Change is hard. With so much riding on a successful merger or acquisition for an accounting firm, the most important role for marketing is making change just a little bit easier. The role of marketing in mergers and acquisitions will identify key audiences, messaging and timing of the firm’s big announcement — and why it’s a good thing.
Leave marketing out, and they’re scrambling to catch up to a train that may have already left the station. The firm could be dealing with media leaks and inaccurate information and then worried clients and employees. Nobody wants that.
Let’s step back and pack for the trip together: partners, key employees, marketing professionals and any consultants invited along.
Mergers and Acquisitions Preparation for Marketing
While partners have their own concerns about structuring the transaction and transition, not to mention money, marketers can focus on keeping everybody on the same page about communication. Start by identifying the key audiences:
Partners and Key Employees (at both firms) – They need to communicate the same messages at the same time to mitigate confusion or rumors.
Employees – The need to receive consistent information and get frequently asked questions answers (e.g., will my supervisor change?).
Clients – They should receive information (some directly from partners and others through a letter) at about the same time, which means preparing those messages early.
Media – Identify key media outlets and contacts, and prepare external messaging regarding the features and benefits of the transaction consistently.
Community – Identify key community connections, civic organizations, and philanthropic agencies to communicate how the relationship may or may not change.
Two to three months out from inking a deal, marketing professionals should be alerted and included in any discussion on how to position the deal with media and employees. There might be sticking points that need special attention, such as partners retiring or messaging that may be different for one market over another.
Marketers can develop messaging as the process goes along and edit as the announcement comes closer. Having a clear deadline for the announcement is ideal, but if it shifts a bit based on the closing date, at least all related communications are lined up and ready to go.
It can’t be emphasized enough during preparation that no one jumps the gun on talking to clients or the media, even if they are “friends.” A successful roll-out will avoid problems only if news is consistent and embargoed until the anticipated date.
Roll-out will involve both internal and external communications. Marketers and partners need to discuss messaging that reflects the expectations and the fears of their key audiences.
Consider creating answers to commonly asked questions. Employees want to know how the merger or acquisition will affect them and their jobs. Clients want to know how it will affect their relationship and service by the firm. Anticipate how to address common questions in a positive way while still telling the truth.
If a partner is retiring, for example, and hasn’t really transitioned clients ahead of time, identify a key contact who will reach out to those relationships. If back office functions will be consolidated, plan communications in coordination with human resources.
In order of importance, communication happens internally and quickly shifts to external. Avoid a long delay between internal and external announcements. It should be within the same week if possible. If the firm is larger, start with key employees, then all employees, then key client relationships, all clients, media and community relationships.
Be prepared for questions after the announcement as well as any media queries for further information. Note who will take media calls; alert reception/administrators to that process.
Of special note: If the firm name is going to change, prepare messaging and a strategy around how to announce the name change just like a rebrand process — sharing the benefit or distinction of the name change if possible.
In the best circumstances, there may be lingering questions or concerns among employees, clients or the community. Some people associate M&A with the loss of a beloved firm or community resource. Some may associate a bigger firm with less service or lack of “local” presence.
Surveys and client focus groups can support measurement of client satisfaction and any improvements needed, but these should be used for long-term strategy. Marketers will need to be vigilant about lingering concerns and doubts in the weeks and months just following the announcement.
Provide messaging to partners who are taking on new client or community relationships shortly after the transaction. In performance reviews, marketers may need to assist with adding questions that identify any decreasing engagement. Notice how reception answers the phone or directs calls; this can be an area of confusion early in the transition.
Overall, be available as a resource. At one firm, a rumor was going around that the founding partner of a merged firm was retiring even though communications clearly stated that she would continue her role at the firm. To address this rumor, marketing provided talking points and strategized on how to make the partner more visible in the community.
One more concern with M&A is brand erosion. What if the acquired or merged firms don’t adopt consistent brand standards or don’t get trained on the vision and competitive differentiation of the firm as a whole? Add this vigilance as part of the long-term strategy through surveys, training and monitoring of brand consistency.
Each firm will have special cases to identify and apply to the M&A communications plan. But there should be a mergers and acquisitions plan, and marketing is at the center of it.
By Dawn Wagenaar, principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC.
About Dawn Wagenaar
Dawn Wagenaar is principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC, and works with professional service firms and associations to identify their market opportunities as well as branding, market and competitive research, leading to outsourced marketing implementation and consulting. Contact her at [email protected] or 651-690-3358.