How to Communicate Financial Calm Amid Talk of a Recession

This past Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index hit its lowest point in 2019. Many critics pointed to President Trump's decision to tie his performance to the markets and start a trade war with China. Meanwhile, economists worried about something called the inverted yield curve, which can point to an imminent recession.

For communicators in, or out, of the financial sector, this panic yields many opportunities to practice educational, non-siloed PR. Here are a few things to focus on:

Educating stakeholders can go a long way toward quelling concerns

First, a recession is not guaranteed. Most stories concede the possibility of a recession. "The latest developments don’t mean that a recession, or even a severe slowdown, is a certainty," writes Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent for The New York Times' The Upshot.

"The Federal Reserve, unlike its counterparts in other major economies, still has some room to cut interest rates to try to stimulate activity, and has shown it is willing to use that power. And American consumers have proved quite resilient this year even as business spending has stumbled; perhaps that will remain true."

Irwin's words are more than just an attempt to soothe. They're a reminder that panic and alarm, particularly in media, often can be tempered with education. Knowing how to provide your audience with the full picture is important. So is understanding that the full picture can often go a long way toward calming stressed stakeholders. This is a de-escalation tactic of smart communicators. Moreover, being the organization that educates customers, be it through your services or content, will give you a leg up on competitors.

Everyone in your business should be briefed to speak—from internal teams to spokespeople

Panic spreads more rapidly across various groups, especially when they aren't talking to each other. For this reason, cascading your messaging around potential crises affecting your industry is key.

Lawrence Parnell, associate professor and program director for the masters in strategic public relations at The George Washington University, told PRNEWS that companies should offer the same amount of care to internal communications that they give to Wall Street and the media.

“If you interact with a CBS employee, or a bank, you aren’t going to call the headquarters and ask about a merger,” Parnell said. “You are going to ask someone in the retail [sector]...this person needs to know how to talk about what is going on.”

Parnell stressed that communication needs to be ongoing, not just around a new product or development. “If you communicate a process for employees to be made aware [of information] and answer questions in the days and months following, they will continue to stay engaged and motivated.”

Set a goal to de-escalate worries around the recession, make that possible across silos

Gary Grates, CCO of W2O Group, stressed that it's on leaders to create a climate and culture where departments think holistically, then align units deliberately under an established end goal. “Leaders of marketing and PR must recognize, or be made to recognize, that there is something larger than their personal goals,” he told PRNEWS. “The point is how can we make the company successful?”

Melissa Kennedy, a PR spokesperson at investment advisory firm Vanguard, stresses that this level of alignment is baked into its core purpose: “To take a stand for all investors, to treat them fairly, and to give them the best chance for investment success.”

"[This purpose] is at the heart of our commitment to ensuring our communications with clients feature clear, concise, and simple messages in a way that is both timely and engaging," she tells PRNEWS. For Vanguard, the commitment involves not only offering educational resources, but making them accessible and easy to read so that they provide all investors with the information they need to succeed, recession or no.