Magazine article Communication World

Big Numbers, Big Challenges: Grim Financial News Makes Clear Communication More Important Than Ever

Magazine article Communication World

Big Numbers, Big Challenges: Grim Financial News Makes Clear Communication More Important Than Ever

Article excerpt

As a communicator, you're probably seeing all sorts of effects from the global economic crisis--your company's profits and stock prices might be down, salaries frozen, dividends suspended, employee benefits changed, staff laid off. Aside from being a challenge from an organizational standpoint, those sorts of effects present new communication challenges. Specifically, they deal with numbers.

If you work in financial services or investor relations, you might feel pretty comfortable with the way you've been communicating with your audiences. After all, you're talking to people who, for the most part, are attuned to the kinds of data you're sending, and you are required to produce regular financial reports, in a standard format, for shareholders.

But these days numbers are taking center stage for everyone, not just CEOs and analysts, and people want to know what it all means for them. Even if you're a financial wizard, you can't expect all of the various people with whom you communicate to be. That means keeping it simple--and making it personal.

Stay calm

Forthright, regular communication is essential to building confidence among stakeholders at all levels. An IABC survey conducted last November found that 56 percent of respondents said their organizations were making proactive efforts to communicate with employees and other key audiences about the financial crisis and its impact on their organizations. Another 30 percent said their organizations were responding to specific inquiries or issues only, such as job security or effects on benefits. E-mail (56 percent) and face-to-face meetings (54 percent) were the most common methods used to communicate information about the crisis, followed by intranet (39 percent) and other web communication (27 percent). While no one's predicting a quick end to the crisis, making sure to explain what you know and putting it in perspective for your audiences should help ease some of the inherent anxiety.

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Make it accessible

What's a trillion? That's a 1 with 12 zeroes: 1,000,000,000,000. Wow. But that's what we're talking about these days, in terms of the current U.S. federal deficit (actually US$1.3 trillion) and the projected deficit (more than that). The U.S. stimulus package is pegged at US$787 billion, while the European Union is backing a 200 billion [euro] package. The U.K. poured 300 billion [pounds sterling] into its banking system earlier this year. General Motors has said it needs US$30 billion to stave off bankruptcy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in the U.S. alone, and an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent as of this writing. The list goes on.

These numbers are alarmingly huge. But they're not really accessible. What do they mean for the average Joe?

When it comes to financial figures of any size, try to break down the numbers as dearly as you can. For example, the Associated Press reported on 13 February a breakdown of the U.S. economic stimulus plan that addressed individuals and families how much they would get, and how; how much money was earmarked for this program or that one; how long a benefit (or cut) was expected to last.

You can do the same with your own organization. Explain what a particular change or cut might mean for employees. …

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