The IPO market for 2019 looks like it’s going to be a big one for investors. Despite media outlets forewarning of a bear market that could last years, there still appears to be a strong appetite for companies listing here in the US. With 2018 boasting a record breaking 38 IPOs, beating the post dotcom 2000’s, it again looks like 2019 will see some major names go public – and with big valuations. With ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber both slated for IPO in 2019, as well as household and workplace names Airbnb, Postmates and Slack, we are entering the year with well-recognized consumer brands bringing the focus on IPOs to the forefront. With this heightened interest from the general public, media and the markets, it has never been more important to get your communications plan right to avoid the pitfalls that ailed SNAP and Blue Apron last year. Having spearheaded several IPOs, I can say with experience that our leadership team always knew we were going to be in for long days and late nights once the prospectus writing process got underway. However, what became dramatically evident was that the “IPO communications program” needed to have started much, much earlier, about six to twelve months before our first roadshow. Here are some things to consider as soon as the notion of an IPO crops up in a management meeting:
1. A discoverable track record of success, action and movement will serve you, and your bankers, well Your company has been investing in its marketing and brand equity for years, but it is important to identify what, besides the financial numbers, are the parts of the business that are going to excite investors the most. Double down on promoting those. Is it one specific product that has huge growth potential? Is it the history and track record of your founders? Is it your geographical expansion plans for the next five years? It is most likely a mixture of things that will be eloquently outlined in your prospectus and investor decks, but you need to begin strategically promoting them in the media in the lead up to your IPO. Not only will well placed stories provide you with impactful visuals for your materials, but when a potential investor is doing their own due diligence on your company there will be a consistent, ongoing stream of validation from some of the world’s leading media. Don’t try and achieve this in a last minute rush in the lead up to IPO, as for those who know the media know they don’t jump when we tell them to; good articles take time to come to fruition.
2. Align the internal and external story with all key stakeholders This might sound like a no-brainer but your entire leadership team – CEO, CFO, CRO, CMO – as well as all of your bankers, need to be singing from the same hymn book or your financials and investor materials won’t build a consistent and cohesive story. Nothing causes someone to put their checkbook away faster than a lack of clarity on, and faith in, a company’s story. It is this story that is the foundation underpinning the success that has clearly got you to the point of IPO, and it is this story that will get investors to “buy in” to your future success post IPO. A good CFO will know that while the financials are your piece de resistance, these numbers tell a story too. Make sure the financial, internal and external communications tell the same story well ahead of your IPO.
3. Know your spokespeople and prepare like your life depends on it (because the success of your IPO sure does) Lawyers and the finance team certainly get their time in the sun during an IPO, however the communications and marketing team need to have a seat at the table to make sure all external communications are compelling and, you guessed it, consistent. The CMO’s job will evolve before, during and after filing but remain pivotal throughout it all. Once the overarching narrative is solidified in the pre-filing period, the CMO’s role is to help identify spokespeople and work with these executives to ensure they are on message, making sure that the message resonates with both media and investors during the roadshows. This will be a very demanding period for executives and the company’s narrative will be tested to its limits. The preparation put in is what will allow everyone to stay cool under pressure as momentum builds.
4. Go big, or go home Having spent, most likely, the better part of a year preparing for the moment that you list on the NYSE or NASDAQ, do whatever you can to maximize this moment in time for your investors, as well as for your employees. You’ve asked a lot of people inside and outside of the organization to come along for this journey and it is important to find ways for them to celebrate with you. Who can forget when Twitter unrolled their logo on the side of the New York Stock Exchange? Think about what additional marketing initiatives your company can do to bring more awareness to your IPO. Depending on what exchange you work with, there are marketing packages and options that can, and should, be explored. Invite your employees down to see a billboard light up in Times Square, bestow everyone with a gift to remember the moment or even host a live-streamed event. Not everyone can be on stage to ring the bell, but putting effort into making employees feel valued will go a long way as you turn back to the much bigger task of continuing to grow the business and keeping your shareholders happy.
5. You’ve IPO’d, now what? Congratulations! You’ve had strong media coverage on the key elements of your business, the roadshow went extremely well and the market responded positively to your IPO. As I alluded to above, now the real work begins. It is important that you have a plan in place to keep communications to media and investors going after the excitement around your IPO fades. Media relations and investor relations efforts should be aligned to ensure there are ongoing short term wins, while laddering up to the long term goals of the business that we spent so much time outlining ahead of the IPO.
Nikki Parker is Vice President of Technology and Corporate Communications at 5WPR, a leading independent PR firm in the United States www.5wpr.com.