Mergers and messaging – don’t forget your marketing and business development teams

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In light of the news around the recent high-profile law firm merger, CEO Melissa Davis considers how to secure buy-in from key stakeholders and internal staff members.

The pieces of the puzzle appear to fit – the premise seems to make sense. Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling. Two huge law firms with a need to expand beyond their respective territories.

But mergers are not a mathematical equation. Even less so with professional services firms. For all their weight of brand, expertise and process, they are in essence people businesses.

The why and the how

This may be a well-worn statement, but there are cultural and emotional hurdles that need broaching when it comes to communicating both the need for the deal, and the how. It starts with a united front at the very top of the two organisations – which means united and synchronous messaging.

Internal comms will be crucial in relaying and amplifying that message to the organisations’ owners – their partners. The executive will be working hard to bring onside the most influential of those partners, but they will require help in relaying the key reasons for the merger to 3,900 partners worldwide.

As I said earlier, when it comes to people, any change becomes very personal: what does it mean ‘for me?’ Whether a partner, technician or in the back-office, their first thoughts will revolve around the deal’s impact on their job security; their job role; and their remuneration.

Integration teams will be selected to digitally and operationally ‘tie’ the two firms together as quickly as possible. Minds can, at this point, focus on ‘efficiencies’, cost savings, and economies of scale.

Facing the clients

But have you forgotten who we’re doing this for? The clients? While the initial external messaging will always concentrate on ‘being a better business’ and ‘growth opportunities’, a robust plan around ongoing client communication, in tandem with a strategy to offer them a better service, must not get lost during the heat of the deal and integration.

This places marketing and business development teams in a position where they can also be ‘forgotten’ during the upheaval. But the first step a newly merged business takes externally will be around its look and feel. What is the ‘new’ organisation’s message to the world? What will it do better, or differently? Ultimately, will that message attract new or different clients?

Comms teams are crucial

Marketing and business development will be front and centre around supporting client-facing partners and directors in presenting the new entity: explaining the (hopefully overwhelmingly positive) impact on the client and allaying concerns. This is by no means an easy or straightforward task, particularly when messaging will have focused on getting the deal over the line: partner buy-in, media comms, and then more broadly across the organisation.

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It must also not be forgotten that there will initially be two sets of marketeers and business developers – bringing departments together is the real nitty-gritty of any merger. So, their collaboration must have begun as early as possible alongside the deal leaders or there becomes a threat that the message gets lost.

Such considerations are not the preserve of global players – ask that of the thousands of small firms that have merged in recent years. A focus on ‘the deal’ can lead to many important aspects getting waylaid. Let’s keep client communication and the merged organisation’s ability to be ‘better for more clients’ at the forefront.

If you’d like to learn more about how to promote deals and maximise your media coverage, we offer online or face-to-face training courses.

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