In typical transactions, the details and data tend to rule the day — and dominate participants’ time and attention. The smoothest deals, however, have one common denominator. They are driven by a thoughtful, reasoned approach to cohesive communication that will resonate with all those touched by the transaction.
This is a critical part of the dealmaking process, as history shows that on the other side of any closed deal, the parties affected directly or on the periphery are likely to ask one question: What does this mean for me (or us)?
The audiences vary, and each will see outcomes from a different vantage point. The transaction must be explained to shareholders and stakeholders, who hold a specific financial interest in the transaction; employees and associates affected either to the positive or to the negative; communities or external constituencies who could feel the impact downstream; legislators or legal parties who may have oversight or influence; customers and potential customers, who will have a singular perspective on precise implications for themselves; and media, which might be wondering about ripple impacts for everyone.
Additionally, there is the rapidly increased velocity of information sharing. Social media plays a key role here as an amplifier and platform for discussion or opinion that is not always carefully considered. If you don’t appropriately think through or clarify your communications strategy, it can lead to disconnects, lack of understanding and, potentially, loss of valuation or realized value. Bad news, or even misinterpreted information, can flare up or go viral in minutes. The consequences here can have a long-term downside that, by contrast, can take years to repair or mitigate.
Whether the deal involves a publicly-traded entity or private enterprise, the concept of a communications platform should be on the table as early as possible. Make it a priority among members of the working team, typically selling/buying parties, legal representation and banking entities. Consider simple, straightforward and explanatory messaging in anticipation of questions, timing, cadence, the cascade of messaging to various audiences, and the roles of those who will be distributing or delivering the narrative. Clarity is key, and it is essential to think through all the various channels of communication and how they can be leveraged.
What’s the risk of putting communications off to the side? In transactions involving public companies, there can be regulatory delays (currently playing out in the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction), while for either public or private deals, the inevitable integration process can be hampered because neither entity truly understands the future direction. Cost-savings or expected synergies can be delayed, customers can wind up confused or — worse yet — develop a negative disposition toward the deal. Ultimately, money is left on the table. No one involved in a transaction wants that happen.
This isn’t to say that anything proprietary or confidential should be fodder for discourse, as there are always details (especially in the case of future consolidation or restructuring) where prudence takes precedence. But there is a basic tenet when it comes to communications that should always be top of mind: Do you want to tell your story, or do you want others to tell it for you?
Chas D. Withers is CEO at Dix & Eaton Inc. A core emphasis of his work and leadership has been stewardship in high-stakes, complex and transformative situations that span multiple audiences including shareholders, employees, customers, legislators, communities and the media.