Mergers and acquisitions are critical events in the life of a company. They impact key executives and staff, the community and existing and prospective business alliances. They also affect future profitability and the company’s reputation.
An effective public relations and communications strategy goes a long way toward helping an organization control the message, shut down the rumor mill and avoid misunderstandings during the transition.
Following are a handful of key issues to consider when communicating a merger or acquisition:
My lips are sealed: communicate on a need-to-know basis during the planning phase. Confidentiality within an organization and among strategic partners is essential to maintaining control of the communications process.
Identify your key audiences. These internal and external audiences may include: key executives and staff; investors and other stakeholders; the entity being acquired or merged with; business partners, vendors and suppliers; local business and community leaders; elected officials; labor leaders if the work force is unionized; media outlets (print, digital, TV, radio); and consumers.
Be consistent. While messages should be uniquely tailored to each audience, these messages must be consistent so there are no surprises or misunderstandings if they are shared among more than one stakeholder audience.
Take counsel. A public relations and communications firm experienced with mergers and acquisitions can help you identify key communications issues, explain the strategic role of different forms of communications, develop the necessary messaging and presentations, and develop a time line for distribution.
Create Process. Establish a procedure for managing incoming inquiries and identify who within the organization will interact with each stakeholder group (e.g. news media, investors, donors, employees, suppliers, etc.)
Make a checklist. Each merger or acquisition is unique, but a sound PR plan should include the following elements:
- Internal (personal) communications to investors, shareholders, other stakeholders and strategic partners explaining the goals, timeline and expectations of the merger or acquisition.
- Internal communications to key staff and employees.
- As appropriate, direct communications to labor, business and community leaders and elected officials.
- These may take the form of letters, emails, one-on-one or group presentations, or even by phone.
- General and specialized press releases (disseminated to PR outlets, general media, trade publications and on the company’s website)
- Audio-visual materials (may include videos, podcasts, etc.)
- Internal talking points/key messages to prepare company leaders for media interviews, both general consumer media and specialized trade media and outlets
- Specialized media and spokesperson training
- Collateral material such as presentation decks, e-newsletters, fact sheets, etc.
Social media and company website
- Consider videos and/or podcasts that may be uploaded to social media, special industry-sponsored websites, trade publications, general or specialty media, or company website
- Develop written content consistent with media stakeholder messaging
- Manage the dialogue and establish a social media process and “rules of engagement”
- Monitor discussion on social media, specialty websites and the company website.
People issues are among the main reasons for takeover failures. And, communication is central to the people issues. The PR process needs to begin during the preliminary stages to set the scene. All too often the communication doesn’t start until too late. Don’t make that mistake.