This Spring, your CEO’s public conduct and private life will be scrutinised like never before – and not just if there is a whiff of a scandal. Press and public interest has shifted gears and we expect reporting on values and actions. In this article reputation and privacy experts at Schillings and Citigate Dewe Rogerson share their top tips to survive AGM season.
Below, Juliet Young and Lily Kennett reputation and privacy experts at Schillings, and Caroline Merrell of Citigate Dewe Rogerson share their top tips to help you survive Annual General Meeting season:
1. Be prepared to react quickly to events. The “fleet of foot” approach expected of celebrities and politicians on social issues is now also expected from executive leaders.
2. Recognise that headlines and stories don’t come out of nowhere. Companies will have to ‘read the room’ before and during an AGM, and be prepared to account for themselves on a range of tough issues: tax, treatment of employees, social movements, Covid safety measures, and use of public funds, as well as established press favourites like executive pay.
3. Executive pay remains a hot topic, especially in light of public funds dispensed to support the economy in the last year, and details of executives’ lifestyles – their holiday photos, second homes, assets, and children’s lifestyles – all add colour to what would otherwise be a dry story about financial statements. Find out what a journalist can easily discover about your leadership and those around them. Look for any personal, private, or residential details that could trigger press or public interest in future.
4. Obtain copyright for key images of your leadership where possible to help prevent anything that might be taken out of context from being misused online.
5. Remove executives’ home addresses from company registries and consider where and how other residential details might show up in the public domain.
6. Connect your company secretary with your comms team, so you are on the front foot when any financials are published.
7. Don’t be hypocritical. Are you making noise about environmental commitments whilst investing in fossil fuels? Are you taking advantage of government furlough schemes whilst letting people go?
Running the AGM
1. Consider the practicalities of your AGM. If you are running a virtual or hybrid AGM, what is the accessibility like and have you excluded any shareholders?
2. Ensure your Investor Relations and IT teams are using a suitably secure digital platform where attendees need to register in advance, by a certain date, and perhaps have a secure login.
3. Read out a disclaimer at the beginning of the meeting about not recording the meeting and any other information for attendees, such as switching off cameras. Consider the privacy of attendees – to what extent can other attendees see each other’s names?
4. The moderators should be familiar with the functionality around muting individuals, disabling the chat functions as appropriate.
5. Rehearse! Prepare your executives for all eventualities and remember that body language, unscripted sentences, and throwaway remarks during the Q&A can easily turn into headlines.
6. Keep an eye out for inaccurate stories in the press before and after the AGM, and react quickly to put out reputational fires before they dominate news coverage.