This isn’t good …

angry_grizzly_istockSo the bear market reasserts itself. In an ugly two weeks, the S&P 500 finally breaks below its 750-ish autumn low, back to 1997 levels. Bad news echoes and re-echoes. We’re on Financial Bailout 3.0 or 4.3 or … well, big banks almost want to be owned by Uncle Sam. Automakers swoon. Fear rules. President Obama puts Joe Biden in charge of reviving the economy.

What’s an investor relations person to do?

1. Hold fast. Hang onto your job, of course, to the extent that it’s under your control. More to the point, hold fast to your company’s story. How is your business planning to survive hard times – and make shareholders a bundle of money when the economy does get better? This is the “hope factor.” Keep telling it.

2. Remember that it’s not about today. The investors you want on board are focusing on 2010 or 2011, and this should be your focus with the market. A NYSE floor broker tells the Wall Street Journal today, “This isn’t an investing market anymore, it’s a trading market.” While investor relations feeds timely information to everyone, we’re really about providing the longer term story to longer term investors.

3. Be calm and factual. You shouldn’t hype the story (no one would believe that now anyway). But neither should you convey despair. What is your best, most realistic assessment of the current business environment? What macro factors actually drive your business, up or down? What are you doing to maintain or improve your market position, and to be profitable? What are you doing to reduce your cost structure? To improve your balance sheet? What are the risks? We should be students of these questions.

We’d like to think the market has to be headed up from this point, but it may not be. Meanwhile, we need to keep talking to people.

I shared some other ideas on “bear market IR” in earlier posts here and here and here. Please feel free to add your ideas, experiences or reactions by commenting on this post (anonymous is fine). And good luck!

© Copyright 2009 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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