger situations, recessionary cycles and financial crises, we know that experience is critical when it comes to communicating through change. In fact, having senior communications advisors in place at the earliest stage can make the difference between a smooth transition or an ugly outcome that could do irreparable damage to a company’s stock price.
Every situation is different
While some financial institutions have it sewn up when it comes keeping their ex-employees “in-line” with financial “loyalty rewards” that extend far beyond the employment contract and pink slip, corporate change can create more serious short-term challenges. Recognising that every situation is different, overcoming these challenges always comes back to the basic principles of clear, concise and consistent communications – whatever and wherever the channel of delivery.
Additionally, many firms – and especially the smaller ones – may not have a permanent team of communications experts to help them manage through the issue, be it business unit closures and divestments, employee cutbacks and job outsourcing, or widescale corporate reorganisation exercises, to name a few.
But as long as there is business to be done, there will always be change, so these basics might, at the very least, be helpful to consider in this choppy and unpredictable market environment:
- Get your communications experts involved early on in the process.
- If there is a management consultancy involved in the ‘right-sizing’ process, they should include a strong communications element in the plan and ensure it includes a media component.
- Ensure the messages are clear – relevant managers should be able to walk around the office with a one pager (not a booklet!) of simple messages that tell the story.
- Decide on the “go live” date even if the process needs to be staged across multiple stakeholder groups with different messages and meeting times. Internal announcements should always be considered public.
- Put your best external spokesperson forward – ensure that person is media trained and ready to get the message across in a way that is, most importantly, human.
- Line managers are the best internal deliverers of bad news – anyone else would not be sincere.
- Align all communications tools and publicly accessible information to reflect the changes.
- Think about how the story will fit into the bigger picture for the business going forward.
Naturally, the process of change can trigger external interest and you need to know what and what not to say when media, investors and other stakeholders call. Amongst our own client base, Newgate reinforces the importance of the communications function being part of the change process at the strategic level so it can be integrated from the start and throughout the business plan.
That said, we still see last minute, panicked calls and kneejerk reactions from ill-prepared management and spokespeople when something goes wrong. To support a pressured stock price or assuage investor unease in times of trouble, management have no option but to appear totally in control of the situation – and at the very least to have a clear plan of how to get to a position of control.
Richard Barton is the Managing Partner for Newgate Communications Hong Kong and Greater China. Richard.Barton@newgate.asia or +852 3758 2686
Newgate Communications is a global strategic communications consulting firm. In Asia Pacific we have seven offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. With an office network in the key global markets, we advise companies, organisations and governments around the world on the critical corporate and financial communications and public affairs issues that they face. Our clients are the C-Suite leaders of these organisations and we help them address their business, reputational, brand-building and marketing objectives.