A Tale of Two Companies: A Revolution of Another Kind
- B2B acquisitions launch communications professionals into a torrent of time-sensitive strategic challenges and tactical requirements
- While they may be on opposite sides of the deal, the communications teams from the acquiring and the acquired company need each other to meet the shared goals of the acquisition
- Success in the early stages of the acquisitions demands unbiased collaboration to produce internal and external messaging and make brand decisions
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
The contradictory states Charles Dickens set forth in A Tale of Two Cities about the struggles and rewards of the French Revolution also apply to companies going through mergers and acquisitions, minus the war element…at least in most cases.
Whether you’re with the acquirer or the acquired company, you may feel the acquisition is just what the business needs, or that it portends disaster. Let’s face it – an acquisition, regardless of its benefits, spells change that affects everything from organizational structure to brand to product architecture to, of course, jobs. And while an acquisition – particularly in the early stages – can create emotional turmoil, it also launches communications and marketing teams from both sides into a long list of tactics and actions that require collaboration, patience and focus on the big picture. So, team members must do their best to set aside personal bias and approach the task at hand with aplomb.
Here’s a look at just a few of the areas requiring collaboration, from both sides of the acquisition equation:
- The acquisition message and value proposition. It’s no secret that the acquirer calls the shots on the acquisition message that defines the value of the deal for the marketplace, but the reality is that the communications lead charged with crafting the story is highly dependent on the knowledge of his or her colleague at the acquired company. This communications team can provide critical information about the acquired company’s customer satisfaction and references, brand studies, audience personas, and marketing plans and investments. They can offer insight on how the acquisition is likely to be perceived and associated risks with their customers and prospects. Ultimately, the acquisition story must take a holistic look at the solution today, peer into the future and indicate what the new combined solution will bring to target buyers. Keeping the focus on customer value generally serves the needs of everyone involved – e.g. employees, stockholders, partners. To get both sides on the same page, concerns regarding perceptions about the acquired company’s product and customer satisfaction, or its true motivation, should be mulled over as input only – the message should focus on adding value as opposed to fixing problems.
- The brand’s destiny. Perhaps no area is more emotionally charged than the topic of transitioning the acquired brand. This is especially true for companies with big executive personalities and the associated cultural zeal. There are the “We must keep the name; everyone knows it” factions and the “We can’t have competing brands” factions. In fact, the assessment of the acquired brand should be based on a clear understanding of the goals of the acquisition, juxtaposed with the areas of target market and/or product overlap. But even when the motivation is clear – say, acquiring a competitor to lock down a market or expanding a product portfolio with a new offering – brand decisions may still err on the side of simplicity (“Let’s take the same approach with every acquisition and keep it simple”) or executive edict (“Our brand is the only brand, no matter what”). Skilled communications leaders must be the voice of reason, bring forth the facts that really matter to support the business objectives, and make the case for a carefully considered brand combination or transition that makes sense.
- Employee communications. We’ve all witnessed enough blunders to realize just how critical strategic and thoughtful employee communications is through the acquisition process. This is an area in which communications leaders from both sides can make a substantial contribution, supporting executives, HR and lines of business by setting the right tone with clear and consistent messages from the start. Working together, all communications leaders involved in the acquisition should build the key acquisition communications components – e.g. boiler plate statements, scripted slides for meetings, FAQs – with a focus on what’s known rather than what isn’t. The internal FAQs must mirror the external FAQs while looking at the acquisition through a different lens. Remember that this isn’t just about the acquired company’s employees; the acquirer’s employees often share the same concerns about how their roles may be affected by the acquisition.
There are many more areas to tackle as acquisitions move from the planning and announcement phases to integration and beyond. The communications professionals that were once on opposite sides of a deal may now be part of one team – and having toiled together under the pressure of an acquisition, they’ve forged bonds that prepare them to tackle the next big thing with ease.
For more on this topic and related content, join us at the 2017 SiriusDecisions Summit, where I’ll be introducing the SiriusDecisions Corporate Messaging NautilusTM. Learn more about the event here.