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M&A: How to Plan an Effective Communications Strategy


Navigating the complexity of a merger or acquisition is no easy feat. For companies both small and large, a lot can happen throughout the life of the deal that can cause delays, derailment, and even a complete implosion. Unfortunately, a breakdown in communication is one of the primary culprits for deal failure. Parties to the transaction often forget to keep important players in the loop or pieces of information are shared with some stakeholders and not others. Of course, internal strife is far too common as employees are often left in the dark. The key to ensuring a relatively smooth, drama-free transition is to plan an effective communications strategy. There has to be ample thought behind the creation and delivery of every message and information must be shared in a clear, concise, and timely manner to avoid potential pushback or disputes. Here are some tips on how to plan an effective communications strategy:

Determine Your Audiences

The first step in establishing a coherent communications strategy is to identify all pertinent audiences. The potential audiences affected by a merger or acquisition will include the internal and external parties associated with actually getting the deal done, leaders for both companies, employees (particularly for the targeted entity), and eventually the public. Some parties will have a vested interest in seeing the deal close, others will merely serve in a neutral capacity to facilitate the closing of the deal, and then some may actually hope that the deal does not go through at all. Clearly, these parties will not all be privy to the same information, so figuring out who should know what is key to conveying the right information.

Consider Timing

The timing of messages can prove absolutely critical to how a deal fares. For example, if a prospective acquisition is revealed to employees, instilling a sense of fear and uncertainty and then subsequently falls through, there will have essentially been unnecessary panic. Information should only be disseminated at the time that it is actually relevant to the particular phase of the transaction. Ultimately, it is critical to ensure that the right information is provided to the right people at the right time.

Craft Messages Carefully

Words are subject to interpretation, and sometimes saying too much is as bad as not saying anything at all. As a result, a great deal of thought must be put into crafting each piece of communication to ensure that the message conveyed is in fact the message intended. These days, people are quick to shoot out an email without as much as a cursory proofread, the consequences of which can be dire. Identifying and understanding the intended audience, picking the right time to send a message, and delivering that message as clearly and succinctly as possible will prove vital to keeping things on track.

Be Prepared for Surprises

In many cases, a communications strategy will have to encompass some kind of damage control at some point. Bad things sometimes happen, circumstances often change unexpectedly, and people can easily change their minds. For this reason, companies that will engage in high stress deals such as M&A must be prepared for the occasional surprise, including ones that are more than unwelcome. Obviously, it is best to try to anticipate these things and to plan a response accordingly. Of course, this may not always be feasible, so simply accepting the unexpected and acting swiftly to contain the situation is key.