We don’t know much about the wild world of M&A. But we do know that when your company is bought or sold, you should tell everyone.
Thoughtfully. Mindfully. But above all, early. Otherwise, someone else may do it for you – with truly unpleasant results.
Not long ago we received an email from a distraught client, one of our favorite companies to work with. Several months back they were acquired by another company. The news was 100% positive: joining the parent company meant they would be able to improve service, reduce turnaround times and offer superior products for their clients, many of whom had been with them for decades.
But when it came time to announce the deal via their website and e-newsletter, things seemed to bog down.
We made sure the draft messaging was ready before the deal went public. Understandably, they needed to get it approved by the marketing team at the parent company. We submitted the draft and waited.
Then there were some transitions with the parent company’s marketing team. Nooooooo problem. We waited some more.
Then the holidays happened, followed by the start of the year, when everyone’s obsessed with setting and meeting new goals. More hurry up and wait.
Which brings us to the unhappy day our clients got their hands on a letter a competitor had sent to several of their biggest customers.
"We've switched -- and so should you!" the letter crowed.
The text implied that our client had gone to the dark side by selling out to a non-U.S. company. (Actually untrue, but we thought, a rather bigoted ploy to arouse suspicion and mistrust.)
Then it went in for the kill, saying: “We know it’s hard to change suppliers, but you have every reason to do so in the wake of this news.” (The actual words have been changed to protect the guilty.)
There were several other misleading statements we won’t bother to reference here. You get the picture.
Of course, competitors have the right to say anything. All's fair in love and business. But we hate the fact that our client must now reach out to valued customers in order to say, “Hey, here’s the REAL story ... please don’t lose faith in us.”
It’s never easy to be in a reactive position like that. Customers can’t help but think: Why didn’t you tell me in the first place?
If the news had gone out early, recipients of the poison letter might have simply thrown it in the trash where it belongs.
But no worries. We know our clients will retain their customers because they’re a dedicated, skilled, generous team who pretty much wrote the book when it comes to customer care in their field. It was easy to write a strong, positive response for them, one that's scrupulously fair to the competition but sets the record straight and opens the door for dialogue with those who have questions or concerns.
Still, their current situation reminds us of a bigger truth. If you don't tell your own story, your competitors will.
Inevitably, they will tell it in a way that puts you in a bad light, possibly one that harms that your reputation. And that’s a problem, because your good name is an asset – just as valuable as your buildings, employees, fleet, equipment and financial holdings.
In the age of Internet communication, your reputation can be easily challenged. The good news is that it’s fairly easily maintained. If you’re publishing positive, helpful news for your customers and constituents via your website, social media and e-news channels, you will have a natural advantage over those who seek to discredit you.
But you must still commit to sharing the big news as it happens.
If your message is positive, as it was in our client’s situation, you have a lot to celebrate. Customers and constituents will most likely celebrate with you.
If your news has a potential downside – as, for example, in the case of Susan G. Komen’s now-famous meltdown, studied in crisis communication courses everywhere – you have an even greater stake in getting out ahead of the curve.
Every day we go to work praying we never have to help a client work through a situation even remotely like that one. Because we know that, despite our best efforts, the damage might well be beyond repair.
Our experience shows that proactive communication, driven by consistent, careful planning, keeps companies and nonprofits strong. It's the best way to show respect and trust for customers and constituents. And it’s surprisingly simple to do.
If you need help in creating a thoughtful, effective communications plan for your organization, just ask us.