Planning an External Communications Strategy during an Acquisition
Acquiring a new business is a significant undertaking, and it’s crucial to have well-crafted communications strategies in place to keep all stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the process. Because effective communication during an acquisition can greatly impact its success and outcomes, all messaging (internal and external) must be aligned/moving toward the same goals.
Here are some key principles to keep in mind when crafting your external communications strategy during the M/A process:
Steps to Develop an External Communications Strategy
1. Establish clear goals and objectives:
What do you want to achieve with your external communications? Do you want to raise awareness of the acquisition, build excitement and support, or manage expectations? Once you define your goals (and we have sample goals for each audience below), you can develop targeted messages and strategies to achieve them.
2. Identify your target audiences:
Understanding and analyzing your audience is crucial. Who are the key stakeholders that need to be informed about the acquisition? This may include customers, suppliers, partners, investors, and the media. Each audience will have different needs and expectations, so it’s vital to tailor your communications accordingly. Employ tools like surveys and focus groups to gather insights into stakeholder expectations.
3. Develop core messages:
Craft key messages that align with your brand and resonate with your stakeholders. What are the key points that you want to communicate to your external audiences? These messages should be clear, concise, and easy to understand while being consistent with your overall brand messaging. For example, a core message could emphasize the commitment to maintain quality and service excellence.
4. Choose the right channels:
Selecting appropriate communication channels is essential. How will you reach your target audiences with your key messages? There are a variety of channels available, such as email, social media, press releases, and media interviews. Opt for channels that are most relevant to your audiences and that will allow you to communicate your messages effectively. Leverage data analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of each channel.
5. Be timely and transparent:
Timely and transparent communication is key to building trust. Communicate with your external audiences as soon as possible after the acquisition is announced. Be transparent about the reasons for the acquisition, the expected impacts, and the timeline for integration. Regular updates are essential to keeping everyone informed and engaged. In fact, studies have shown that companies that provide regular updates during an acquisition are 30% more likely to maintain stakeholder confidence.
6. Address concerns:
Acknowledging and addressing concerns is critical. It’s natural for stakeholders to have concerns about an acquisition. Be prepared to address these concerns head-on in your communications. Be honest and open, and provide as much information as possible. Share success stories of how similar concerns were successfully resolved in past acquisitions.
Examples of Strategic Messaging Goals
Strategic comms goals can vary, and are dependent upon your business goals and audience attitudes/behaviors. You can develop overall goals that embody the entire program, which will help you draft tactics, as well as audience specific goals, which will help you draft language. Here’s what we mean:
Examples of program goals:
- Increase awareness of the acquisition. This may involve communicating with customers, suppliers, partners, investors, and the media about the acquisition and its benefits.
- Build excitement and support for the acquisition. This may involve communicating the strategic rationale for the acquisition and how it will benefit the company and its stakeholders.
- Manage expectations. This may involve communicating the timeline for integration, the impact on jobs, and any other changes that may occur.
- Address concerns. Employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and investors may have concerns about the acquisition. It is important to be prepared to address these concerns head-on in your communications.
- Promote a unified brand image. Once the acquisition is complete, it is important to promote a unified brand image for the new company. This may involve communicating the new company’s vision, mission, and values to all stakeholders.
Examples of audience-specific goals:
- Customers: Reassure customers that they will continue to receive the same high-quality products and services, and that they will benefit from the acquisition in terms of new products or services, expanded reach, or improved efficiency.
- Suppliers and partners: Reassure suppliers and partners that you are committed to maintaining a strong relationship with them, and that the acquisition will present new opportunities for them.
- Investors: Explain the strategic rationale for the acquisition and how it will benefit the company’s performance, and provide financial projections and other information to help investors understand the impact of the acquisition.
- Media: Explain the reasons for the acquisition, the expected impacts, and the timeline for integration, and provide journalists with access to key executives who can speak about the acquisition in more detail.
Specific Tips for Communicating with Different External Audiences during an Acquisition:
- This will be a point for every audience: timelines is key. Let your customers know about the acquisition as soon as possible.
- Explain how the acquisition will impact your customers, such as new products or services, expanded reach, or improved efficiency.
- Reassure your customers that you will continue to provide them with the same high-quality products and services.
- Address any concerns that your customers may have about the acquisition, such as price increases, service disruptions, or layoffs.
Suppliers and partners:
- Inform your suppliers and partners about the acquisition as soon as possible.
- Explain how the acquisition will help suppliers and partners grow, such as increased opportunities, access to new markets, or more resources.
- Reassure your suppliers and partners that you are committed to maintaining a strong relationship with them.
- Address any concerns that your suppliers and partners may have about the acquisition, such as changes in payment terms, delivery schedules, or product requirements.
- Inform your investors about the acquisition as soon as possible.
- Explain the strategic rationale for the acquisition and how it will benefit your company.
- Provide financial projections and other information to help investors understand the impact of the acquisition on your company’s performance.
- Address any concerns that your investors may have about the acquisition, such as increased debt levels, integration challenges, or dilution of earnings.
- Issue a press release announcing the acquisition as soon as possible.
- Hold a press conference or media briefing to answer questions from journalists.
- Be prepared to discuss the reasons for the acquisition, the expected impacts, and the timeline for integration.
- Provide journalists with access to key executives who can speak about the acquisition in more detail.
A key piece to remember here is to stay on message. It is not your responsibility to answer questions outside the scope of the strategy. Lending answers to questions that are not within the messaging structure and goals can do more harm than good. If you are asked a question that does not align with the purpose of your briefing, tell the individual you are unable to answer their question at this time, and that you may be able to report back on the query at another time.
By following these principles and tips, you can develop an effective external communications strategy that will help you communicate successfully with all stakeholders during your acquisition.