When two companies join either by merger or acquisition, marketing should play a leading role. I speak with firsthand experience having helped EMG, a middle-market commercial real estate services company, through three transactions over a three-year period. In each case, keeping the focus on strategic marketing through the merger or acquisition ensured that employees, customers, and the media were clear on the transaction and its implications.
The first deal was a merger between EMG and QPM, a project management company with national reach. This transaction helped EMG to expand the services it could offer to existing customers and grow in the retail facilities segment. The second deal was a tuck-in acquisition that added Alta surveys, a key service that EMG historically outsourced. And for the grand finale, the third EMG transaction was the company’s sale to Bureau Veritas, a $5-billion, publicly traded company. While each deal had its nuances and varying levels of marketing complexity, certain considerations, processes and activities were required for each. If your firm is headed towards a merger or acquisition, here are some considerations for each step of the process.
A Transaction on the Horizon?
It’s never too early for growth- or liquidity-minded companies to begin planning for a future transaction. There will be branding, positioning, marketing technology, social media, and database implications that should be considered before a deal is on the table. Many midsized companies lack strategic marketing leadership, so looking into a Fractional CMO with transaction experience is a solid move to help guide the process.
Letter of Intent: Marketing Gets Moving
At the signing of the LOI, senior management needs to bring the CMO or Fractional CMO into the confidential fold if s/he isn’t already aware of the potential transaction. Despite concerns about letting too many people know and the rumor mill churning, the fact remains: marketing needs lead time! Here’s my top-level list of considerations:
- Name Changes
- Website and Other Marketing Technologies
- Social Media Platforms
- Customer Communications
- Employee Communications
- Media Communications
Typically, the company will have a timeline of key deal milestones. Marketing needs to keep this front and center and ask about changes regularly. Better still, create a list of questions and considerations for each of the major marketing buckets listed above, like these:
How will the transaction affect the names of the companies on announcement day and overtime?
If the name isn’t changing, will there be some association between the two enterprises? For example, when EMG and QPM merged, QPM had “An EMG Company,” under its logo. When EMG was acquired by Bureau Veritas, it retained its name but added “A Bureau Veritas Group Company” underneath its logo. Even subtle changes like these signal rebranding work, and it’s important to get any branding guidelines ASAP to avoid having to backtrack. A significant name and brand change requires more lead time to produce a quality result. In 2012, Marketri assisted SGA Group, a midsized accounting firm, through its merger with Carr, Daley, Sullivan & Weir. We helped them to rename and brand their newly combined enterprise, Spire Group, PC.
Once you know how the company’s name and brand will be impacted, ask about the expectations on timing of the rebrand, if applicable. Will everything, including all print collateral, need to be rebranded for announcement day, or will there be a grace period?
How will the transaction affect both companies’ websites? Since websites serve as the hub for most companies’ communications, it’s very important that they NOT be taken down at the announcement date or even within weeks afterwards. Here are some questions that you’ll want to ask regarding a deal’s impact on the web:
Will both companies retain their websites and for approximately how long?
How will the transaction be communicated? Some options include:
- A banner on the homepage
- A press release in the news section
- A video in the banner or somewhere else (likely on the homepage)
In addition, we created an “About BV” page on the EMG website to describe how EMG fits into this large, diverse, global enterprise.
Today, many growth-minded companies embrace digital marketing, which includes the use of marketing automation software and CRM systems. It’s important to assess each company’s marketing technologies and the contracts/renewal dates related to those technologies.
As soon as it’s legally feasible, a call should be scheduled between each company’s marketing and IT departments to discuss the various platforms and how they are being used to further business growth. One of the goals of the call should be to ensure minimal to no disruption in external communications.
Social Media Platforms
Company social media accounts and their loyal followers/subscribers can be a casualty of a transaction. Most platforms, including LinkedIn, don’t enable company pages to be merged or completely rebranded. Here is its rationale:
“Unlike your personal account, a Company Page affects all employees and not a single person or entity. If your company is no longer in operation or if it has been rebranded, please keep in mind that it does not mean you should remove the page from LinkedIn. Current and former employees of the company associate that Company Page with their work experience reference to improve their LinkedIn profile.”
There you have it! Unless the plan is to maintain two separate brands, one company’s page will need to take a back seat and become a placeholder. It’s likely feasible to get all current employees to change their profiles to reflect new ownership, but it will be challenging to get past employees to do so. Smaller companies may be able to shut down their accounts, but all the followers will be lost.
Companies that are being acquired and will eventually be rebranded should get a plan in place shortly after the announcement to consistently encourage existing followers to subscribe to the acquirer’s page.
One of the most important questions to ask pre-merger or acquisition is “How will the transaction impact customers in reality, and what potential fears will it invoke?” The natural follow-up question is “How do we want the transaction to be perceived by customers and how can we alleviate potential fears?” Marketing should craft a message or at a minimum outline messaging themes to be communicated. Some potential messaging options are:
- No impact – business as usual, same services and customer service levels
- Better value – expanded services, expertise, geography
Proactive and consistent communications are the keys to keeping customers from feeling skittish and looking for alternatives. In the case of EMG, customers wanted to be reassured that they were going to be working with the same people and service levels. We developed customer FAQs to be sure that anyone—from sales to customer support—had the right answers to customer questions regarding the transaction.
Transactions can spook even the most assured employees. It’s important to keep the news about a merger or acquisition confidential until you have an approved message prepared. Otherwise, the rumor mill will not work in a company’s favor, especially if it is being acquired. Similarly to the approach for customer communications, marketing needs to ask, “How will the transaction impact various employees in reality and what potential fears will it invoke?” and “How do we want the transaction to be perceived by employees and how can we be transparent while alleviating potential fears?”
Human resources and marketing should work together to develop employee FAQs that will be used by coaches and mentors post-acquisition to ensure consistency in message. Marketing should also be responsible for planning the announcement day employee event and procuring branded gifts.
The public relations plan will vary according to whether the transaction is public or private. The question you’ll want to ask is who is handling the public relations, and will it be handled internally or externally? Bureau Veritas is a public company, so EMG’s media relations to the global financial markets was handled through Bureau Veritas’ communications department in Paris. Our role was to provide a complete listing of trade publications that were important to EMG’s business along with complete contact information. Bureau Veritas North America had a US-based PR agency handle the outreach in the states. I was the agency’s liaison within EMG for interviews.
Remember Strategic Marketing Through a Merger
The stakes are high when marketing through a merger or acquisition. Customer and employee retention and future growth are highly dependent upon having a comprehensive plan and delivering the right messages at the right time. Brand consistency reinforces the marketing communications about the deal.
As we’ve noted many times before, a strategic marketing plan is imperative if you want your marketing to be effective. Strategic marketing creates the necessary framework to identify tactics and achieve goals. When marketing through a merger, the order is no different. Focus on building your strategic marketing foundation, and then work with your team to execute your tactics effectively.
For more information, download our guide to strategic marketing plans.