Communication plans are key to a successful merger or acquisition Featured

8:00pm EDT April 30, 2013
Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest

A merger or acquisition is a sensitive process for all parties involved. Misinformation can abound, egos can be bruised, and business relationships can be damaged. One major cause of problems for companies entering a merger or acquisition is rumors and misconceptions that are allowed to run rampant through all levels of employees and stakeholders, as well as communities surrounding the businesses.

Employees, customers, vendors, community members and other key audiences hold specific interests in every company. To facilitate a smooth transition, companies must provide clear and concise information about the merger or acquisition to all stakeholders.

Implementing a transparent communications program ensures that all interested parties understand exactly how the deal will affect them. Without transparency, stakeholders begin to lose confidence. Flawless response time and a defined communication strategy are crucial to effectively ease any concerns.

Precise planning and messaging

Companies must prepare to beat fast-paced rumors months ahead of a merger or acquisition becoming imminent — especially with the speed information travels in today’s tech-savvy world.

Nothing is worse than having your employees find out about a major change in their company from an outside acquaintance. Why didn’t anyone at work inform them? Will they lose their jobs? These concerns should be addressed long before the rumor mill kicks into action. This takes proactive planning.

Initiating a proactive strategy will uncover communication considerations impacted by a merger or acquisition such as employee, key customer, investor, vendor and media announcement strategies, the company name, updating or merging of websites, and a host of other things.

“Key messages” that contain useful and comprehensive information should be prepared well ahead of time, with planned face-to-face meetings with those most affected by the deal, a detailed implementation timeline, and a plan for 11th-hour changes are essential to create a smooth transition process.

Internal communications

When announcing a merger or acquisition, it is imperative to provide accurate information and to avoid making promises that cannot be kept. If management takes the time to discuss the deal’s benefits and drawbacks, employees are more likely to respond positively instead of resisting change.

Employees expect straightforward and honest information about what the deal means for them. Anticipate questions that may arise and have a solid answer for each. Regular updates should be communicated through management, question-and-answer sessions, staff meetings and company news vehicles. The announcement to your staff must be a top priority — even ahead of key clients. But if planned properly, the announcement can hit all stakeholders within a matter of moments.

External communications

You may want to meet with key clients in person. A global announcement can be distributed via email within minutes of a staff announcement to not only clients but also other interested parties. A personal letter can always follow. But don’t stop there. Be sure to reinforce the benefits of the merger in all communication going forward.

Vendors will also be concerned about how the transaction will affect contracts, tax and credit information. A post-announcement letter can address these concerns and include any changes to important information.

Print and electronic media outlets are powerful tools and should be used accordingly. One designated spokesperson should be available at all times to speak to reporters. Communicating with key media outlets during a merger or acquisition offers a means for publicizing a company’s name change and launching new market and/or services announcements.

The perfect mix for internal and external communication plans involves implementing communications quickly, utilizing all available communication routes and delivering consistent, clear and accurate messages. Companies that make communications plans a priority during a merger or acquisition will emerge from the process as an organization that stakeholders, employees and the media can trust. ?

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.