As my hairs have gotten grayer in the last decade, I can’t help but to have noticed the major transformation that has altered how humans interact with one another. The digital revolution has permeated every facet of my life (as I’m sure it has yours): from how I get my news, to how I stay in touch with my family, to how I do business each day.
The “greatest generation” (i.e., those who grew up during the Great Depression) saw the widespread adoption of telephones and television sets. This generation spent the majority of its working years communicating through pen and paper, typewriters, and “snail mail.” The children of this generation—i.e., the “baby boomers”—grew up with much more access to information than their parents, but the information was not immediate, not “in your face,” and not coming at you from half a dozen devices at once. The way these two generations worked was very different, but the two groups’ outlooks were not necessarily in opposition. Like me, many of you reading this are probably part of Generation X or Generation Y. While we also have distinct world views and experiences compared to the generations who preceded us, we still are markedly different from the youngest members of today’s work force.
In March 2013, a journalist for The RPM Report (subscription required) wrote that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had held a “late cycle” review meeting with a drug candidate sponsor. The meeting – an element of the 2012 Prescription Drug User Fee Act-V – introduced a new formalization of communication between the FDA and sponsors, and hailed a new investor relations dilemma for companies: Should “sponsors” disclose what is discussed in these late cycle meetings with the agency, or not?
Late cycle review meetings are a change from past FDA practice; previously the agency engaged in less formal, ongoing communications. Formality might be a good administrative move by the FDA. The agency will now more clearly state what page it’s on, rather than making the sponsor figure out the scenario via a stream of communications over several months.
Last week, we wrote about Regulation FD, now in its 13th year of implementation, and offered Part One of a quiz designed to test how well you understand the regulation. Here, we offer a slightly more challenging Part Two of the quiz. We hope you will find this helpful as you think about real life Reg FD situations. Since the following answers should not be construed as legal advice, we also urge you to talk with your legal counsel before deciding what practices are best for your company and its particular disclosure situations.
Reg FD Quiz, Part Two- Violation or Not?
1. CEO is aware that your company will likely miss quarter consensus estimates, but this hasn’t been disclosed. CEO looks downtrodden in 1×1 meeting, and talks about what a tough macro environment it has been for the industry. A week later, your company announces lower than expected revenues. Stock trades down sharply on higher than normal volume.
Did the CEO violate Reg FD? (YES) The CEO selectively disclosed material, non-public information through non-verbal cues. Hindsight is perfect; hold a poker face or don’t talk.
2. At a webcasted analyst day, management outlines its new product pipeline, how the products compare to existing technologies and treatments and the timeline for product launches. Two weeks later, in a 1×1 meeting with an investor who missed the analyst meeting, management answers questions about how some of the new products differ from competition.
Regulation FD, now in its 13th year of implementation, remains a source of consternation for senior management and investor relations teams in their communications with investors. Some companies err on the side of excessive caution and end up rarely engaging in regular, productive dialog with The Street. Other companies go the other extreme and provide copious amounts of detail while filing an abundance of 8Ks. Finding the appropriate balance is the best strategy for open, useful relationships with investor audiences while steering clear of actions that could lead to SEC penalties.
Here, we offer a brief description of what Reg FD is, followed by a simple test to help you determine your level of compliance with the regulation. We hope you will find this helpful as a starting point as you think about Reg FD. Since the following answers should not be construed as legal advice, we also urge you to talk with your legal counsel before deciding what practices are best for your company and its particular disclosure situations.
What is Reg FD?
Reg FD is the SEC’s attempt to level the playing field for all investors – institutional and individual – by prohibiting selective disclosure of material information.
On April 2, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a report that outlines how companies can use social media outlets to disclose information and remain in compliance with Regulation FD. The report was the result of the SEC’s investigation of statements made on Facebook and Twitter by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, where he announced a “viewing” milestone for his online movie and TV rental company. While the investigation centered on whether Hastings violated Regulation FD, Hastings has maintained that his disclosures were neither material, nor exclusive.
From my vantage point, while the SEC’s new report opens the door for companies to disclose information via social media, it’s only propped open a crack and not enough that I’d encourage every company to use social media for this purpose. For one thing, a company is compliant only if it has previously communicated to investors that it plans to use certain social media outlets for news and information, and if access to these social media outlets is unrestricted. Following is more information about the report, what it means for your company, and what the risks are for communicating material information via this means:
What has changed?
The use of social media outlets is now included in the SEC’s interpretive release (34-58288), which in 2008 allowed company websites to be used to make disclosures under Regulation FD. The appropriate use of social media, like websites previously covered under this release, is the responsibility of the company. Websites and social media must be used according to the following rules:
- They must be recognized as a channel of distribution of information to the market
- They must be a source of broad dissemination to the market
- There has to be a reasonable waiting period for investors and the market to react to any posted information
What does it mean for your company?