Going public has many pluses but it’s not without risks, as a number of Boston-area tech companies may be finding out this fall.It’s been an interesting year for IPOs. For example, in the U.S. only 95 IPOs have been filed this year – that’s off from last year’s pace by close to 50 percent, according to Renaissance Capital. And only 91 IPOs have priced, about 5 percent fewer than last year. Yet, total proceeds raised are close to $31B, a 6% increase vs. 2011.
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As in recent years, tech is leading the way (30 IPOs YTD). In Boston, the story is no different. The Boston Business Journal is reporting that at least six venture backed firms – all of them tech B2B – are positioning themselves for a public offering: Bit9, Cyber-Ark Software, Jumptap, Basho, Acquia, and Care.com.
Among the benefits of going public is the opportunity to earn significantly more interest and coverage from business and financial information channels, major newspapers, business magazines, television, radio, financial and business websites, among other media outlets.
However, the benefits of enhanced publicity come with the increased responsibility of communicating appropriately, leveraging newfound media attention to support strategic business goals while playing by fair market rules and maintaining corporate transparency.
Here are a few communications guidelines for companies who are about to go public, and once they become public.
1. Refrain from telling an external source your company intends to go public. Regardless of when you say it, it can be published when you’re in your IPO quiet period and look like you’ve violated SEC rules. Instead, focus on your growth story. Talk about financing as an adjunct that facilitates growth.
2. Develop a story that describes your company’s competitive advantages and barriers to entry without jargon. Do this well advance of the IPO as it will serve as the basis for your corporate description in the prospectus.
3. Strengthen your website now. During the quiet period, your company website will speak for you to industry influencers and potential investors.
4. Stay visible. Visible IPOs price higher in the range and trade higher afterwards. Don’t focus only on the Wall Street Journal and other national publications as they are often hard to get into. Trade publications, bloggers, industry and Wall Street analysts are also excellent visibility creators.
5. Be visible now or your attorneys may say “no” after you have filed. If you haven’t been active before the filing, it will be difficult to be active once you have filed.
6. Once your company has gone public, employees have no right to material information before other shareholders. Make sure your company employees understand the rules. Be prepared to circulate policies that explain how to handle material information and how to avoid insider training.
7. IPO day is the beginning, not the end, of communications. Use the remainder of your quiet period to plan your debut as a public company. Decide what your publicity stance will be on the first day of trading.
8. The first nine months of being public will prove whether you can properly forecast your future for Wall Street. It’s easier to keep your good reputation than try to rebuild it.
9. Look to bellwether companies outside your industry for best communications practices, and not only to your competitors.
10. Work with your company’s attorneys and advisors to fit your desired business strategy within regulatory rules.
11. Get your corporate legal and IR teams involved in social media to protect the company from violating disclosure requirements. The risks simply don’t outweigh the benefits.