The first rule of crisis communication: If you can avoid the crisis, do. Because if the self-inflicted communication crisis was completely avoidable, the fact that you didn’t avoid it becomes part of the story.
So are potential investors in Groupon, the social media discounting juggernaut that is zooming towards its IPO.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is notoriously strait-laced about what companies say when they are in the ‘quiet period’ before they go public. That’s why it’s called a ‘quiet period:’ founders and investors are supposed to shut up so that analysts and the investing public can have a hard look at the company’s fundamentals free from spin and hype. They’re not supposed to talk up the impending stock offer or talk it down, or respond with anything but plain facts to reporters’ inquiries. But when you’re drunk on profits, you might forget the basic courtesies – not to mention legalities – of the lockstep IPO process. Running off at the mouth during the quiet period is problematic for so many reasons, as Groupon executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky is now learning.
Lefkofsky turned a well-timed $546 investment into a $386 million pre-IPO conversion of Groupon stock to cash, according to the Wall St. Journal. So you could see why he thought that the normal rules didn’t apply to him. When critics examining Groupon’s financials mocked the company’s creative accounting and utter lack of profits, Lefkofsky couldn’t contain himself. Groupon “is going to be wildly profitable,” he said.
Bet he wishes he could take that back. Since then, Groupon has had to amend its IPO filings to neutralize Lefkofsky’s boast. And his misstep was so badly timed that it inspired others to take an even harder look at him, and they discovered a history of fact-free bragging.
Now Lefkofsky must endure an ongoing drizzle of skepticism about his prior businesses, his bad judgment,his sketchy character and his outrageous haul from Groupon. This time around, he’s keeping quiet.