Sell Your Company; Tell The World: Five Keys To Strategic M&A Communications
During the first quarter of 2019, the market for mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. tallied $414 billion — just shy of the record high posted during the same quarter a year prior. That included seven mega-deals, worth at least $10 billion each.
Even during such a robust period of mergers and acquisitions, much thought and strategy powers each deal behind the scenes. For example, each of the companies involved in these transactions used strategic communications to signal what they were trying to achieve long before a deal was closed. Leading up to the deal, the sellers positioned their organizations as viable partners that other companies would want to invest in or acquire. Likewise, buyers strategically presented themselves as confident acquirers, ready and able to handle an acquisition or merger.
Ramping up external communications to raise awareness prior to an acquisition is only the first step; a truly strategic communications plan doesn’t end with a sale. During the M&A process, it is essential to effectively communicate the sale, develop a consistent message, maintain positive news, determine a lasting and resonating brand strategy and define how to measure success.
Communicating the sale: Focus on timing and targeted messaging.
It’s critical to preemptively map out when you want your customers, partners, employees, investors and other key stakeholders to know about the deal. But the right timing, messaging and medium could differ for each audience. For example, you may want to tell employees and customers right before the sale is completed, while investors and key stakeholders might need to know well ahead of time.
Once you’ve determined timing, you need to assign owners to communicate directly with key audiences: salespeople to their customers, HR representatives and managers to employees, etc. Remind everyone in the communications chain to connect with their audience on a personal level and to consider how the message will be best received. Some people, such as younger employees, may be active on social media, while others may be easier to reach through email or traditional online publications. Some may be more receptive to settings that allow them to ask questions, such as one-on-one meetings with their managers or company town halls. Outreach should be tailored accordingly.
Developing a consistent message: Prepare your responses.
Ensure that your messages are consistent in both content and tone, yet also audience-specific and highly targeted to the concerns and interests of each group. Be ready to explain the decision to sell or buy, when the sale will be finalized and how it will impact each of your core stakeholders and shareholders. Detail the value that the sale will bring to these constituents, but also be ready to address any changes that might result in the removal or change in services.
Anticipating potential questions can help smooth the communications process as well. Think through the types of questions each audience is likely to ask, and have detailed FAQs and other forms of communication ready. For example, some suppliers may just receive a letter with their payments. For top customers, though, an email accompanied by a personal phone call or in-person visit will be appreciated and should strengthen the relationship.
Maintaining positive news: Control the conversation.
Maintaining a steady stream of positive news after a sale is finalized can help reinforce the benefits of the acquisition and introduce the new brand to the world. Issue news releases detailing joint customer wins, or pitch media interviews and create photo opportunities with executives from both companies. The goal is to show your various audiences the amount of success you’re having and display how the sale fits into your strategic growth plans.
Engage in other ways to show the strength of your combined team. Hold an open house, and invite customers, partners and vendors to meet with executives and employees. Set up a client appreciation dinner or executive roadshow to show customers that you value their loyalty and feedback.
Determining your brand strategy: Be consistent right away.
Communicating the sale itself is crucial to any strategic communications plan, but so is company branding. Think about how you want your brand to be perceived once the sale is finalized. Will you adopt your acquirer’s branding, or will it keep yours? Will your different brands coexist for a period of time before one or the other is phased out? Carefully consider which approach is more likely to keep you from losing customers or clients post-acquisition.
Additionally, ensure that all of your social media handles and online content reflect your new brand as soon as the sale is done and public. Conducting a paid online advertising campaign can help reinforce the primary keywords that are relevant to your audiences.
Measuring success: Continually test awareness and perception.
The months following the sale are important for gauging how the acquisition has been perceived among your key target audiences. Six months after the sale, initiate an audit to test audiences’ awareness and perception of the new brand. Then, test again at the 12-month mark. This will give you a good idea of whether or not stakeholders have embraced any revisions or modifications you’ve made to your brand. You can then adjust your approach as necessary.
Selling a company is a huge milestone, and some executives may be tempted to leave communications low on the priority list. But you’ve put in the work of gaining the market share and attention needed for a sale. It doesn’t stop there. Make sure you are communicating effectively and consistently to those who matter most.