As the spread of COVID-19 disrupts markets and trading, management and Boards should remain highly visible to serve as a credible source of guidance and information. Companies will be under increasing pressure to provide granular details of balance sheet flexibility, supply chain vulnerabilities, operational risks, and shifts in consumer demand.

Now is the time to become less operational, and more strategic, in navigating uncharted territory to long-term growth.

Understand the durability of your company’s business model and opportunities for strategic shifts.

Know that investors are not the only stakeholders listening.

Be sure to reach out to key stakeholders (beyond your investors) including consumers, employees, and supply chain partners. Transparent and ongoing communication with all constituents will be crucial to meet today’s unprecedented challenges.

Below are some key communications and considerations by stakeholder type.

Investors

Investors are keen to understand the durability of the company’s business model. Be sure to detail how COVID-19 is impacting the business – when you are able – but in the meantime, how your company is planning for uncertainty and how you are responding to events as they unfold. Now more than ever, risk management is material to investment decisions. Risk disclosures should model alternate scenarios and their effect on current and future business operations. Investors need to know that the company has a plan in place for any contingency, and that you are prepared to respond to all possible business consequences of the virus. If previous assumptions need to be modified, let investors know.

Investor communications should include:

  • Supplier products and equipment manufactured and shipped out of China;
  • Operations, business facilities, and supply chain risks in virus epicenters, including Asia and Europe;
  • Corporate headquarters or business operations located near cluster outbreaks in the U.S., including New York and Washington State;
  • Risk transfer options, including business insurance and alternative third-party suppliers
  • Employee health and safety, retention, crisis training, and development plans; 
  • Scenario assessments evaluating a potential drop in sales or reduced consumer demand, supplier disruptions, currency fluctuations, decreased employee productivity, continued decline in capital markets, and increased lending costs;
  • Other crisis planning measures, including limited or cancelled business travel, event closures, and remote connectivity; and,
  • Unknown variables and the steps the company is taking to solve for them.

Employees

Strong employee communications and good human capital management practices will be key to maintaining the health, confidence, and productivity of your workforce. Companies that do not consult their internal stakeholders run a higher risk of protests and disruptions to operations.

Keep your employees informed by directly and clearly communicating:

  • Employee health and safety measures;
  • Work-from-home policies;
  • Paid time off (PTO) policies;
  • Management policies, systems, and disclosures; and,
  • Crisis planning scenarios.

Consumers

Management and Boards have a role to play in quelling consumer concerns and boosting consumer confidence. While communications with customers and potential customers will vary based on industry, in general, communications should transparently address the company’s current planning measures and risk mitigation strategies.

Direct communications with your customer base should include:

  • Steps to help protect public health and employee health and safety;
  • Crisis planning measures to help ensure consumers have access to products and services;
  • Risk mitigation strategies to prevent shortages and outages, and to control costs; and,  
    • Scenario planning for responding to the continued impact of the virus and meeting consumer demand.

Supply Chain

If your organization has global facilities and supply chain partners in locations heavily affected by COVID-19, now is the time to revisit and reinforce your Code of Vendor Conduct. Third-party risk management is critical to mitigate legal, financial, and reputational risk. Communicating your standards with suppliers and better understanding how key suppliers in impacted areas are responding can help you understand your risk exposure and determine if alternate sourcing and shipping options are appropriate.

In your discussions with supply chain partners, be sure to review and discuss:

  • Your organization’s supply chain policies, standards, and audits;
  • Any actions being implemented by suppliers to mitigate risks;
  • Specific plans and timelines to close gaps between your standards and current supplier practices; and,
  • Plans for temporarily suspending relationships.

Leverage all resources.

Be sure to leverage the support of your Board, industry organizations, state and federal government, and global organizations committed to managing the pandemic and keeping the world up to date. It’s also critical to stay abreast of state and federal law to ensure your communications are in compliance.

Board of Directors

The Board plays an essential role in overseeing crises communications and the health and safety of employees. Directors must be hands-on, working directly with management to oversee the company’s response. If your company does not have a dedicated Environment, Corporate Social Responsibility, or Health and Safety Committee, now is the time for the Board to name a committee or build a taskforce responsible for COVID-19 oversight. Investors are paying attention to risk mitigation strategies, employee health and safety, consumer strategies, and reputational brand management.

Board of Directors can help:

  • Assess major financial and operational impacts to your business and industry;
  • Review management’s internal and external pandemic communications strategy; and,
  • Evaluate management’s internal employee health and safety policies and crisis planning measures.

Stay on top of state and federal laws and regulations. The board should also work with management to understand legal developments related to coronavirus policies and communications. Here are some resources and considerations to keep in mind:

  • The SEC has indicated companies may need to disclose risk-related information related to COVID-19 in their public filings, including proactively updating filings (via Form 8-K or otherwise).
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) maintains resources for Businesses and Employers

Know that we’ll stay in constant communication with you.  As the crisis unfolds, Clermont Partners will keep you updated with information and insights to help you plan and manage your response. As always, please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about crisis communications services.