In 2012, embrace the uncertainty?

Happy new year. A chatty column in the Financial Times, “Three cheers for new year trepidation,” touches on a central issue for investor relations in 2012: How should companies communicate with shareholders about what we can’t foresee?

Citing the obvious risks in trying to predict what will happen in a fragile global economy, FT management editor Andrew Hill notes that many companies are simply waiting, hoarding cash, holding off from embracing any particular scenario. But, he adds, mere expressions of caution don’t do much for their investors:

As executives’ reluctance to commit themselves grows, so the appetite of outsiders to know about their future plans increases. Investors are now far more interested in the “outlook” section of the company report than in the backward-looking summary of the historic results. But in their public statements, most chief executives hide behind a “lack of visibility”, adding to the general nervousness.

Hill says CEOs should “embrace uncertainty” in 2012 while at the same time communicating what they can see in the current situation:

Business leaders need to count on their ability to be the one-eyed man in the land of the blind – a proverb recently recast by Richard Rumelt in his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: “If you can peer into the fog of change and see 10 per cent more clearly than others see, then you may gain an edge.”

So we should acknowledge to investors our uncertainty but then discuss what we do know: data on changes in our customers’ behavior, qualitative trends in the business, our own strategies for surviving and thriving in what could be difficult times. This may be the biggest messaging challenge for investor relations in 2012.
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So how are you communicating in this environment of uncertainty?
                                                              –
© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.
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