Before you skip over this post thinking it’s just about communications, please refer back to a very important discussion on this subject: The Riskiest Day.
We are often asked, “What’s the riskiest day in the life of every deal?” It’s a great question, and one that has inspired some passionate and constructive dialogue among our team. Due to the “tire tracks” on my back, I have to caution that it’s almost impossible to say there’s only one “riskiest day.” There are always going to be several. But in my view, your M&A teams will likely continue to struggle until you develop a consistent skill set with the “big three” riskiest days, including:
Now, what does it take to get Announcement Day right?
To avoid any confusion, when we say Announcement Day, we are referring to the day of initial public announcement of a deal. Depending on the type and size of deals you are doing, and whether your deals are primarily publicly held entities or private company transactions, you may have anywhere from a few days to a few months to prepare for this critically important milestone event.
Given the wide variance in deal and transaction context from the factors just mentioned, let me set out what we believe are the key principles to accomplish, and let your executives and M&A team members sort out the best application tactics to use for your particular deal scenarios.
"Within five minutes, and while he was still stewing over these very questions, his phone rang."
As a general rule, most acquirers do better at Announcement Day communications than any other aspect of an overall communications and change management. According to our survey, The State of M&A Integration Effectiveness, we found that approximately 57 percent of respondents considered themselves to be “good or outstanding” at Announcement Day communications. But the drop in effectiveness after that is alarming. Only 48 percent of respondents rated themselves to be good or outstanding at Day-1 communications; and only 40 percent maintained this level of effectiveness during an ongoing communications campaign.
When viewed in light of “what good should look like,” it is clear that most acquirers fall far short of what a best-practice Announcement Day strategy should be. In our downloadable resource, Getting Announcement Day Right, we summarize three key outcomes that must be accomplished in order to minimize value erosion and get off the starting block positioned to win.
This fundamental step includes the basic information transfer requirements across all communications channels, media outlets and stakeholder groups to establish the foundational awareness and understanding of what the deal is all about and why it makes sense. The messaging usually includes some high-level translation of why this is a compelling opportunity for customers, products and, potentially, employees.
This aspect of Announcement Day communications is more transactional and general in nature and probably explains why most organizations consider themselves better at this stage. It’s easier, it’s more well-known, and it’s less threatening for executives and legal counsel to communicate off of the well-scrubbed fact sheet of the deal itself. This is basic pitching, hitting and base running. You simply have to get this component right. But even if you hit a home run in the first inning, the game isn’t over by a longshot. To be “best practice” you have to communicate more from the very first announcement onward.
The CEO of a very sophisticated manufacturer attended one of our recent Art of M&A Integration executive workshops and provided this outstanding example of the importance of stabilizing customers, and by extension, all key stakeholder groups immediately on announcement. In this case, the CEO was sitting at his desk early one Monday morning when the news broke that his largest and most important supplier had just announced they were to be acquired by another major company. Over the next five minutes, this CEO’s blood pressure went through the roof as a hundred urgent questions rushed through his mind, such as:
- We’re a just-in-time manufacturer – What if they miss a delivery? We’d be dead.
- What will they do about pricing? We’re coming up on a contract renewal and any major increases could cost us margin and potentially market share.
- Who’s going to be driving our account relationship, and when will I know more?
Within five minutes, and while he was still stewing over these very questions, his phone rang. It was the CEO and the account lead of his key supplier. They proceeded to lay out the implications and logic of their acquisition, with specific emphasis on what it meant for customers. Not stopping there, they explained a near-term stabilization and account oversight process that was already in place to ensure continuity, quality, on-time deliveries and expanded access to their executive staff during the next few weeks of transaction closing and integration. As our workshop participant explained, this key supplier immediately earned substantial credibility, confidence and loyalty from a very important customer with both the speed of their initial contact, and the fact that their stabilization plan was already in place to ensure business continuity and quality.
In the interest of space, we won’t dwell here on how to create stabilization plans with other essential stakeholder groups, other than to make the point that every stakeholder group –key talent, partners, suppliers, customers and every other constituency – will have similar concerns about their respective “me issues,” as did this CEO.
This is where the importance of your internal M&A capabilities, strategic readiness and, if you can demonstrate it, your track record of integration success will really pay off. As we document in Game Day Integration Strategy Summit and elsewhere in our other blog posts, we take a strong stand that acquirers must be ready to mobilize the integration effort immediately upon announcement. At a minimum, the integration executive or deal sponsor should be announced along with the integration team leaders, the high-level transaction and integration timelines, broad objectives, expectations, rules of engagement and immediate next steps.
Read our blog posts Pre-Closing Legal Do’s and Don’ts, to maximize your pre-close integration planning, and Don’t Fumble at the Goal Line, so you can fully prepare to ensure a successful hand-off from due diligence to integration, and you will put your entire enterprise far, far ahead of the game.
Employees and stakeholders expect change. They expect that you have already put in place a comprehensive approach and are not just now beginning to determine “What now?” Even the most skeptical financial analysts, time and again, have given an important nod to evidence of prior integration performance and readiness in their post-announcement coverage.
That’s how to get Announcement Day right!