Communication is a vital component to the success of any merger and acquisition. It’s not enough to hold a company wide meeting announcing the deal and crafting your Day One message. As soon as an M&A is announced, people have questions and concerns. Employees worry how the merger will affect their job and benefits plan, customers wonder how it will affect the services or products they use and business partners question how it will impact future contracts.
Companies that don’t have a tailored communication strategy for every stakeholder group will have staff members who are distracted leading to a decline in productivity. In addition, top-level talent may lose confidence in the company and seek employment elsewhere; business partners may hold off on renewing contracts; and customers may take their business to a competitor until they have a better understanding about how the merger will impact quality standards. To reduce that uncertainty and stabilize the business, companies need a robust and tailored communication plan for everyone involved with the organization.
How you communicate and respond to stakeholder concerns is the key to building trust, gaining buy-in and positioning the new organization for success. Here are five tips to build a tailored M&A communications plan.
- Identify your key stakeholder groups. It’s imperative to define who are your key stakeholder groups when crafting a targeted messaging strategy.For healthcare, this includes board members, c-suite executives, in-house clinicians, referring physicians, key operational and administrative employees, business partners, payers, patients and community members. Make sure when you are building your M&A communications team that you include representatives from your key stakeholders in that group.
- Create a joint communication strategy. It’s crucial that both of the companies involved in the M&A work together to create the messaging strategy. This allows the organizations to present a united front during the entire process—from the announcement through the close date and post merger. It’s important that the organizations communicate the same message at the same time and in the same channels. This will ensure that your stakeholders are hearing a consistent message. People talk. You do not want employees at one organization to know more details about the merger and operations than staff members at the other organization. That will lead to distrust and uncertainty and can negatively impact the merger. Creating the messaging plan together allows you to communicate the shared vision of the new organization, which, in turn, will help build your brand and secure buy-in from all of your stakeholders.
- Use all media channels. Communicate to your stakeholders in the manner that best suits them. This may vary from group to group, so your communication plan should include press releases; advertising and direct mail pieces;content marketing such as blog posts or updates to the company’s website, intranet and employee newsletter;social media and community forums. Companies cannot simply send out a press release announcing the merger and stop there. You should provide the senior leaders of both organizations with talking points and a plan of action for challenging questions. You should organize a presentation for employees that outlines the benefits of the merger including why it’s taking place, what the mission of the new organization is and how it will impact staff members personally. After the initial announcement,the c-suite should communicate with employees frequently to keep them informed. This will help alleviate worry and ensure a smooth transition. You should also send outdirect mail materials for consumers, patients and referring physicians, and schedule community forums and one-on-one meetings with city officials and business partners.
- Establish a two-way communication plan. Healthcare mergers and acquisitions are often very political and emotional for everyone involved. It’s vital to develop systems to receive and address stakeholder concerns. Make a question box, set up an email address for questions or schedule blocks of time when executive scan meet with people one-on-one. Its important to make sure that town hall or staff meetings include time to answer questions and are held at multiple times to accommodate everyone’s schedule. Remember to be as honest and transparent as you can. If you are unsure of an answer, say so. For example, you can explain that the company will try to hire all of its existing employees, but that you will have a plan of action to assist any staff member whose skill set is no longer a match for the organization.This is also your opportunity to engage stakeholders. Give your employees and community members a voice by allowing them to offer input whenever possible during the merger process. It will give them a sense of ownership and establish support.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Your M&A messaging strategy will set the tone for the new organization’s brand. This is how you will initially spread the mission and vision of the new company. Make sure all of the communication materials have a clear and consistent brand voice and support the vision of the organization.Communicate your message to stakeholders and then send it out again and again and again. Just when you think you have probably said it too much, say it a few more times. You can never have too much communication during a merger and acquisition.