Open mouth, insert … No, wait!

“Keeping Your Foot Away From Your Mouth”

This headline in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal piece (p.D1) highlights a common human frailty. Citing gaffes from business leaders, politicians and entertainers, the WSJ says words do matter – and verbal errors can cause lasting damage.

In investor relations, of course, foot-in-mouth syndrome is one of our worst fears. We go to great lengths to avoid selective disclosure, much less erroneous disclosure, of financial information or strategic plans not yet ready for broadcast.

This is why we brainstorm key messages on quarterly earnings or strategic transactions in advance (and put them in writing to use as a reference) … why we write and review drafts of news releases and comments for investor meetings … why we create Q&As for conference calls and corporate events … why we try to make CEOs, CFOs and other spokesmen rehearse speeches and Q&A times.

The gatekeeper role is mission-critical in IR. We exist partly to create a process for orderly disclosure – helping our companies think before they speak.

Of course, some CEOs just are who they are. Most veteran IR people can tell horror stories – on more than one occasion, I’ve rolled my eyes at something coming out of the boss’s mouth. “Did he really say that?” Once the blurting is done, it’s too late for anything but damage control – which often doesn’t work too well.

Maybe one of the key performance indicators in an IR person’s annual goals should read: “Get through the year without anyone in top management sticking their foot in their mouth (at least around our investors).”

Any success stories or tips?

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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