AAM Minute chatted with Mazars Chief Marketing Officer Jennifer Palmer Farrington about how marketers can help the merger and acquisition (M&A) process. Jennifer has been in marketing for more than 20 years, mostly in the accounting industry, and her experience with M&A goes back to 2000. Jennifer has been on both sides of the coin – being merged or acquired and being the acquiring firm. Her experiences have led to valuable knowledge and deep insights into how the M&A process works and how accounting marketers can help.
Whether you’ve been through one merger or 20, most seasoned marketers would agree there are a couple of things that make the process easier: preparation and communication.
Get Involved Early
Jennifer is fortunate that her leadership team recognizes the fact that marketing and business development are key areas that are integral to the success of a high-performing accounting firm. Because of this, the team includes her early on in the M&A process. “A marketer brings additional expertise and insights and asks important questions the leadership team may not have seen or identified,” she says.
What if you aren’t asked? “Don’t be afraid to ask to be included. You offer a different viewpoint that can add value to the conversation. They’re accountants, not marketers,” she advises.
Ask Key Questions
During the discovery process, be sure to interview key people at the new firm. Talk to a few people, too, not just the managing director. You can then provide feedback to your executive board. Here are some questions to consider:
- Why are you looking to join our firm?
- What does a successful outcome look like to you? This is a good indicator of how they perceive the merger.
- Who are your clients?
- Where are they? How big are they?
- Are they small businesses? What are their industries? Use this opportunity to share the ways marketing can help those types of entities.
- Are they going to be powerhouses for business development or are they more technically skilled?
Preparing Your Checklists
You’ve made your way through the discovery phase, moved forward with the merger, and now it’s time to integrate the two firms. The best way to manage the process is with a checklist that starts immediately and runs until several months post-merger.
Break your checklist into manageable pieces, whether grouped by category or period of time. Categories to consider include: branding tools, internal and external communication (don’t forget those referral sources!), public relations, advertising, events, and internal branding.
You can be as general or specific as you like, depending on what fits your needs. Jennifer shared a few of her more specific tasks, which include:
- Review all marketing plans, programs, and activities for the past 18 months, and budget appropriately for the upcoming year.
- Determine what internal and external media activities will take place and who the media spokesperson for the merger/acquisition will be. Make sure they have talking points.
- Gather all contacts and input them into your CRM system for an external announcement. Sign them up for appropriate firm newsletters.
- Meet with the new firm to give them an overview of marketing’s capabilities and procedures, and get them on the path to success at their new firm.
Think About Culture
“Remember – in an M&A situation, you’re not just acquiring the firm, you’re also acquiring the people, so it’s important to have marketing and HR included in the process. The sooner you bring those teams in, the better chance you have at success,” says Jennifer.
Culture can be one of those things that can make or break a merger or acquisition. If the staff doesn’t understand their role in the process or they aren’t assured that they’ll have a place in the end, they might just start exploring new options.
To help employees feel welcome, Mazars does several things as the teams are integrated. Each new employee receives a welcome backpack filled with marketing items like a hat, t-shirt, and notebook. They are then introduced to all the marketing tools they can use right away.
“Show them that you’re excited to have them on the team,” Jennifer says. One way to do that is to get photos of each new team member beforehand and share with the existing team, whether it’s on your intranet, blog, posted around the office or in a breakroom on a TV slideshow.
Challenges to Consider
One of the most challenging parts of M&A is embracing change – there’s changing organizational structure, changing culture, changing technology, and the list goes on and on. Most marketers know that accountants generally don’t like change. “As a marketer and communicator, the best thing you can do is showcase the successes of the early adopters who have made changes. This will help you influence others who are on the fence,” Jennifer said.
As a firm experiences growth through M&A, it’s likely they’ll need to address how they handle their processes and procedures in areas all across the organization. “As Mazars grew, we had to put processes and procedures in place in areas that weren’t really defined before,” commented Jennifer. “We had to make many things more formal, requiring forms and approval. That was challenging for some people. But it was important because the structure provided the organization the firm needed. Once we explained why we needed these things, it was easier for staff to understand. No one wants to risk losing good people due to lack of organization.”
M&A Brings Diversity
As challenging and exhausting as the M&A process can be, it can also be a lot of fun. By nature, marketers are curious. New people bring new ideas, new experiences and new perspectives to learn about. “It’s refreshing to have new people,” Jennifer remarked. “Not only do I love to learn about the firm being acquired, but I also love to learn about its people.”
Top Three M&A Process Tips to Help Accounting Marketers
- Over-communicate and communicate again! There’s never enough information to be given. No matter how many times you repeat your message, there’s always someone who doesn’t know. The best thing to do is communicate in as many different kinds of mediums as possible: in-person, email, intranet or internal blog, TVs in breakrooms, the company newsletter, posters, etc. Get creative!
- Put together a checklist. Make sure everyone on your team knows about the checklist and what their role is. Create both a merger checklist and an acquisition checklist because there are different tasks involved in each. Think about the key things you need to do, and don’t forget things like media relations, internal communications, promo items, marketing collateral, events, website changes, and social media updates. Lean on the resources AAM provides and the experience and expertise its members have.
- Realize that it’s a long-term process. M&A doesn’t happen overnight. Go into it for the long-haul, and remain positive. It’s easy to get discouraged by naysayers, but for every person that’s unhappy, there’s someone who is happy. Broadcast the successes, and showcase examples to keep the positive momentum going.
Measuring the success of a merger or acquisition is a hard task to accomplish, but from a marketing standpoint, consider the staff and the culture. Jennifer notes, “If you can look back two years later and the firm has retained over 60% of the new staff and they’ve integrated well with their teammates and adapted to the new culture, I’d call that a success. And if they’re working with marketing on a regular basis? That’s immensely successful!”
Use Your Resources
At the end of the day, you can learn all you want about M&A – you can read articles, research online, or sit in a class and learn about how to handle it – but until you actually complete a merger or acquisition, it’s impossible to be fully prepared. Even then, each one is different. So be patient with yourself, learn as much as you can, and don’t forget all the wonderful resources you have at your fingertips through AAM.
The AAM Minute is a monthly e-newsletter that provides timely information about topics that impact accounting marketing and practice growth. It is available to anyone interested in what is happening in accounting marketing. Click here to subscribe to the AAM Minute monthly e-newsletter.
About Rachael McGrew
Rachael McGrew is the Business Development Director for Landmark CPAs, one of Arkansas’ largest accounting firms. In her role, she wears many hats, including overseeing the firm’s marketing and business development strategy, managing internal and external communications, maintaining the firm’s social media and web presence, planning and executing firm events and community outreach programs, coordinating recruiting campaigns, and serving on industry association committees.
Rachael is the co-chair of the AAM Minute and leads the AAM Hubspot Circle. She is a graduate of the Leadership Fort Smith program, an Arkansas Business and Northwest Arkansas Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree, and a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Arkansas’ Western Council.