Leaders should plan and execute comms around M&A with the same level of detail as any other marketing campaign or business initiative writes Dwayne Alicie in this guest post
Communicating during mergers and acquisitions can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be as tough as we make it.
Almost every marketing role I’ve ever had has involved leadership changes and mergers and acquisitions (M&A). I have seen M&A comms done so well I honestly shed a tear and felt closer to the company, and I have seen it done in the most damaging and unproductive ways you can possibly imagine.
Set yourself up for success by treating M&A comms as its own campaign built from the ground up.
I’ve put together some key takeaways from my experience that you can use to hit the ground running and avoid pitfalls.
1. Consider your audience and prioritize communicating with your employees.
Employees are arguably your most important stakeholders, and news of a merger or acquisition causes anxiety to spike among them. So how do you encourage satisfaction and productivity through uncertainty?
Start by understanding the perceptions that already exist within your audience of employees. Invest in listening to them before, during and after the announcement, just as you might during any primary marketing research. You can produce anonymous internal surveys, if nothing else.
Pay attention to anecdotes from managers. Are specific team members exhibiting especially negative or positive attitudes toward the deal? You might treat them as segments with specialized communications above and beyond the standard plan. You might tap a team of employee advocates to help seed positive perceptions among their peers.
Internal M&A comms is essentially a reputation and brand management play. Give employees a good experience, and they will stick around. If you give them a bad experience, they will have negative things to say about your company in the marketplace as they move around your industry.
During one acquisition I went through, a manager was shocked to find team members responding negatively to the M&A announcement. It turned out the manager was part of the team that worked on the deal and, since they were happy about it and knew all the positive details, they assumed everyone was happy, too. Big mistake, and completely preventable. They could have just asked.
Also, this goes without saying, but employees appreciate transparency and authenticity.
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2. Lay down a solid strategy once you understand employee perceptions.
Treat internal M&A comms like any other marketing campaign or business initiative.
Do a strategy exercise – know what you’re trying to achieve and the exact perceptions you want to build in your employee audience and why. Formalize it with SMART goals and design appropriate tactics.
Build messaging frameworks and train management and employee advocates on them.
Drive executive alignment relentlessly, and do not allow conflict among executives to filter out to employees.
I went through one acquisition where the top executive gushed about how they run a horizontal and collaborative organization with open doors. Meanwhile, another executive operated hierarchically and micromanaged details daily. That’s confusing, to say the least.
Use this moment-in-time strategically. Set norms for communications and be aware of opportunities to course-correct culture and align your internal brand with your external brand.
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3. Plan everything and pay attention to timing.
Do not rush. Invest in getting this right. Plan, plan, plan.
Communicate as soon as there’s certainty and the deal is official, but also know that once you start communicating, you need to keep communicating. Communicating often and consistently reassures employees and normalizes any new voices or changes in how you communicate.
Also, make sure your employees hear the M&A news from you first.
No matter how hard you try to keep things under wraps, employees may hear rumors from analysts or see reports leaked by rivals who the acquirer also vetted. You’ll need to decide whether to address rumors with staff on a case-by-case basis.
Regarding the perils of rushing brand integration, I went through one acquisition where the buyer was adamant about making a splash at the very next industry event — which happened to be just weeks away. We had to build a new website and event presence with very little information about the new company and brand, missing the opportunity to make a bigger, more impactful splash later.
But when leadership takes the time to consider the employee audience, get strategic and be honest with themselves about timing, internal M&A comms campaigns turn into an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your employees and solidify their commitment to your company.
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Dwayne Alicie is a marketing communications professional with ten years of experience telling stories and connecting people to things that make their lives better. He has served organizations large and small, including a Fortune Global 500 company and non-profits. He lives in Southern California. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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