Conversation: Potential Perils of Crowdfunding

Mary Jo WhiteThe Securities and Exchange Commission, through December 23, 2013, is seeking public comments on a proposal under Title III of the JOBS Act that would permit crowdfunding in connection with the purchase of securities. Nothing is perfect, and if adopted, investors and issuers alike will need to exercise caution.
 
Following is a tongue-in-cheek dialog between SEC Chair Mary Jo White, with comments taken verbatim from a press release issued by the SEC October 23, and a completely fictitious investor, expressing concerns:
 
Mary Jo:  I’m pleased that we’re in a position to seek public comment on a proposal to permit crowdfunding.
 
Investor:  What is crowdfunding?
 
Mary Jo:  Crowdfunding describes an evolving method of raising capital that has been used outside the securities arena to raise funds through the Internet for a variety of projects ranging from innovative product ideas to artistic endeavors.
 
Investor: Umm…I’m not sure I understand.  What does that have to do with securities?
 
Mary Jo:  Title III of the JOBS Act created an exemption under securities laws so that this type of funding method can be easily used to offer and sell securities as well. Securities purchased in a crowdfunding transaction could not be resold for a period of one year.
 
Investor:  Oh, I get it now.   You mean I soon will be able to take my hard-earned money and buy stocks in small, risky companies I never heard of?  Companies that may be run by rip-off artists.  Companies that have not been vetted by an investment bank. Stocks that will not necessarily trade in the public markets—not even on the OTC Bulletin Board?  And stocks that I may not even be able to easily sell?
 
Mary Jo: The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose rules under the JOBS Act to permit companies to offer and sell securities through crowdfunding.
 
Investor: Huh?  Maybe I don’t get it after all. What are the commissioners thinking?
 
Mary Jo:  The intent of the JOBS Act is to make it easier for startups and small businesses to raise capital from a wide range of potential investors and provide additional investment opportunities for investors.
 
Investor: Opportunities you say?  Aren’t there enough investment opportunities out there already? Do we really need more?  I’m scared. I want my mommy.
 
Mary Jo: We want this market to thrive in a safe manner for investors.
 
Investor:  O.K. I understand that’s what you want.  But President Obama wanted the Affordable Care Act website to work.  Besides, wasn’t the SEC supposed to be watching folks like that Madoff fellow?  He should have been easy to monitor, compared with the thousands of small entrepreneurs who will want to sell securities to unsuspecting investors?
 
Mary Jo:  There is a great deal of excitement in the marketplace about the crowdfunding exemption.
 
Investor:  Did I say I am scared?
 
Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com
 
 

Soft Intelligence and Social Media

Cyber security and cyber threats abound, information security policies are now owned at the highest levels of a company from the C-suite to the board, according to EY’s 2013 Global Information Security Survey “Under Cyber Attack.” While companies seek to protect intellectual property and disruption caused by hackers, one area, as it relates to intelligence gathering by investors, deserves further attention: the oversharing of personal information on social networks.Linked-In
 
Today, social media use by institutional investors stands at approximately 52%, according to a NIRI survey earlier this summer. What I am noticing more and more in my daily conversations with investors is that social media seems to be emerging as a tool to get an edge on impending news, particularly as it relates to the broadcasting of new LinkedIn connections.
 
While tracking Facebook “likes” on emerging brands as a proxy for potential revenue growth or monitoring hiring trends or personnel departures from company LinkedIn pages to gauge near term expenses might seem an obvious use of social media to impact investment decisions, what might not seem so important is the innocuous LinkedIn request.
 
Following a roadshow or investor conference, management might receive a request to “connect” from an institutional investor. If the request is accepted, consider what that might mean going forward if new connections are then broadcast to that investor; it may very well tip your hand on impending news.
 
A quick fix would be to turn off LinkedIn activity broadcasts by visiting the privacy settings of your account. Longer term, it’s wise to consider a companywide policy.
 
Matt Sheldon, msheldon@pondel.com

Crisis Case Study: Baiting the Media in the Court of Public Opinion

Last Sunday’s overtime win against the San Diego Chargers gave the Washington Redskins a reason to celebrate, at least temporarily, as the storied franchise continues to make headlines both on and off the field.
 
The team’s losing season is only part of the problem.  A new report by the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 news outlets have publicly announced their opposition to the name “Redskins” or have banned or restricted its use in editorial coverage. 2013-09-11-WashingtonRedskinsLogo
 
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and anti-defamation groups reignited the decades-old issue earlier this year calling for the removal of the name, saying it is a racial slur and offensive toward Native Americans.
 
Owner Dan Snyder for years has been adamant about not changing the team’s name.  He made headlines last month after sending a letter to fans defending his reasons against a name change.  He’s not alone either.  A Washington Post poll found that a majority of D.C. residents (66 percent) are against a name change.  Other published polls also show support for the name, even among Native Americans.
 
While the 76 news outlets that came out in opposition to the name are only a small portion of the media landscape, they certainly pack a punch.  Several high profile journalists have created national news themselves by opining their reasons for the Redskins name to go.
 
Whether a reporter “becoming” the story is bad for an outlet’s credibility will continue to be debated.  Most journalists try not to get involved in their own stories, although that is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s highly fragmented, 24-hour media landscape.  Either way, it makes for good television and sells newspapers.
 
The fact is the Washington Redskins are in crisis, a battle with the courts of both legal and public opinions.  And there aren’t any signs of it tapering off, although published reports indicate that the NFL has been meeting with Snyder and the Oneida Indian Nation to address the controversy.
 
Even though the owner, team and fans like the name the way it is, the current reality is creating too much controversy around the brand, which equates to lost dollars and can impact future revenues.  That’s a recipe that can’t work in today’s NFL as pro football teams look to sell products, licenses, and TV and radio rights outside their respective locales.
 
All this makes for an interesting public relations case study for today’s business organizations.  First off, executives always must be mindful of sending correspondence, whether it’s targeting consumers, customers or even shareholders.  Most times these communications will be leaked to media or appear across social media platforms, as in the case of Dan Snyder’s recent letter to fans.
 
This case is unusual because many of the fans and ethnic groups that may be affected don’t mind the Redskins name.  However, the issue has created a broader movement among media and anti-defamation groups, which appear to have their own agenda under the guise of eradicating racism.
 
The reality is Snyder is in a difficult situation: succumb to public pressure or stick to his proverbial guns.  This instance may be reminiscent of a business executive passionate about a company function or an unrelated personal issue.  There is no easy solution in these circumstances, especially if the executive has a legitimate position.  It’s also extremely difficult to win in the court of public opinion, let alone going toe-to-toe with national media.
 
CEOs and business executives can learn from the Redskins’ current communications crunch.  For Snyder, the strategy now is to manage the PR crisis, probably taking a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one, which may only continue to fan the flames — a strategy worth remembering when dealing with the next corporate communications crisis.
 
– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com