Leading communications for a Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) project can be one of the most enjoyable parts of a comms role.
It can also be one of the most frustrating if you’re brought in too late, overwhelmed by the workload, or the needs of impacted employees aren’t being properly addressed.
Here are some tips to help you be confident, plan ahead and succeed in the role.
1. Build a relationship with the Strategy or M&A team
The Strategy and / or M&A teams spend a significant amount of time looking at market opportunities – they know what M&A projects are coming up. Build trust with them by meeting regularly and involving them in relevant comms activities. You’ll be top of their mind when the next M&A project kicks off, including you at the start and giving you valuable planning time.
Strategy teams also have a deep knowledge of the business rationale for the acquisition. As comms leads, you’ll need this valuable perspective to craft the business case for fellow employees.
2. Set clear goals from the outset
It may be challenging to ask people to take a step back and look at the overall comms goals when they’re focused on their own tasks. Doing so will serve the business better. It shows that leaders are serious and saves everyone time overall. Objectives will include what’s in it for the business, the employee, and the customer.
Leading an exercise asking, ‘What do we want people to know, feel and do as a result of this activity?’ gives you something solid to keep coming back to as the project evolves.
That could look like:
“As a result of our communication, current and acquired employees will:
- Know: the facts are clear and make sense with the company vision
- Feel: I’m being treated with respect during this change
- Do: read the materials and ask their manager for what they need.”
3. Don’t go it alone. Share the responsibilities.
M&As usually need more complex work than a typical comms campaign, and many comms pros try to do it all by themselves. This can lead to unnecessary mistakes, a lesser experience for employees on all sides, a poor perception of comms, or burnout.
Advocate a core team is in place ‘around the table’ and that a project manager is appointed. If there are significant changes for people, request a change management specialist. Other experts around the table may include HR, Legal, External and Internal Comms, Admin, leaders representing the impacted audience, or agency support.
Consider having two or more comms colleagues on the project, including one who is experienced with strategic and political issues. This helps share the workload and deliver quality work – and your less experienced team members will build new skills.
4. List internal and external stakeholders you need to communicate with
Stakeholders such as the CEO, the senior team, and leaders of impacted employees on both sides will want to know the project status and why.
As the activity ramps up and you get closer to signing, the demand for knowledge and involvement will increase. Get ahead of this as part of the core team. Establish who is on the stakeholder list and request that, ‘updating key stakeholders’ is a regular action with a clear owner.
5. Create a Q&A document – early
Whether we like it or not, Q&A can drive parts of our messaging because they highlight where we or others don’t yet have adequate answers. Therefore, it’s good practice to begin it early.
A good Q&A will give:
- the business rationale for the M&A and how it links to strategy and vision;
- people and communication principles;
- key facts to address employee needs such as benefits, location, line manager, workload;
- clarity on what key messages will be shared outside the company;
- where to find more information.
The Q&A becomes an excellent resource for leaders to answer their team’s questions on announcement.
It’s helpful for comms to own the Q&A, although ensure there’s a commitment from the core team to own the sections that are relevant to their area of expertise.
6. Challenge the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) list
NDAs are the norm for teams working on M&A for good reason.
However, there’s a balance between keeping confidentiality and allowing a reasonable number of people in the loop to achieve good-quality work.
Bringing in a wider group of senior managers before announcement can make a big positive difference. As soon as an M&A is announced a people-manager will be bombarded with questions. Give them the respect they deserve by bringing them in at least a day and a half early.
This gives them adequate preparation time to support their people and you’ll be amazed what they’ll add to the Q&A that you haven’t thought of already.
Rapport with this group is important – you’ll need them in the future, and their input will make the experience better for employees and the business.
7. Request a ‘Rules of the Road’ document from the Legal team
M&A projects require significant input from Legal colleagues.
A ‘Rules of the Road’ document is often used to guide sales reps after the acquisition is announced, can be customised depending on the need of each M&A (for example, it might recommend against sharing confidential information with customers after signing and before close), and considers how external regulators may view activity while the transaction is still awaiting approvals.
It can also be used to supply information to employees or leaders who have questions about situations that arise where they need direction and that are too personal to address in the Q&A.
8. Hold an after-action-review
While there’s more work to be done after announcement, measuring at this stage gives useful data.
Measure your after-action review against the ‘know, feel, do’ exercise that you did from the outset. Questions could include:
- What was the intent?
- What actually happened? What were the key events?
- What have we learned?
- What do we do now?
Ask the senior leaders you’ve engaged to feedback anecdotes they are hearing about the announcement and any follow-up communication.
A survey can be a useful way to gauge feedback from impacted employees.
Ask the CEO and other key stakeholders what they liked, and what they would have preferred.
Task your comms leads with writing a case study about the project to share with the wider comms team: as well as sharing lessons learned, it will allow them to strengthen their learning and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
With thanks to Hollie Walterson, Global Internal Communications, Dell Technologies, for her work on M&A.
An accredited leadership coach, Justine Williams has more than 20 years of senior communications experience in the US and UK. She brings empathy, insight, and challenge to the coaching relationship with Kademy members.
M&A projects can enhance collaboration across the business, expand the skills of the comms team and be fun. If you would value deeper insights on anything from planning to crafting the messaging to integration, get in touch.