As mergers and acquisitions continue to be a strategy for many companies to gain market share, acquire talent and expand offerings, it’s important for the decision-makers behind the scenes to plan an effective communications strategy to guide the organization through planned change.
Through our experience guiding clients, managing our own acquisition of TFM Advertising in 2016, and more recently my husband’s acquisition of the Left Bank Restaurant and Bar in York, we’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the nuances of navigating organizational change. M&A can often bring complicated change and culture clashes, and companies have failed by ignoring opportunities to be proactive in their communications. Part of navigating landmines is seizing the opportunity: With the right approach, you can come out at a true advantage with added brand equity.
It’s easy to focus too much on the potential sales advantages of the newly forged relationship, rather than how you’ll manage all the changes leading into the merger or acquisition — especially because the process of M&A can move at varying speeds.
When a company misses an opportunity to reinforce its commitment or fails to recognize the value of a particular audience, the misstep can greatly affect morale, pride, trust and acceptance of the benefits to be gained in the changes ahead. No matter the size of a merger or acquisition, your communications team should be given a seat at the table — and ideally, from the start.
Where do you begin? It starts with an effort that reinforces trust and respect from the beginning. M&A communications should be broken down into four phases:
- Planning for the announcement
- Internal announcement
- Public announcement
Throughout, don’t miss these key opportunities to maximize your success.
Invest time to understand your audiences
As you plan and develop an approach for each phase, you’ll want a clear assessment of each segment of your audience. In my time overseeing communications strategies, I’ve seen many executives dismiss the need to invest the time and energy to address each audience and their needs through the change, especially internal audiences.
By investing the time into a plan and effectively implementing that plan by communicating with everyone and paying attention to their concerns and questions, you build a stronger team and brand trust in the process.
Prioritize your communications
Prioritizing the timing of who you communicate with — and when — will allow you to build and maximize the potential in a relationship, and mitigate risk through proactive messaging.
Give great consideration to the order in which you inform your audiences. We typically recommend beginning with an internal announcement, informing essential senior teammates first, and motivating them to function as communications ambassadors. Employees should always be informed before customers, followed by the general public as necessary. You’ll always have VIPs in communications, those very important customers or partners who value knowing firsthand and not hearing anything through the grapevine. As you communicate, expect that once your employees know, everyone knows.
Don’t ignore opportunities with key audiences
Some mergers and acquisitions are not large enough to capture the attention of media or the general public, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate attention to planning. We recently oversaw communication of a smaller acquisition. Through our evaluation of audiences, we realized an opportunity to reinvigorate conversations with past customers with the expanded services added through the merger. We facilitated conversations with employees on the frontlines in advance of the news going public, working to help them to understand critical messages on added services, and how to answer anticipated questions — even to reach out to past customers with the news to spur new sales opportunities.
As always, expect the enexpected
Not everything goes smoothly in M&A communications. We’ve dealt with leaks, misinformation, layoffs, price increases and more. But having a proactive plan in place for any scenario allows the executives and employees to move faster through any challenge.
Mandy Arnold is the president and CEO of Gavin, a public relations and marketing agency based in York and Harrisburg. She has two decades of experience managing senior-level market strategy, crisis communications and public relations for regional and national brands.