Sometimes a merger or acquisition can feel a lot like a root canal. You know it has to be done. You know it’s going to hurt. But you hope it’s finally going to end that awful pain from your old rotting tooth.
Lying on my endodontist’s surgery chair for the past two-and-a-half hours while he expertly drilled, scraped and plugged my tooth, it dawned on me that there are five things good M&A communications share in common with this uncomfortable procedure:
The dentist knows that he needs to be prepared. Gas, local anesthetic, x-rays, instruments sterilized and laid out in an orderly fashion. Similarly, your M&A communications strategy needs careful preparation. Communicators need to be involved early in the negotiations. You need to understand your audiences. You need to have ways to address the pain points. You need time to develop and finesse the messaging.
No matter how talented your endodontist is and how much anesthetic you have, you will still feel some pain. A little during the procedure…and sometimes a lot more after.
Similarly, when you are communicating the value of a transaction, you will experience some pain. You will get those soul-searching questions from good employees you want to keep. Investors will torture you questioning every financial detail they can think of. The media will put you under a microscope in the hopes you will let something leak that will expose your malevolent intentions.
A successful M&A communications strategy will prepare you to deliver those painful messages and minimize the long-term suffering when you make a mistake.
Every step along the way to a successful corporate marriage requires intricate planning and specialized communication skills. Find a communications professional who is trained and experienced and your chances of success will be greatly improved. After all, you wouldn’t go to an x-ray technician for a root canal.
There’s a reason why they call it a dental practice. The dentist practices his craft day-in, day-out. He hones his skills with practice. He gets better and more confident. Similarly, whomever the spokesperson is for your M&A, coach them. Rehearse interviews and presentations. Practice getting the message right.
Your dentist wouldn’t use a toothpick to drill a hole in your molar. He has an array of sophisticated, sometimes menacing tools to do specific jobs. Similarly, don’t use the wrong communications tools to target your audiences. It’s unlikely a Wall Street analyst is going to buy the rationale for a merger from your 280-character Tweet. But the new lab tech you just hired may be perfectly happy with a two-sentence justification for the deal.
In short, when you’re getting a root canal, you’re far better off with a great endodontist. When you’re going through a merger or acquisition, you’re far better off with a great communicator.