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Communication is key in mergers, acquisitions

This was originally published in The Business News on March 29, 2021.

When you’re seriously considering bringing two companies together, it’s easy to get caught up in the legal and financial considerations of due diligence. You’re reviewing profit and loss statements, pro forma financial statements and meeting with accountants and attorneys, but have you stopped to consider how you’ll communicate a memorandum of understanding or definitive agreement?

Effective communication has always been important but communicating during a merger or acquisition is imperative. Consider the investment of time and money required to embark upon this journey. You should ensure you’re setting yourself up to be as successful as possible. Sometimes the worst-case scenario isn’t that a deal falls through, but that it goes into effect and you have confused your customers and employees who turn to social media to share their  dissatisfaction.

I have helped companies across many industries prepare for and announce mergers and acquisitions. Regardless of the size of the businesses or type of industry, there are a number of common issues that occur during these high-stress times. Read on to learn what they are and how to avoid them.

There is always more work than you think. After spending months or maybe even years in due diligence, you think that once you come to terms, announcing the deal will be easy. You’ll send a couple of emails, maybe embark on a road show and everyone will be as happy and as excited as you are. Don’t fall into this trap. The reality is that once the deal is reached, the true work begins.

The devil is in the details. When it comes to communicating your news, you’ll need to develop a plan that takes into account a number of areas including: target audiences, milestones and spokesperson availability. This plan will have to be all-encompassing so that you’re forced to outline exactly what will be said, when it will be shared, who is saying it and the channels that will be used to communicate it.

More people will be involved than you think. There’s nothing like executing a major communication project to realize how much of what happens in your day-to-day business you take for granted. Do you expect a website update to be posted? You better have the person who designs the graphic, writes the post and has access to the website ready to go. Most of the time that will require more than one person. Same for email distribution. It’s easy to think you’ll just send an email to your board, but do you know who has access to the board list, who has the email header and who has access to send on your behalf?

Someone is always gone. Deals are often structured around fiscal or calendar year-ends, which makes sense. The common fiscal year-end is June and the calendar year ends in December and these are two very common vacation months. Deals very rarely close when they are supposed to which adds an added layer of complexity. This means announcements become something of a moving target. So, when you have your 50+ page plan finalized, be ready for a key player to be unavailable.

Don’t think the media isn’t interested. If you’re in an industry that is heavily regulated, you’ll most likely be required to file notices that become public record. Media members often track these sites so even if you think the disclosures will be buried on an obscure regulatory body’s website, be prepared for a reporter to see the filing and give you a call.

Something will go wrong. See all the points above. Major communication announcements require both high-level strategy and precise execution. Throw in a team from two companies who have never worked together (and don’t forget about the consultants) and there’s bound to be a wrinkle or two. So have a contingency plan and be flexible. Err on the side of honesty and transparency to show your leadership from the start.

Remember that the process of bringing two companies together will be filled with stress and long hours, but how you handle the announcement roll-out will set the tone for your company’s future. If you’re hiring outside counsel, CPAs and auditors, don’t overlook communication professionals.

I’m going to leave you with an old saying “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”

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