WRITTEN BY STEVE NUNN - CEO, INTISTA
You’ve completed an acquisition, have an integration plan ready to go, and Day One has arrived: you’re ready to tell the world about the deal and the bright new future. Let’s tell everyone, right?
Not so fast… not everyone wants to hear the same message. Different groups of people have different perspectives and different interests. You need to create a Communication Plan to tell different audiences what is relevant to them.
A basic integration communication plan should cover the following:
Who do you want or need to talk to?
I recommend considering the following groups
- Employees in the acquired business
- Employees in the acquiring business
- Business partners and suppliers
- Media, including the local community media
For an SMB integration the most important group should always be the acquired employees: these are the reason you acquired the business. A large acquisition may acquire for the customer base, products, patents, market share etc., but a small or medium sized business is usually acquired for its future potential, which is dependent upon the expertise of the staff.
Summarize your messaging into a single sentence for each group. This is the messaging that the author of the communication must stick to. The messaging must be relevant to the audience, for example local news media might have the following “Local business recognized through acquisition”
Assign an “interest level” that you expect each audience to have towards your communication. Doing this helps you focus upon what’s important, but still not ignore the less important.
It is derived by taking into consideration the following
- The relevance of the message to the target audience
- The importance of the message to the target audience
- The importance to you that this audience get the message
I find the best way is to assign a number between 0 and 10, where the most important audience is assigned 10 and those with no interest get 0. Do not spend any time communicating to a group that is assigned zero, of course.
Being acquired is a highly sensitive time. Acquired staff are always looking for a deeper meaning in what they hear. They may be wary, even suspicious about being acquired. Consequently nuances, even hesitations, are analyzed for a deeper meaning.
Make sure that the whole plan is consistent with itself. Any differences between messages to different audiences, or messaging to a different office location will be scrutinized and discussed, for example “I saw in the local paper that… which isn’t the same as what I heard at the announcement. What do you think is going on?” There are many genuine reasons that this could happen, so do not contribute to the problem by having inconsistent communications.
Getting the job done
Here’s a list of considerations to be considered before you’re ready to start communicating
How are you going to communicate? Besides the obvious press releases, you need to consider CEO briefing, intranet articles, conference calls, emails, town hall meetings, lunch meetings, welcome letter and different social media outlets.
Make sure that people know that they have the task to create the specific content. Make it clear that they have to adhere to the message for that audience; they have to deliver it back for review, and they have to get an approval before sending it out.
With an acquisition integration communication should go out at the same time through all channels. In the real world there may be too many channels to manage at the same time. Hence you should prioritize. This should be straightforward decision making: press release before Facebook? Staff face-to-face announcement before a letter to the customers? Probably, yes to both.
Consider giving key partners and customers advance warning about an acquisition, on the understanding that it is confidential information.
As the list suggests, there are a number of activities happening in parallel. Often time is short as the deal is about to be announced, and the circle of those who confidentially know about it is growing. You need a manager of the communication project: someone who can assign tasks, chase down incomplete work and get signoff when time is tight.
Don’t expect to get everything right first time!
There are a number of people creating different content for different audiences. It is really important that somebody checks the work and adjusts it.
Expect to iterate to the finished release package.
Invest in a communications specialist
Does all of the above sound complicated? To many, it is. I suggest that you invest in a communications expert to help you: develop the messaging for the different audiences, writes much of it, and proof reads all of it.
I particularly recommend hiring a Communications Consultant when the business doing the acquiring a modest size: you don’t often have this expertise in-house. If there are a number of locations to communicate to at the same time, it is even more important to bring in external help.
I am a firm believer that communication is a major contributor to success and to failure in M&A integrations. Be sure to give your integration program the best start it can get by planning your communications well.