You never realized Times Square could be so empty. The megascreens are blaring a barrage of ads to an absent audience. The night before, you issued your company’s pricing press release and are now headed over to NASDAQ (in this example, it’s NASDAQ, but it could be NYSE) to get ready for your company’s ringing of the market bell on the day you’re taking your company public.

In a matter of hours, your company’s stock symbol will appear for the first time, catapulting the organization into a space it’s never been before. It’s opening day, a product launch, a presidential visit and media day all rolled up into one. Your company is about to have its IPO, and as their PR executive, you played an integral role in getting them to this point. 

If you’ve never worked on an IPO, you have nothing to fear, as you possess all the tools to help make an IPO successful.   

If you’re working for a private company about to go public, chances are your company has done a good job promoting itself to its core audience, its customers. It may or may not have spent a lot of time on PR strategy: Maybe a press release here and there, maybe the odd founder interview in one of the trade publications your customers read, but that may be it. If your company is even thinking of going public, a change is afoot, and a PESO Model™-based public relations approach needs to be a key component. 

10 Ways to Ensure a Successful IPO

Here are 10 essential ways to ensure the IPO you’re working on is successful.

1. Make friends with IR, HR & legal ASAP

How you practice PR fundamentally changes once the company you work for becomes public. Remember when you had to chase journalists to be interested in what your company was doing? Yeah, that’s about to change. If you’re large enough, you might have reporters dedicated solely to covering you, not just the industry you operate in. This means you have to work more closely with not just marketing, legal and HR, you need to have sound systems in place. 

For the time leading up to the IPO and beyond, you’re going to need to lean on every connection you have. You need to ensure the lines of communication flow to and from you, the CEO, the marketing department, the legal team, the IR team, and HR. You need to know what the other team is doing. Schedule regular IPO team meetings, even if they’re just 15–30-minute catchups.

2. Understand IPO rules

One of the things I learned from working on IPOs over the years is that the SEC’s quiet period (the period following the filing of the S-1 and before the SEC declares the registration statement effective) scares the bejesus out of lawyers to the point where most counsel suggest doing as little as possible in terms of talking about the company to avoid falling on the wrong side of the SEC’s graces leading up to an IPO. There are nuances to what can and cannot be discussed during the quiet period. It’s a communications professional’s responsibility to know what they are and how to navigate those waters. I’ve found the quiet period to be a very good time to talk about a company’s core business rather than products or forecasting. 

Define your messaging strategy, tone, and key talking points (you know, a communications plan!). This consistency instills stakeholder confidence and streamlines communication efforts throughout the IPO journey.

3. Get involved in the S-1 drafting process

Remember what I told you about making friends with Legal and IR? This will serve you well when it comes to the drafting of the S-1 (as in “Form S-1”, an SEC filing used by companies planning on going public to register their securities with the SEC). The S-1 is an IPO PR professional’s bible. In an ideal world, the PR team works hand-in-hand with legal, marketing, IR and the company’s IPO consultants to write it. If it’s not in the S-1, you can’t talk about it during the pre-IPO quiet period, so you want to be sure you have as much in there that you want to talk about.

Unfortunately, the S-1 drafting process often proceeds without the PR team involved. This needs to change and the only way for it to change is for you, dear communications professional, to fight your way into the room.

4. Make sure your house is in order

Strategically, you want to ensure you have the right pieces in place. Just because your current PR infrastructure has taken you to the heights you are today, doesn’t mean it’s the proper infrastructure going forward. Nor does it mean that you have to take a scorched earth approach to what you have. If you only have internal resources, are they the right resources? If you’re using an external agency, are they the right agency? Now is the time to adjust. 

If a journalist calls you tomorrow, could you send them adequate background materials on your company? Do you have a company fact sheet, a corporate overview presentation, headshots of key executives, infographics and b-roll video? If you don’t, set a goal for your PR team to have all of these in place (in the above order) ASAP.

5. Quiet period doesn’t mean silent period

When Google went public in the early 2000s, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously sported a T-shirt saying, “Quiet Period. Can’t Answer Any Questions.”

Federal securities laws do not define the term “quiet period,” which adds ambiguity. Given the hazy rules, companies often clam up and stop communicating. 

So, what does this mean? In short, if you were doing something or reporting something on a regular or consistent basis before the quiet period…if that precedent is there and established, you can continue that activity during the quiet period. For example, if you update journalists monthly or quarterly, consistently, on a topic or trend, you can likely continue to do so during the quiet period. If you haven’t established that trend, however, things like reporting customer trends or industry growth are off-limits. The sooner you can act like a publicly traded company from a communications perspective, the better. It will serve you well during the quiet period.

6. Stumble-proof your CEO

The CEO is the face of the company, making it crucial to prepare them for various scenarios. Media training, scenario planning, and constant communication coaching are essential to ensure the CEO can navigate media inquiries, market fluctuations, and unexpected challenges with confidence. 

No one wants to see an over-exuberant egotistical CEO on IPO day. I’ve had more than one CEO ask me for witty talking points for media interviews on IPO day, and I counsel against it every time. Wall Street and potential investors aren’t looking for witty; they’re looking for a sound investment. In the movie Bull Durham, I discuss a pivotal scene with every CEO I’ve worked with on the IPO path. In this key scene, Kevin Costner, playing the grizzled baseball veteran Crash Davis, sets hot young phenom Nuke LaLoosh down to talk about an essential bit of media training he’ll need when he makes it to the bigs. It goes a little something like this:

Crash: It’s time to work on your interviews.

Nuke: My interviews? What do I gotta do?

Crash: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play ‘em one day at a time.”

Nuke: Got to play…it’s pretty boring.

Crash: Of course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down. All right, “I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ball club.” I know, write it down! “I just want to give it my best shot, and the good lord willing, things will work out.”

Nuke: (writing) good…lord..willing…

Crash: …things will work out. Yep

That advice, my friends, is similar to what I give to CEOs for IPO day.

The CEO must stick to the script: Even when the veil of media interviews has been lifted, there are a lot of things that a company’s CEO still can’t say on IPO day. It’s essential to create a messaging platform the CEO is comfortable with and knows intimately going into any media interview.

You must drive home to the CEO, “It’s not about you.” For a company to reach the IPO point requires founders, executives, sales staff, admin staff, customers, HR, banks, landlords, managers, interns and everyone in between. When the CEO is asked by a reporter what their company’s IPO means to them, it’s like thanking your spouse when you win an Oscar: Remember who helped get you there.

CEOs also need to be reminded to be themselves. While it may sound contradictory to the above points about being witty, it is good for a CEO to show some personality. An IPO is a big day for the company they are running. Smiling won’t kill them.

7. Keep your new media friends close and your old media friends closer

In today’s media landscape, a combination of traditional and new media is vital. Build relationships with both to ensure comprehensive coverage. Traditional outlets provide credibility, while new media channels offer broader reach and engagement. A balanced approach guarantees maximum exposure and positive public perception. Now that your company has hit the big time, it’s great that the CNBCs and the Bloombergs of the world want a spin around the floor, but remember to ‘dance with who brung ya’ on the trade media side of things.

8. Rely on new resources

A key connection for you is the head of comms at the stock exchange your company is listing on. You will find that they are one of your most important assets on the ground on IPO day – they can give you the lay of the land, help you set up difficult-to-land interviews and, in general, be your de facto PR resource that day. Get to know them early and talk to them often.

9. Have a ground game

The days leading up to IPO day and IPO day are crazy. You have a ton of running around to do – you’re managing an event, huge media interviews and, in effect, the largest product announcement your company’s ever put out. Make sure you have the right resources on the ground. You need a comms person at HQ, you need at least a comms exec glued to the CEO’s side (and if you’re the person reading this, it should probably be you) and you need someone from your team or your PR agency’s team on the ground in NY to run interference. Try to be your own advance man and get there well before the event so that you know the ins and outs of the flow on the stock exchange and that you know the way around.

10. Act like you’ve been there

Confidence breeds credibility. From the CEO ringing the bell, to everyone present for IPO day, act like a seasoned player in the public arena, even if it’s your company’s first IPO. Demonstrating confidence in communications signals stability and competence, instilling trust in investors, employees, and the broader market.

Mastering the intricacies of communication during an IPO is a multifaceted challenge that demands foresight, planning, and adaptability. By making friends with key departments, setting precedents, actively participating in critical processes, and embracing a strategic approach to branding and communication, PR pros can navigate the IPO landscape successfully. Remember, an IPO is not just a financial transaction; it’s a strategic communication journey that defines the future trajectory of the company in the public eye.

Paul Wilke

Paul Wilke, a seasoned communications professional with more than 30 years of experience, is the founder and CEO of Upright Position Communications, one of the leading PR firms to specialize in IPOs. Paul began his career in Delaware, serving as the editor-in-chief for the Delaware Business Review, delving into international corporations and the banking sector. Transitioning into PR world, Paul handled in-house communications for major companies such as Splunk and Visa. His expertise extends to strategic counsel for IPOs, crisis communications, and media training. Paul’s international experience includes a 12-year stint in Singapore, where he headed Visa's public relations operations for South and Southeast Asia. Throughout his career, Paul has played pivotal roles in shaping corporate narratives and navigating high-stakes situations, including managing communications around some of the most successful IPOs in recent history. His dedication to storytelling, coupled with a deep understanding of media dynamics, has enabled him to craft compelling narratives and garner on-message media coverage for his clients. Paul is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University and lives in Southern California.

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