When a deal closes, it presents an opportunity to celebrate and to share the merits of the transaction with the outside world. Too often, however, the companies that just worked so hard to consummate the deal choose to go dark, says Shannon Stucky Pritchett, senior managing director of strategic communications at FTI Consulting.
“We see a lot of activity around the signing and not a lot of focus on that first communication of the deal value and what you're trying to achieve,” says Pritchett, who has offices in Chicago and New York.
“There is a hesitancy to communicate in that period because you don't have all the answers. You're still working on your plans. You don't want to be wrong and the presumption is if you don't talk about it, everybody will just kind of go back to work and things will return to the status quo.”
When key stakeholders aren’t kept in the loop on a change, they tend to draw their own conclusions.
“Explaining the process and the timeline through which decisions will be made in order to keep people focused and continuing to build that trust and credibility is much better than just letting things simmer in a vacuum,” Pritchett says.
Smart Business Dealmakers spoke with Pritchett about the importance of a solid communications strategy upon the close of a transaction.
One of the challenges for a company in the wake of a deal is accepting that for a lot of people, the deal itself is breaking news. They didn’t spend all those hours and days at the negotiating table hammering out an agreement. Now that they do know about it, they want to know what it means for them.
“What are the next steps?” Pritchett says. “What is the timeline? When are we going to start seeing it from a customer/client perspective? How are you going to bring the product portfolios together? Are all the products still going to be available? If I’m a customer, is they're going to be salesforce consolidation where I'm working with a new rep? There are a lot of questions that may not be answered on day one until the companies get a little further along in their planning. You don't want to let that go for too long.”
The absence of adequate communication can sometimes be a result of minimal resources available to initiate this important dialogue.
“We find that communications is often led in HR or in marketing and in these moments of dealmaking, they have a lot of other responsibilities too,” Pritchett says. “Sometimes communications doesn't rise to the surface in terms of priority.”
Craft the right message
Another factor is the loyalty that companies tend to have for these internal communications personnel or with a PR firm that they have worked with for a long time, Pritchett says. Try as they might, they may not be up to the job at hand.
“Specialized expertise can help anticipate what the next series of questions is going to be after a deal or to see around corners to identify potential risks,” Pritchett says. “That's why having a more specialized communications adviser can really add a lot of value to the process in terms of getting ahead.”
The ultimate success or failure of a deal can be shaped by your ability to deliver the right message.
“If you're not experienced in the communications discipline, you're probably just saying, ‘Here's what's coming and here's what you need to know,’” Pritchett says. “You're forgetting to continually reinforce the why and the end goal of what you're working toward and why it ultimately is going to be a good thing.”
Set the tone
If you do bring in outside people to help you communicate all that needs to be said about a deal, you need to find the right personnel that can do the job and do it in a way that resonates with your audience.
“It's finding the adviser who is going to really appreciate nuance and develop communications that are authentic to you,” Pritchett says. “On the other side of the equation, you need someone who understands the process of what needs to happen through each phase, including the signing of the deal and how that gets announced. What needs to happen to set the right tone at the close and then what needs to happen after the close to capture those synergies and to achieve the ROI?”
In this age of continuous M&A activity and increased regulatory scrutiny of deals, investors are becoming increasingly vocal about transactions and their merits. “So really being prepared for all those twists and turns at every phase in the process and knowing what you're going to say in advance is critically important,” Pritchett says. “The way the news cycle is today, you don't have the luxury of taking a day or two to figure it out. You need to be able to move quickly.”