Fresh eyes

How to get your communications right during a merger

Simon Turner Freshfield Managing Director

Written by Simon Turner,
Chief Executive & Group Client Director at Freshfield

Having a well-structured communications strategy can play a pivotal role in a merger. It can bring clarity and confidence to key stakeholders including customers, employees and investors.

Conversely, getting it wrong can create anxiety, confusion and may even potentially jeopardise the chances of success for the newly combined organisations.

Freshfield has years of experience devising and implementing merger and acquisitions communications plans for leading organisations, and here are some top tips based on our experiences.

Put communications at the centre of your integration plan

The perception of employees, customers, potential customers, investors, suppliers, partners, journalists and key influencers is fundamental to the success of any merger. They have the power to deem the deal a huge success or a failure waiting to happen.

Given the importance of perception, it’s imperative to put communications at the heart of your merger plan and start as early as possible. Communications can be the glue that knits everything together.

I recall one merger project, where we were commissioned to advise on a PR and communications strategy after the deal had been completed. Despite the lengthy merger of two organisations and a new company name, employees were still referencing previous brand names, different brand identities and websites were in operation and many clients were in the dark over the news. We were able to bring control to the situation and, while this is a rare case, it reinforces the message of starting early.

Create a detailed stakeholder map

A comprehensive stakeholder map will identify all stakeholder groups and the people within them. Once completed, this will enable you to focus on what information each stakeholder group needs.

As part of this process, you also need to work out their potential concerns. For example, staff of both organisations may be worried about the potential impact on their job. Customers may be concerned about client service levels or prices going up. Ensure you complete a perception risk audit of each stakeholder group and have a plan in place to address this if required.

Keep your core messages short, simple and consistent

At Freshfield, we believe in keeping things simple, especially when it comes to merger messaging. There is a multi-front war for our attention in this complex media world and your merger will add to the noise levels.

Try and have three key message pillars and ensure consistency and repetition throughout the merger programme. If you try and share too many messages or talk about widespread changes, people could get confused and concerned. In the early stages of a merger, your audiences need to feel that it’s business as usual.

You’ll benefit more from saying three messages 100 times than saying 100 messages three times.

Your leaders need to be on it

Your leaders and managers will be some of your chief merger communicators, especially when it comes to employee and customer engagement, so they need to be briefed and drilled on your communications strategy. They will be the ones that will have to deal with tricky questions or concerns. If they are not prepared, they could give out the wrong message, allowing false information to spread.

Remember, communication is two-way

You should be consulting with your stakeholders on the merger to ensure they have chance to talk and be heard. This is a powerful exercise that can help build stakeholder confidence. It can also improve the chances of your key messages being disseminated and understood.

Consider a range of options from one-to-ones, focus groups and questionnaires. For larger organisations, you may want to consider appointing high profile and influential employees to support your engagement efforts.

Think carefully about your deal announcement date

Planning the launch of a deal announcement is a highly orchestrated operation covering a multitude of content, channels and influencers. Even with the most well-planned launch operation, if you get the date wrong, it may not get the reach and engagement you desire.

I have seen examples where deal announcements (not from Freshfield!) get lost due to a major external event or political announcement happening on the same day or week. Even if you have a safe date planned, keep checking the news agenda in the days running up as a major breaking story could dominate the relevant news cycles, harming the potential of your important announcement.

I have been fortunate to have advised on many successful mergers that have led to business growth, job creation and opportunities for the larger entity to make a difference on the world. Getting the communications right has been an important factor.

Follow Simon on LinkedIn here.

If you are planning a merger or acquisition and want to have a discreet conversation about your communications strategy, please complete our online form and one of our team will be in touch.

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