Building trust and getting and maintaining buy-in from a variety of parties during an acquisition requires a thought-out plan, not just a one-and-done statement.
The Tampa Bay business market is hot — at least eight acquisitions took place in the first quarter of 2021, compared to just five in all of 2020. While an acquisition can be an exciting change, by nature, it is often unsettling for various stakeholder groups. By developing a strong communications plan beyond the standard press release, you can help control the narrative while retaining the trust of stakeholders and key employees — which will help drive a return on investment. Here’s how:
1. Shape the overarching message
As early in the process as possible, develop a clear statement about the acquisition – how it will strategically help the involved companies to improve and achieve core goals. Shape the narrative of the overarching goal, company vision and why the acquisition is a key move in the journey.
The biggest mistake executives make is saying “no change, business as usual.” Change is necessary for growth. Embracing it, communicating its benefits to your team and drumming up enthusiasm and support is how companies thrive amid an acquisition.
2. Identify key parties
Identify all impacted stakeholders. The list may include key leaders, employees of both the acquirer and the company being acquired, board members, investors, customers, the press and the general public. These are the groups for which you’ll need to tailor messaging. Note that while tone or specifics will differ for each group, the overarching message should be consistent.
With each group the critical point to convey is “what’s in it for me.” Speak to the top-of-mind questions each audience will have — what changes, improvements and benefits are relevant to them.
Be aware that middle managers can be your greatest allies amid change. Having contact with the front lines, they have the unique ability to influence the success of an integration. Make sure this group understands where you are going and how they can help advocate and drive engagement throughout the organization.
3. Develop a timeline
Pre-close: News of an acquisition may reach internal and external audiences prior to the close of the sale. Pending any privacy concerns, it may be appropriate to address teams, individuals, customers, etc. prior to the close. Note that the message here can be succinct and delivered via email, video or another communication vehicle, but it should address your audience’s potential concerns and give them an idea of the positive changes they can expect. This can go a long way to calm fears.
In the meantime, arm supervisors and customer-facing teams with FAQ documents they can use to address common questions that may come from internal teams and external stakeholders. Doing so will help ensure messaging alignment.
Close: Aside from the press release geared toward external audiences, on the day of close be sure to welcome new employees to the organization. Explain why you’re excited about becoming one company; distribute employment and benefits information; share the company vision and how employee’s roles fit into that vision; and let employees know when they can expect to hear from you. Similarly, reach out to customers to let them know of any changes they can expect and provide them with an avenue to provide feedback.
Post-close: The acquisition doesn’t end on the day of close. Incorporate ongoing change communication deliverables into your communications strategy to help your stakeholders get familiar with the new company setup and confident in the future trajectory. These communications will include updates on any changes to policies, processes, technology. Internally, continue to communicate progress and milestones through leader announcements, as well as ongoing areas of opportunity for employees.
4. Commit to transparency
Being as open and transparent as possible throughout the acquisition process goes a long way in building trust and dispelling confusion and angst. By proactively and regularly communicating with stakeholder groups, you can control the narrative and cultivate engaged audiences through the transition. Encourage two-way communication, answer questions and commit to finding answers to any questions that you may have immediately have answers for.
A thoughtful communications strategy is an essential piece of a successful acquisition plan. By carefully preparing your acquisition communications plan, you can foster a positive transition experience.