IPO Communications: Building Wall Street Cachet & Favorable Market Positioning

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Strategy
Expert
Becky Pocock
VP
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It’s a red-hot IPO market. There are already more the first three quarters of 2021 than in all of 1996 — the best year ever for IPOs. 1,635 so far, and the lineup continues to grow.

For these companies, communications must be a major consideration. There’s considerable groundwork before, during and after an IPO to successfully create — and then maintain — cachet with business and investor communities. Without, it can pass by as a hugely missed opportunity. 

Having consulted many SHIFT clients through the process, here are some considerations for IPO communications.

Pre-IPO: Establish a strong business as normal

Being well-positioned for an IPO starts early. A company needs strong and consistent corporate storytelling well before reaching the “quiet period.” Once it files a prospectus (the S-1), it can then only carry out previously established communications levels across the PESO model. 

Ahead of then, it’s pivotal to build excitement (and a foundation of validating press) around the company’s growth opportunity, leadership (people and in its category) and business momentum. 

We approach this by developing executive media platforms with content themes mapping to the company’s vision, growth and offerings. We execute on them aggressively, coupling compelling POVs with news and data insights where possible to drive an increased volume and quality of interview and article opportunities. It takes time to establish a strong business as normal, so it’s key to start out early.

IPO Communications: Pitch a story, not just financials

With the crowded IPO scene, an IPO is not enough in and of itself to ensure media interest. Unless you already have a huge brand interest, media success comes when a company leans into hot issues and connect the dots back to its leadership in the space. 

If an IPO is on the horizon, a company needs to assess the “fitness” of their IPO communications and story. Some questions to ask: Are you tied into current events and landscape? Is there a compelling enough plot (high stakes, a pivot, a defining moment, a boldly chartered future)? Can it stand can on its own without the IPO event, given stock performance can’t be banked on as the storyline?

Pre- and Post-IPO: Reflect on how Wall Street sees (and values) your company

Markets don’t stand still. They’re hot, they’re not. Neither do companies, constantly evolving through innovations, acquisitions, partnerships and more. 

Sometimes legacy perceptions of what a company does or how its market is swinging can take hold. When this happens, a potential investor may no longer understand its value. Misperceptions can be challenging to shake, but a communications program can help work towards re-educating the market. 

When SHIFT helped a global technology company go public earlier this year, a key measures of success was that the media — and the many investors those publications reach — accurately understood the new positioning of the company. It had digitally transformed and expanded into several new service areas, but the media and Wall Street still saw (and valued) the company for who it had been, not what it had become. We workshopped the master narrative and developed a refreshed messaging framework to inform how spokespeople talked about the company. Then, an aggressive media relations program, over the course of a year, helped to reposition the company in the media and market.

In another instance, SHIFT worked to position the newly public Criteo as a star performer in the overall struggling AdTech sector. Communications played a big role in fighting company misperception through coverage such as “Criteo's ad tech power play” on CNBC Squawk Box, Business Insider writing “This is why Criteo is one of the few start performers among the public ad tech companies now” and the advantageous headline “The Ad Tech Company Google Pays Attention To” in The Information.

Not every company soars on their debut. Even those who do out of the gate often eventually taper off. IPO communications and PR are important drivers in properly leveraging the financial event and maintaining momentum in investor circles following it.

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