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strategic narrative

Where Are You Going? 3 Critical Questions for Nailing Your Strategic Narrative

Who are you? 

What have you done? 

Where are you going? 

Equal parts old perspiration and aspiration, the answers to each of these questions form the core of your firm’s strategic narrative. Having worked with several firms to define and articulate their narrative, we focus on aligning their vision and values with a narrative about taking that vision and those values into the future. 

For example, we recently worked with a firm that wants to apply their services to a different and more challenging set of problems. In other words, they are ready to expand their product and service offerings to bring additional value to their clients’ organizations. 

They knew that the strategic narrative was the place to start even before working on marketing, messaging, and communications. 

We facilitated a series of discussions with their leadership team to distill their areas of focus, figure out their core competencies, and get specific about their aspiration for the future. To ensure the strategic narrative aligned with what their customers truly wanted, we also conducted a Voice of the Customer assessment. The VOC delivered insight into customer trust, awareness, and loyalty.

What we’ve found in working with these clients is that companies are pretty clear on where they’ve been and what they’ve done. It’s where they’re going that is a challenge to articulate. In other words, the aspiration trips people up. 

So, let’s dig into the what, the why, and the how of strategic narrative, then we’ll be able to see the aspirational piece more clearly. 

What is a strategic narrative?

Before we answer this question, let’s talk about what a strategic narrative is NOT. When most marketers and leaders hear “strategic narrative,” they think, “we need a story that defines our organization’s vision and communicates our strategy.” 

They think, “we have a mission statement and a vision statement, so why can’t we just pull in language from those to create a strategic narrative?” But creating a strategic narrative is about so much more than creating the next piece of marketing collateral or writing that P.R. puff piece. 

Your strategic narrative should discuss your firm’s values and how you create value for your customers or clients. It’s the comprehensive, guiding narrative that draws a line in the sand for you. You can think of it as your organization’s North Star. 

Your strategic narrative:

  • Shows employees and leaders their roles and purpose.
  • Drives change when it’s time for a pivot or transformation.
  • Guides all of your communications in times of celebration or crisis.

You can revisit the key steps for developing your strategic narrative in this previous article.

Do we really need a strategic narrative?

Great question! 

I could answer by referring to the history of storytelling. I could tell you, for example, that stories have helped human beings figure out who to trust, establish community, and connect with each other for thousands of years. 

Or I could answer by referring to the psychology of storytelling. I could tell you, for example, that fancy cells in our brains called mirror neurons allow us to not just follow a story as it’s being told, but “live” out the action in our brains. This is why you jump along with the actor in your favorite thriller flick.

Bringing this closer to home, I could also remind you that putting thought and intention into your strategic narrative is more important now than ever before. We are all consumers. We are all clients. And we are all looking for connection. We want to align ourselves and our organizations with the people, organizations, and firms that share our values, understand our goals, and can contribute to our desired legacy. 

But beyond the benefits of connecting and captivating your customers, you need a strategic narrative to inspire employees, excite partners, and engage influencers. These are the reasons the aspirational aspect of the narrative is so critical.

How do we nail the aspirational aspect?

Creating a narrative that inspires, excites, and engages is tough, as anyone who has tried to strategize a social media campaign for “going viral” can attest. Add to that creating an aspirational strategic narrative that also aligns with your values and your value proposition and it’s clear how easy it can be to get lost in the weeds.

Nailing the aspirational aspect of a strategic narrative takes equal parts insight into your organization and reflection on how your organization is perceived. 

Insight into your organization

Your narrative—the story, the language, the tone—must be authentic and true to your organization. This is why input from leadership is key. It should also ring true to those who interact with your organization. 

Integrating the internal pulse that drives your team and the external perception you project out into the world is where the magic happens in messaging that is authentic, accurate, and persuasive. 

  • To gain internal insight, ask the following questions: What are the values we currently espouse? Do they still hold true? Do they need an update or clarification? Does the tone of our organization represent those values? Who do we want to be? How do we want to impact the world? What change do we hope to bring about in the world? Are our values clear to our employees? If answers to these questions are in any way fuzzy, take a pause and schedule a town hall meeting.
  • To gain external insight, ask the following questions: Can stakeholders identify our values based on the tone of our messaging? Are our values clear to our customers? Is it clear to our customers that our organization walks the talk? Do they view our aspirations as aligned with their needs? If answers to these questions are in any way fuzzy, consider whether a Voice of the Customer assessment makes sense.

Reflection on how your organization is perceived

Once you have taken the time to answer the above questions, it’s time to build your aspirational strategic narrative. Reflection on the insights gained through the process described here should reveal your path forward. If you find the answers misaligned with how you want to be perceived, figure out what data to track to get to the bottom of the issue and build up from there.

In addition, if your aspirational goals include expanding your services to reach a new market or solve a different set of challenges for your clients. Reflect on what those answers are telling you in light of your vision for the future.

Together, these pieces of the strategic narrative come together to deliver a narrative that is true to your organization today and a North Star for your future.

If your firm is unsure of where you’re going or how to communicate your aspirations internally or externally, a strategic narrative might be the missing link. Our team at Audacia Strategies is ready to sit down with your leadership team and find your North Star. Let’s find some time to connect!

Photo credit: https://www.canva.com/p/gettyimagespro/

best communications practices

A New Look at “Chaos is Our Brand” in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

When Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, originally taped this interview with Dan Doran, CEO of Quantive, for his podcast The Deal—Unscripted, we had no idea just how relevant it would be now during the current crisis. A year later, we are living a case study in crisis communication and thought it was a good time to revisit some of the takeaways about best communications practices from that conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Strategy for Best Communications Practices

This recommendation applies as much to a wide-spread crisis situation like the Coronavirus pandemic as it does to a big company transition like a merger or acquisition. It never pays to procrastinate on creating a communications strategy.

If you find yourself without a clear strategy, you’re likely feeling the pain acutely in this moment. As far as we know, no one has invented a time machine, but there are some things you can do to develop a stop gap strategy:

  • Stay calm and present as you weigh your options.
  • Figure out who needs to hear from you, when.
  • Develop straightforward messaging that doesn’t promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make sure you have a designated team with assigned roles to streamline communications.

For more ideas, check out 5 Lessons from our Crisis Communications Playbook

Many of our clients contact us when they’re facing one of two situations: times of crisis or times of transformation—hence our unofficial tagline: “chaos is our brand.” This makes a lot of sense, but too often what we find is that if an organization hesitates to develop best communications practices and a communications strategy early enough, things can go off the rails quickly. 

At the risk of sounding too sales-y and mindful of the many hardships experienced during this time, here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm:

  • An outside set of eyes gives you transaction experience, critical perspective, and unbiased advice when communicating your message to the outside world.
  • An outside firm is in a good position to place your organization in a broader context (i.e., the competitive set, the market, and your financial stakeholders), while you focus on running day-to-day internal operations.
  • An outside firm isn’t influenced by the “groupthink” or silo-ed communications that can be an obstacle to projecting the strongest public image.

Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to enlist the help of a firm like Audacia Strategies during this crisis or the next one, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing ASAP.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are 

In this moment of uncertainty, you are right to worry about accidentally leaving stakeholders off of your list of communications. One of the first rules of communications is to control the narrative. But if you hesitate to reach out to stakeholders or skimp on the stakeholder analysis, this is precisely the risk you take.

Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. What is the best story you can tell to a particular set of stakeholders? Suppose the governor in your state has decided your industry is among those allowed to reopen, but you disagree with the reopen policy for your business. Your best bet is to be honest with your employees, customers, and investors. State your case and speak your truth.

Depending on whether you are a publicly or privately held company, stakeholders could include any or all of the following sets:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Financial stakeholders: 
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
    • Investors or shareholders
  • Community partners
  • Contributors (for non-profit organizations)
  • Business partners and service providers
  • Strategic partners
  • Government regulators and political community (local, state and federal) 
  • Media and industry influencers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

This is especially important now when best communications practices may require a very light touch. If you think you can “get by” using your internal marketing department to craft crisis communications, you may want to reconsider. 

Marketing and strategic communications are different tools. Whereas marketing primarily focuses on telling the story of how your product or service will help your target customers, strategic communications partners can knit together the entirety of the business story to give investors and other stakeholders a comprehensive picture. As the experts in helping clients weather chaos, we have developed best practices over many transactions, crises, and change events.

Now is the time to ask big picture questions about how your market may respond to this crisis, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how investors, customers and employees should be engaged throughout. This is a great time to consider what has changed for your customers and employees and what you can offer as we begin to feel our way through life post-lockdown.

4. M&A Tips and Tricks

As we hopefully begin to see COVID-19 infection rates peak over the next several weeks and markets start to stabilize, many predict that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) will start to pick up in certain industries. This is, of course, assuming lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t place a moratorium on big mergers—a conversation we’ll be monitoring closely.

There are still a lot of unknowns here, but if a merger is in your future, we work with corporate development teams, in-house financial teams, lawyers, and investment bankers helping them think through the market and storytelling from an M&A perspective. At its core, M&A is about risk, the ability to manage risk, and telling the story of how the acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

For example, if you’ve been working on a deal that has been in the preparation stages for months, should you call it off or push forward to completion? One thing is for sure: for companies that have built a healthy balance sheet during the economic boom of the past ten years, declining valuations create opportunities to pursue deals that create long-term value. While we can’t help you decide whether to hold or fold, we can help you communicate your decision.

Finally, we’ll leave you with some pitfalls and opportunities to consider when it comes to best communications practices during a merger or acquisition: 

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice it to say, if you overpay for an acquisition, it can create credibility issues with your investors, your Board of Directors, your employees…the list goes on. Negotiations can get emotional quickly but consider that the business strategy will have to support the valuation.
  • Cultural fit failure: We’ve seen it happen: a small start-up firm develops an amazing technology and gets bought by a huge firm looking to prove it’s innovative and “hip.” Then, within a year, all the original start up employees are gone. Avoid this kind of cultural disconnect by having an air-tight integration strategy from the beginning. Make sure you are walking your walk, so you can deliver on what you’re promising. (Pssst! Hot tip: Audacia Strategies has a new service rolling out to help avoid just this problem. Make sure you’re signed up to be among the first to get the details!)

M&A Opportunities:

  • Integration is key: The best M&A success stories are those where the merging leadership teams think about integration all the way along. When companies have a successful communications strategy that includes communicating the big vision well for both internal and external audiences, the proof is in the stakeholders’ response.
  • Customers see opportunities: Ideally, when two companies merge, customers say “this is exactly what I needed.” Rather than seeking out two solutions, for example, the customer gets one-stop-shopping from the new hybrid. It’s your job to help communicate this feeling across your stakeholder groups.
  • Employees see opportunities: And if you can also pull off a merger where employees in both companies see the transformation as good for their own careers, you’ve developed a winning communications strategy. Often employees of the smaller firm may feel anxious about being acquired. But if you can honestly demonstrate opportunities for career mobility, earnings potential, and other benefits of working for a larger company, it will go a long way toward easing transition tensions.

The above is only a sampling of the insights and best communications practices gained from Dan and Katy’s conversation. You can watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, here

As everyone keeps saying, this crisis is unprecedented. Still, there is something to be said for working with a team that faces down chaos and keeps walking through the fire. We are here to help you figure out your next step and keep you moving forward. If you want to talk, we’re ready to strategize about your best next steps. 

Photo credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_deagreez

timing corporate communications

How to Think About Timing Big Announcements in the Age of Uncertainty (3 Questions You MUST Ask!)

I first shared my thoughts about timing corporate communications back in December of 2016. The world looked very different then. We were still in the midst of the longest economic bull run in history. We were still shaking hands, going into the office, and not thinking twice about getting on a plane.

Yes, the corporate world looks very different today as we navigate the choppy waters of COVID-19. But best practices for when and how to make big announcements remain largely the same.

While it’s important to get the messaging right, when and how you say it matters as much—if not more than—what you say. So, let’s consider the big questions to ask before you drop a big announcement. 

1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?

Markets may be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, but you can assume that the existing federal regulatory rules of your industry still apply. There are rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and the law relevant to your industry concerning timing corporate communications.

Also, make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest developments affecting your industry and any SEC statements about how they’re responding to the pandemic. This is especially crucial for firms subject to rules governed by The Division of Trading and Markets

Example: Material Announcements

Speaking of regulatory restrictions, Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) requires all publicly traded companies to release material information to all investors at the same time. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or a town hall meeting. Staying in touch with investors is critical.

In addition, to stay clear of Reg FD violations, remind directors, officers, and other corporate insiders that they should refrain from trading in the company’s securities until any risks that would be material to investors have been disclosed. The unknowns of COVID-19 put us in a fluid situation, so it’s even more important to stay vigilant here.

However, as always, if word of a material event or material information is inadvertently leaked to some investors or analysts (i.e., an “unintentional selective disclosure”), as soon as a senior company official learns of the disclosure, she is required to disclose the information publicly. Companies must make the announcement either (a) within 24 hours or (b) by the start of the next day’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

2. What are your competitors doing?

I know that you’re juggling a gazillion balls. But one of those balls has to be keeping an eye on the competition. I’m not asking you to be obsessed with your competitors—that’s not likely to be helpful either. Still, how much of a splash your announcement makes, whether positive or negative, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. So do pay attention.

If you have good news to share, you want to time the announcement carefully to capture as many likes, comments, and eyeballs as you can. With bad news, you want to be as transparent and complete as possible in your initial communications to avoid continually referencing the issue and detracting from your broader corporate strategy. 

Example: Product or Service Launch

Let’s say you have pivoted and are ready to roll out a new offering that will address an emerging need in your market. Sure, you are excited about the product or service. But if you rush to make the announcement without a solid strategy, you risk being overshadowed.

For example, suppose you suspect your competition might be working on a similar offering. Should you rush to beat them to market? While you might manage to steal their thunder by announcing early, you also need to think through the consequences of such a play. Could you lose credibility by putting out a product or service that hasn’t been thoroughly tested? Do you have a plan for dealing with a shouting match should your competitor start one?

While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit to make that big announcement can pay off. This is doubly true if your industry is experiencing extra volatility during this time.

In addition, if waiting to announce gives you time to gather crucial information about what your customer needs, this will ultimately result in a more successful launch. The benefits to rushing corporate communications here are few, while the costs can absolutely be a reputation killer.

3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?

Communicating in a way that expresses empathy toward employees is key. Again, this isn’t just about the language of your messaging. It’s about timing corporate communications too. Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. Your employees and staff don’t deserve to hear bad news from external sources or through the rumor mill.

Example: Corporate Restructuring

When making an announcement like a corporate restructuring, it’s important not to take your staff for granted. Relationships internal to your company are as important, or even more important, than external partnerships if you want to come out of this reorganization with your corporate culture intact. If you focus on the interests of one group to the detriment of others being affected, you risk looking callous and insensitive.

So, follow this general rule: put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. If layoffs are part of the strategy, be as transparent as you can about how you came to decisions about whom to let go and what this means for the company as well as individuals.

As with any external message, be mindful of how your internal announcement will affect your audience. Don’t let emotions get in the way. If you are the head of a division, the corporate restructuring might be bad news for you as well. But when you make the announcement to your team, be considerate of their feelings in hearing the news for the first time.

Having the right overall strategy for timing corporate communications takes a blend of planning, finding the right words, and practicing authentic human engagement. At Audacia Strategies, we have helped companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.

Photo credit: Canva Stock Images

crisis communications

COVID-19 and Your Response: 5 Lessons From Our Crisis Communications Playbook

I hope you are reading this post from a place of health and safety. In these uncertain times, we’re all feeling anxious and wondering how to communicate (or even whether to communicate) with stakeholders. By now, we’ve all heard the news about businesses around the world shutting their doors, volatile markets, social distancing, and flattening the curve

The threat from the new Coronavirus is really three threats in one: the threat of the disease spreading, the threat from a looming oil price war, and the threat of a global recession. While no one can claim to have all of the answers right now, it’s fair to say that investors, clients, and your team are expecting you to keep the lines of communication open.

In light of this crisis, it makes sense to revisit our previous blog articles about crisis communications and the lessons we learned when cooler heads prevailed. 

1. Stick to your crisis communications strategy.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know how often we discuss developing a crisis communications strategy for moments like these. Hopefully, you have a strategy in place. It may not be adequate, since no one predicted a crisis of this magnitude and we still don’t know how deeply it will cut. Nonetheless, use what you have, evolve as necessary (and it will be necessary), and note the weak points for future work.

Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be in crisis mode for weeks or months at a minimum. Prepare your team to continue to iterate your strategy as new information becomes available. When you need to keep on walking through the fire, here are some tips:

  1. Focus on transparency and the truth.
  2. Work closely with your team to identify solutions.
  3. Do NOT stop communicating both internally and externally.
  4. Share your 360-degree strategy as it evolves.

2. Make sure to communicate with your internal team.

In addition to falling back on your strategy, focus on communicating with your team. First, approach all internal communications with a sense of empathy. Keep in mind that as concerned as you are about your firm and what this crisis means for future operations, your team is as worried about the firm, their families, and their own livelihoods. They need your strong leadership now more than ever. 

Follow the 5 G’s of walking through fire without getting burned:

  • Get to ground truth: You don’t know all the relevant facts, but be transparent about what you do know. Your team will appreciate you leveling with them, even if the truth is painful to hear.
  • Gather your team: Huddle together (over Zoom, of course) and listen to what your team has to say. Remember, you’re all in this together.
  • Give employees the support they need: Your employees on the frontlines of dealing with customers, clients, or investors during this crisis need to know you have their backs. Answer their questions, give them some talking points, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people outside of the firm to hear.
  • Go on the offensive: Now is not the time to hide. Be accessible and proactive in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
  • Grant trust: You’ve trained your team well. Now, trust their instincts and work with them to come up with solutions one challenge at a time.

3. Assess the damage and keep the data close.

The ultimate goal of crisis communication is to control your narrative and provide honest, transparent updates about your organization. Work with those within the firm who can analyze the data and provide you with a clear(er) picture. This way, your communications will be informed by what you know. Once you have a clear picture of the damage, you can tell your story. 

Now is also the time to consider your extended community. Consider every resource you can think of that may help you get through this crisis:

  • Reach out to traditional media outlets: If you have contacts in the news media, and if appropriate, reach out to let them know you are available for a conversation or interview.
  • Talk to your PR team: PR teams are designed to offer language for crisis communications. It may be tempting to be reactive and fire off a tweet storm, but you must resist this urge.
  • Seek legal counsel: Make a point of engaging with those who know your industry and can offer an outside perspective.
  • Identify and speak to key stakeholders: Ensure that your message is consistent and cognizant of what your stakeholders are hearing from public outlets. Be ready to combat any misinformation in a prudent manner.

4. Get through this crisis, yes, but take note of the lessons along the way.

After the economic crisis of 2008, many companies in the financial sector, especially, were motivated to develop crisis communications strategies. Since then, however, many have become complacent and they’re paying the price now.

All we can do is take an honest look at where we are now, hunker down, and get through this crisis. But along the way, make sure you take note of big lessons learned. On the other side of this, you want to be able to take a long hard look at your crisis response and come up with a solid plan for dealing with the next one. Remember, if you don’t figure out how to control the crisis, the crisis will control you.

Consider the following tips for the future:

  • If you’re having supply chain issues, think about how to diversify your supply chain. 
  • If you’re scrambling to help your employees figure out how to work from home, make sure a training program is included in the employee onboarding process.
  • If clients are canceling contracts, consider whether you can add a postponement clause into those contracts.

5. Do NOT over-promise.

When we’re not in crisis mode, we understand one principle of successful business is to under-promise and over-deliver. But during a crisis, we can go into fight or flight mode and in this heightened state of anxiety, it’s all too easy to make promises we can’t keep. Again, you’ll want to avoid this mistake at all costs.

For example, the travel industry has been hit especially hard at this time. But over-promising would only increase anger and anxiety for customers. Here’s a quote from an email from Tucker Moodey, President of Expedia,

“For those traveling now and with upcoming travel bookings, our teams are working around the clock to provide everyone the support they need. We are rapidly increasing the availability of travel advisors, enhancing our self-service options, and developing new automated ways for travelers to better manage their reservations. Our focus is helping travelers with immediate trips, and these improvements will allow all our customers to travel more confidently in the future.”

Notice how this paragraph focuses on what actions Expedia is taking, their strategy, and where their focus is in trying to make things as right as possible for their customers. Were they instead to promise that everything will be fine by the busy summer travel season—a promise they certainly can’t guarantee now—they would likely do more damage to their brand in these already turbulent times.

Our team at Audacia Strategies wishes you, your family, and your firm all the best. We are with you in weathering this period, holding our loved ones close, and looking out for our community. These are tough times and we wish a crisis communications plan weren’t a necessity for so many U.S. businesses and firms. We are here to answer any of your questions about corporate communications and investor relations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo credit: langstrup

strategic planning

How to Crush Your 2020 Goals: The Lessons I Learned from a Chaotic 2019

If there’s one thing I learned about myself and my business in 2019, it’s that strategic planning saves lives. Really! 2019 might go down in history as being one of the most chaotic years for my family and my business. And yet, we’re all still here and thriving and business is better than ever.

Much of our success at Audacia Strategies is due to strategic planning. So as I look at the year ahead, I’m considering once again what investments I can double-down on and what needs to change. The challenge is how to build a plan that strikes the right balance between ambition and practicality. Read on for my 2020 insights!

Business Successes in 2019

  1. We added a certification for the state of Maryland as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE): In addition to receiving our CBE certification in D.C. in 2018, we filed for and received certification from the state of Maryland last year. Passing Maryland’s comprehensive and rigorous certification program makes us eligible to win state-funded contracts. We are also nationally certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  2. We supported our clients through big transformations: This past year, we saw many clients navigate executive transitions and corporate restructuring plans. While we tend to focus on how these transformations impact business, we often forget about the emotional impact of change. We witnessed both the vulnerability and the generosity of the human mind during the pivotal moments of 2019. Audacia was honored to be a part of ushering so many new clients into a bright future. 
  3. We saw the value of “radical candor” playing out: When it comes to client relationships and crisis management, what you say is often less important than how you say it. Okay, perhaps both are equally important. But my point is that communications is about more than the words you use. If a situation calls for you to speak truth to power, you’ve got to find the courage to speak your truth. Otherwise, you could be letting down your client or your team or yourself.

At Audacia, we pride ourselves on walking the fine line between diplomacy and radical candor.
This is one of our guiding values and I’m proud to look back and see how many times we chose this value over the “easier” path. 

Audacia’s Strategic Plan for 2020

  1. We will become certified as a women-owned enterprise (WBE) in Virginia: We have built a reputation for being a firm that supports our clients’ diversity initiatives and we are happy to qualify as a supplier for larger-scale projects with diversity thresholds. As we expand our reach and grow with our clients, we are excited to see what new opportunities arise. Our arsenal of certifications will continue to multiply in 2020.
  2. I will be scaling Audacia by continuing to invest in my team: I’ve been strategically growing my team throughout the years and I have awesome people backing me up. Now, as a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level and take on even bigger and bolder client challenges (I’ll talk more specifically about scaling my team in a future blog article). This means, among other things, investing in replicable processes and investing in the right systems to keep us in synch. This is not just the “Katy Show” anymore!
  3. I will be better at managing technology and its impact on my life: I bet we all could benefit from making this one of our New Year’s resolutions (here’s a resource to help you think about implementing your own “digital diet”). Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but it can be a distraction if we don’t use it to support our intentions. So, I’ll be looking for ways to be more focused at work and more focused during family time. As the twins grow, I know how important it is to set these boundaries. For starters, I’ll be creating defined “lights out” and “offline” times at home. What about you? Are you with me?
  4. More of the above: 2020 will bring more clients facing big shifts in need of Audacia’s special blend of tough love, enthusiasm for getting sh*t done, and honest, candid feedback. Stay tuned for all that we’ll be cooking up for you throughout the year!

Here are 3 tips for crushing your 2020 business goals:

Include your senior team in your strategic planning process by sitting down with your team to discuss the following three practical ideas.

1. Be ruthless about your successes and failures.

It’s tempting to leave Q4 2019 in the dust and let everything that happened in those last three months fall by the wayside in our excitement to look ahead. Don’t give yourself a pass, though. Instead, focus on the 3-5 biggest successes, so you can double-down on them in the next 90 days and capture the 3-5 biggest lessons learned, so you can strategize about fixing whatever went wrong.

2. Back up your 2020 vision with strategic initiatives.

All successful leaders have this in common: they have a strong vision that they can communicate with others. The second part is really key: no matter how clear your vision for your organization is in your own mind, if others don’t see what you see, that vision won’t come to fruition. Make sure others know how to implement your vision by tying it back to specific strategic initiatives. To do this, divide your team into groups and have them brainstorm 3-5 strategic initiatives (i.e., focused projects) that will bring you closer to each of your annual goals. If they execute on their initiatives, then you’ll likely achieve your goals.

3. Build your communications plan.

The final step in strategic planning is communicating the plan to everyone in your organization. Get your team together and agree on some communications ground rules. Agree together as a group on what needs to be communicated throughout the organization and when. It’s great to kickoff the year with a town-hall type meeting to discuss your strategic plan. But what happens after the dust settles? Do you have a plan for managers and leaders to meet with their smaller teams to talk about how their units fit into the bigger picture? Do employees understand how their work fits within the broader strategic plan?  

Looking at your year, what are the biggest shifts you anticipate making? Can you start planning for those shifts now? Would enlisting the help of Audacia’s team of experts help you attain any of those audacious goals

Schedule a consultation and let’s start brainstorming your transformation strategic plan today!

Photo credit: http://www.monkeybusinessimages.com/

business communications

The 7 Deadly Sins of Business Communications: How to Stay Out of the Marketing Rat Race

For brands—as with celebrities, politicians, and CEOs—scandals and PR nightmares, like the Airbnb scam that recently came to light, are nearly impossible to hide from today’s connected consumers. As a result, the best approach to business communications is operating with transparency and trust.

This poses a challenge for marketers: how to navigate the trends, meet customers where they are, and ensure the messages being communicated are genuine and in alignment with their brand’s core values. The challenge is all the more difficult when we consider marketing as an all-out arms race where brands compete to showcase their products and services. 

Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race (with apologies for the mixed metaphor). So, let’s talk about how to stay out of it. The rewards will be waiting for you. When firms make an effort to avoid the seven deadly sins of business communications below, they often find customers do the marketing for them.

1. Pride – Lack of consideration for or understanding of your audience

We all know people who make everything all about themselves. When pride reveals itself in an individual, we distance ourselves from the individual. When pride reveals itself in a business, we tune out completely. 

To avoid the sin of pride in business communications, show your audience that you are listening. Do your research. This is Communications 101. But I get it. When you’re under pressure to respond to a crisis or you need to get your marketing campaign up and running yesterday, it’s tempting to believe that you know best. 

PRO TIP: Remember, the failure to hear your audience could easily spell failure for your firm.

2. Envy – Trying to ‘copy and paste’ another organization’s communications strategy or message because, hey, it worked for them

Whenever we’re developing a communications strategy, it’s natural to draw inspiration from other organizations. But remember that your organization, your stakeholders, and your situation are unique. If you simply borrow from what you see competitors doing, you risk missing out on the authentic connection.

And with all the data available to anyone with a website and a little ingenuity, there’s really no excuse for firms not to attempt some form of targeting and personalization. Of course, you’ll want to use caution here. Personalization can go too far. Make sure you don’t cross the line trading authenticity for ultra-creepy.

PRO TIP: Instead of ‘copy and paste’, try ‘customization and personalization’. 

3. Gluttony – Sometimes too much is just…too much

Strong business communications are direct and to the point. When executives, whether speaking to the internal team or speaking to the public, use extra words, include too many buzzwords, or belabor a point, they take the focus away from the core message. 

PRO TIP: Trim the fat by offering communications coaching or training for those in core leadership positions.

4. Sloth – There are few shortcuts in life (despite the astounding number of promised life “hacks” all over social media)

It’s hard work to step into the shoes of your audience (customers, employees, investors, etc.), to think about what matters to them, and to honestly consider how your message will resonate. But there’s really no getting around doing the hard stuff. 

Also, just because you put a lot of time and effort into building out customer personas, doesn’t mean your ideal customer will stay the same for decades. You need to constantly re-evaluate your message and tweak it for each audience, circumstance, or business goal.

PRO TIP: Good communicators make business communications look easy. But there’s nothing easy about effectively communicating with a variety of audiences.

5. Lust – It’s easy to fall in love with the buzzword of the week, the fancy communications tools, or new social media channels

It’s easy to become enchanted with shiny new things because we’re always looking for ways to take our companies to the next level. Indeed, I’ve referred to some business communications buzzwords (e.g., authenticity, customization, personalization) in this very article. And they can all be useful in some form or fashion, but without the scaffolding of a bigger strategy, they are simply distractions or crutches.

The next time you feel yourself lusting after the latest and greatest, pause and ask yourself: what’s in it for my audience? And, will it help me better engage with my audience? If the answers are ‘nothing’ and ‘no’, you may be leaning on lust to keep from doing the hard work of communicating (see above: Sloth).

PRO TIP: Forget about lust. Fall in love with buzzwords, fancy communications tools, and new social media channels only if you can clearly see how they help you better engage with your audience.

6. Anger – We’ve got a lot of conflict in our communication channels these days

While there is something to be said for playing to the emotions of our audiences to invoke feelings of urgency, anger is not always the most effective way to motivate action or provoke conversation. Generally, anger is more of a monologue than a dialogue and when every communication is perceived as angry, it all sounds the same. Conversation, engagement, and attention work better for long term progress.

Non-profit organizations may especially want to take note here. You can establish a sense of urgency, while opening the door to a path where you can move forward together. It’s important to display your passion for issues and causes you care about, but passion without direction results in lost opportunities. 

PRO TIP: Beware of anger, the sugar high of business communications. It might give you a quick hit, but it will evaporate quickly.

7. Greed – It’s okay to make an ask! But ask yourself who will benefit

It’s perfectly okay and even encouraged for every communication to include a call to action—heck, we all need a good call to action, particularly in business. But when the ask is aligned to the benefit of a few (or perceived to be for the benefit of a few) the conversation falls flat.

Additionally, remember that not every CTA needs to be “buy my stuff.” When you think about generating leads, try thinking in terms of how you can help your customers, rather than how you can get more people to click on your link.

All the SEO and marketing tricks you can buy won’t replace the success that comes from following these three steps:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do
  • When you say you’re going to do it
  • Exactly how you said you would do it

PRO TIP: Business is the ultimate team sport. If the ask doesn’t also provide a “win” or a meaningful trade (of knowledge, services, etc.), then it’s hard to elicit champions for your cause.

As your company grows and you become more successful, business communications will become more complicated. Don’t let success cloud your vision of what’s truly important in your business: your customers and your employees.

If you notice any of these seven deadly sins creeping around your business practices, it might be time for a change. Audacia Strategies is ready to step in. We won’t give you absolution or assign you penance for your sins, but we can put your business communications back on the path to transparency and trust. Let’s Talk!

Photo credit: https://www.canva.com/robertkneschke/

crisis management strategy

Your Crisis Management Strategy When You Need to Walk Through the Fire…and Keep Walking

Your company can’t seem to make money, your executives are constantly in the news for the wrong reasons, and your plane still isn’t flying. Yeah. It’s been a rough few weeks/months/years. 

Recently, I talked about what to do at the onset of a crisis, but what happens if you can’t immediately get a handle on the crisis? What is your crisis management strategy for living through the day-to-day of a crisis that seems to go on forever? The initial response with employees and customers requires getting to the ground truth quickly and relaying as many of the facts as you can, while taking action. 

Some of these same elements continue to be relevant in dealing with the fallout of a long term crisis. But what’s crucial for an effective crisis management strategy is being perceived as a company that is moving forward and not one hoping that maybe after enough time passes, everyone will forgive or at least FORGET. When facing damage from a crisis that just will not die, you need a plan for resolution and rebuilding.

Putting Out the Fire vs. Leading Through the Fire

One of the most challenging tests of a great leader is how they deal with a crisis. To pass this test, it takes two skills: knowing how to put out fires and knowing how to lead through fire. 

Every executive has to deal with surprises and being in business likely means you’ll have to put out some fires eventually. Especially as your company expands, those fires will seem bigger, or at least the potential for fires gets bigger. When it comes to putting out the fire of a PR crisis, the name of the game is regaining control. 

For example, you may remember that back in 2016, after the shooting in San Bernardino, the FBI demanded that Apple build a “backdoor” giving the authorities the ability to circumvent Apple’s data encryption and unlock any iPhone. In response, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, effectively took control of the story writing this letter: ”A Message to Our Customers.” Tim Cook knows how to put out fires.

However, there are times when you cannot expect to turn things around so quickly or the fires you thought you put out actually continue to smolder. In these cases, leaders must develop a crisis management strategy for continuing to lead even through the crisis. 

Here are some tips for moving forward through the fire: 

1. Continue to focus on transparency and the truth.

While it can be tempting to say whatever you believe will finally put an end to this crisis, resist the urge to “whitewash” the truth. Keep in mind that following your gut and making quick, impulsive decisions is not a valid crisis management strategy and won’t likely get you through this crisis any faster. Impulsive decisions often result in a further loss of power.

Instead, you’ve got to slow down. It will be uncomfortable to tell the truth and only the truth. The media, your employees, your stakeholders, and your customers will likely push for more information. This is difficult to deal with, especially day in and day out. But if you haven’t worked out all the details, do not speculate. Remember that you are engaged in a game of chess here—not rock, paper, scissors. 

2. Work with your team to identify how the firm is preparing to resolve the crisis and (hopefully) prevent another in the future. 

One way to relieve the discomfort of having to stick to the facts, when you don’t have many facts to offer, is to take action so that you have more to talk about. Of course, I’m not suggesting you take any random action that comes to mind. Again, impulsive decisions are almost never the right move.

Instead, work closely with your team to come up with new policies and processes that help your company is ready to move forward. If new training would prevent a similar problem in the future, take steps to implement new training programs as part of your crisis management strategy, for instance. Also, consider what would improve both internal and external communications in the future.

For example, Stanford University recently changed their leave of absence policy for students facing a mental health crisis in the wake of a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination. In her message to students, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Susie Brubaker-Cole, said, “my colleagues and I have learned from our conversations with you, and our campus community is stronger because of your advocacy.” She went on to say, “together, we are making significant progress, and this new policy is a critical component.”

3. Do NOT stop communicating, either internally or externally. 

No matter what crisis management strategy you ultimately choose, remember to continue communicating as much as possible. Hiding away and hoping you can weather the storm without facing questions from your employees or the public will only cause more problems. 

Instead, keep your leadership visible and ready to answer questions. Have top leaders communicate internally through regular town hall meetings, Zoom meetings, pre-recorded videos, manager talking points, or even just walking through the cafeteria. 

By the way, communicating does not mean you have to take every accusation “on the chin,” but certainly continue to address the issue(s) with employees via your identified channels. Also, be sure to proactively offer appropriate updates to customers, regulators, investors, etc.

Communicate, both internally and externally:

  • What’s the latest 
  • What has changed 
  • What remains the same

Remind your leadership team not to say anything to employees that they wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s a reality. Memos leak. Video and audio can be shared. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Focus on sharing your strategy—value proposition. 

This final point is perhaps the most important aspect of any crisis management strategy: go back to the heart and soul of your company wherever possible. It’s a good idea to look at this crisis from a 360-degree angle. Remind your customers why you do what you do and emphasize that you are looking at this issue as only a blip on the radar. 

The point is not to dazzle or distract from the crisis, but to provide context about what your firm does, why, and how you remain committed to that strategy/mission. Ideally, any new processes, policies, actions are in support of continuing to advance the vision of your organization. With surgical precision, you are removing an imperfection and you will be stronger following this recovery. 

Keep this message close at hand, no matter how bleak things look. And always know that every crisis comes to an end eventually. I know that cliches sound so empty when you’re standing in the middle of the chaos and I know you’ve heard them all, but maybe you can take comfort in the words of one great American entrepreneur, Henry Ford, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” 

If you’re standing in the middle of a crisis right now, don’t go it alone. Find your tribe. Gather your advocates. And build your crisis management team. Fear might leave you feeling paralyzed at the moment, but you can trust the experts at Audacia Strategies. We’ll help you find the right crisis management strategy. Chaos is our brand, so you can bet we know how to walk through the fire. Contact us and let’s get to work!

photo by Authentic Images

crisis response strategy

The 5 G’s for Walking Through Fire Without Getting Burned–Your Internal Crisis Response Strategy

We’ve all had those days. You know, the days where you are forced to pull your IPO and your CEO gets fired, or Congress launches an official investigation into your safety procedures, or your company is the target of whistleblower claims

No? You’ve never experienced a business crisis like this? Then, you’re one of the lucky ones. But keep reading because even if it’s not to the scale of the situations above, you may someday find yourself in a sticky business credibility situation. 

We’ve talked before about preparing a crisis response strategy from a PR perspective. Now I’d like to take a look at what to do inside a business. How do you handle your response with employees and customers?

How to Respond to a Business Crisis

When a challenge to your firm’s reputation arises, it’s important that you meet the challenge with a crisis response strategy not only for rebuilding your brand’s outward facing reputation, but also for addressing the crisis internally. You can’t expect your team or customers to read between the lines of your external messaging. Plus, you owe it to them to communicate beyond the “party line.”

As always, I recommend creating your crisis response strategy well before you find yourself walking into the chaos of a crisis. Consider the following 5 G’s as you build your framework:

1. Get to ground truth.

When a crisis happens, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you need to respond promptly and you need to respond truthfully. Surviving the crisis is all about how you balance these two factors. There can be a tendency to sacrifice truth for the sake of speed and vice versa. Ideally, you will avoid both pitfalls.

DO NOT SPECULATE. Your internal crisis response strategy should be informed by what you know, but you cannot wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. So what can you do? Be transparent about what you know, where you are in the process and what you are doing. It’s important to acknowledge the credibility challenges (all of them), allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain the steps you are taking.

2. Gather your team.

Even if you are the only person in your particular department, you will need a team. Whether you’re in finance, legal, communications, HR—as the saying goes, “look for the helpers.” Remember, it takes time to gather your team. So plan ahead and notify the relevant parties that you may call on them and what roles they will play in the crisis response strategy.

Once you’ve gathered your team, listen to them. It can be tempting to be reactive, but try to get a well rounded perspective before making any big decisions. Otherwise, you run the risk of overpromising in the hopes that you can make the whole thing go away. 

Instead, get a baseline. Get perspective. And give context.

  • Did your numbers tank this quarter? Focus on the data, not drama. Look at firm-wide numbers, the market, and get a line on how competitors are faring. You need a clear baseline before you can respond realistically.
  • Is there a government investigation? Get to ground truth (see above). Work closely with your legal department, but also encourage as much transparency as possible. The appearance of concealing or stonewalling is not a good look either inside or outside the firm.
  • Is someone accused of misconduct? Again, get to ground truth (see above). Also, consider re-emphasizing policies, values, and company culture within the firm (assuming they are not the cause of the misconduct).

3. Give employees the support they need.

Employees are most likely to end up on the frontlines during a crisis. They will be communicating with customers, other employees, regulators, etc. Do not leave them “swinging in the wind” as they try to clean up the mess they didn’t create.

Arm them with the facts and engage them in an ongoing and transparent conversation about what the firm is doing to repair or recover its reputation. Use the channels appropriate for your organization—email, text, newsletter, video, Slack, person-to-person meetings, etc. 

Meet employees where they are—during a crisis they should not have to search for answers. Part of your crisis response strategy should include resources for employees on the frontlines. Communicate with employees early and often.

  • Whenever possible keep the touch personal. For example, answer questions during a town hall, Zoom meeting, or video conference.
  • Create manager talking points ahead of time and distribute them as soon as you’re ready after a crisis hits.
  • Don’t say anything to employees that you wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s reality. Memos leak. Video and audio recordings can be shared. Screenshots can end up in the wrong hands. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Go on the offensive with customers. 

If the crisis impacts customers directly or has been/will be in the press, go on the offensive and own the issue. Rather than trying to totally control the crisis, though, let your mindset be one of getting your version of the facts out first. Again, make sure you explain to employees what your crisis response strategy looks like with regard to customers. 

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean sugarcoating anything. Be transparent about next steps and honest about the potential impact (if any) on clients. Also, be sure that your customer communications are consistent with employee communications. As you consider these messages, your tone may differ, but the overall message should be consistent. The same goes for investors.

5. Grant trust. 

Follow the above 4 G’s and this last G should come naturally. When you create your crisis response strategy ahead of time, you’ll have the luxury of being able to fallback on your process. In the midst of a crisis situation, when it feels like everything is burning all around you, don’t underestimate the power of being able to trust in your people to execute on your process. 

How can you be so confident? Well, the confidence comes from having a strategy, knowing your audience, and believing in the human response to truth-telling. There’s a lot to be said for a company that owns up to mistakes and expertly pivots when crises arise. 

Whether you’re facing a small-scale crisis or a crisis of epic proportions like those recently faced by WeWork, Boeing, or GE, it’s helpful to remember other leaders have walked through the fire of chaos themselves. As Abraham Lincoln—no stranger to facing a crisis—once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

At Audacia Strategies, we’re no strangers to facing a crisis either. We’ve walked with our clients through the fire using the 5 G’s and we can help your firm develop the crisis response strategy that works for you as well. Schedule a consultation so we can talk about your needs.

Photo credit: Rawpixel

M&A best practices

M&A Best Practices (Part 2): Ensure a Successful Integration After an Acquisition

This is part two of our series on M&A Best Practices. If you haven’t yet read part one, you will want to read it first: M&A Best Practices for before and during an acquisition. And, don’t forget to check out our handy M&A checklist at the end of this article!

In our previous article, we discussed M&A best practices for before and during an acquisition. The entire process can be very dynamic and exciting. For this reason, it’s important to prepare and plan well when things are relatively calm, before you find yourself in the thick of things.

Okay, so you’ve acquired an organization and the communications around the acquisition have gone according to plan. Awesome! Now what? If you’re hoping integration will simply run itself, it’s time to recalibrate your expectations. Just as planning is important before and during an acquisition, establishing timelines and procedures and opening lines for effective communications ensures that integration runs smoothly.

Now, let’s talk about M&A best practices for the weeks and months after an acquisition.

The Work Really Begins: Integrating Legacy Organizations

Effective communications surrounding an acquisition assures your workforce that business will proceed as usual and your clients that delivery is not impacted by this change. Managers are an essential link in the communications chain, both internally and externally.

When announcing an acquisition, the information will spread quickly. And, as we know, false information spreads more quickly than the truth. So you will want to have a strategy to manage your message. Carefully choreograph your communications so that internal audiences hear from you first. Ensure that your communications cascade is timely, coordinated, and that your supporting materials and spokespersons are on point.

Here’s a sample timeline:

  • Day -1, 8pm: A transaction is agreed to and the paperwork is executed.
  • Day 0, 7:30am: The CEO of the acquiring company emails her managers to make them aware of the transaction. The message includes a cover note with action items, timelines, and proofs of concept (POCs). Attachments include a courtesy copy of the all-employee announcement, manager talking points, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and a description of the acquired company.
  • Day 0, 7:30am: Similarly (and ideally simultaneously), the CEO of the acquired company emails his managers to make them aware of the transaction. Like the communication described above, the message includes a cover note with action items, timelines, and POCs. Attachments include a courtesy copy of the all-employee announcement, manager talking points, FAQs, and a description of the acquiring company.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: The transaction press release clears the wire service and then designated communications team members reach out individually to key members of the press.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: The acquiring company distributes a message to the employees of both organizations, announcing the transaction, welcoming the acquired organization to the team, and providing a vision for the future.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: Likewise, the acquired company distributes a message to employees of both organizations, explaining why this decision was made, thanking legacy employees for their service and dedication, and reinforcing the strategy for the combination.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: IT posts all employee communications related to the acquisition on a dedicated intranet page.
  • Day 0, 8:30am: The leadership team holds an all-employee call, reiterating the talking points and allowing for questions.
  • Day 0: 9:30am: Managers hold a huddle with their teams, using provided talking points, then report to corporate communications via email that the meeting took place. This email should also include any questions from employees, which can be rolled into an FAQ document as needed. Track the status of these meetings to identify teams that may require additional communications support.
  • Day 0+: Designated company personnel notify key clients that the acquisition has taken place highlighting the potential benefits to the customer and addressing customer concerns. This can include the heads of associations on whose boards company leadership serve.
  • Day 0+: Leadership calls and all-employee communications provide regular updates on the integration.

Throughout this process, the project team (see Part 1) meets to ensure deadlines are continuing to be met, issues are raised, and questions are answered. The project manager and assistant/deputy remain engaged with the collective plan, as well as with each department lead. As the combined organization achieves milestones, large or small, celebrate those!

Culture is a critical influencer in any acquisition. If employees within the acquired organization feel that things are changing radically early on, they may not buy into the change, and they may seek opportunities elsewhere. Rely on project leads to provide “temperature checks” and suggest ways to unify the group, if needed.

 Take time to take stock. There are always lessons to be learned following a significant transaction. As the dust settles, be sure to complete an after-action review to garner feedback on what went well, what could have gone better, and what should be taken into account in the future. This is also a good time to review templates and procedures that worked well and will be helpful to future activities. 

There you have it, your complete Audacia Strategies blueprint for M&A best practices before, during, and after. When you combine these tips for integrating a newly acquired organization with the tips for preparing and announcing the acquisition in the early stages, you have a recipe for M&A success. 

Here’s a handy checklist we use when working with our clients throughout the process. Are you ready to see us in action? Schedule your consultation and let’s get you on the books. We’re ready to help your organization transform and grow!

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

M&A best practices

M&A Best Practices (Part 1): Are You Prepared for Your Next Acquisition? Our Checklist for Success

This is part one of our series on M&A Best Practices. Tune in for the exciting conclusion: M&A Best Practices for after an acquisition.

Merger and acquisition (M&A) activities present exciting opportunities to grow companies, bolster brands, and capitalize on synergies between acquiring and acquired organizations. However, the process is complicated and there are important steps to take to protect this significant investment.

The stakes are high. One article by Harvard Business Review reports that more than 70 percent of all M&A activities fail. While preparation and planning makes a difference at any stage, following M&A best practices are especially helpful in easing the strain of the due diligence and announcement processes. 

In the following article, we recommend M&A best practices to apply before and during an M&A activity to ensure positive outcomes for all parties.

Calm before the Storm: Preparing for an Acquisition

Proper planning and forethought in the months and weeks prior to your company acquiring another organization will save you time during the announcement and integration periods and avoid role confusion. It will also assist your workforce in managing change. 

best practicesIn the weeks prior to an acquisition:

  • Come up with a project name. Once you select a company you plan to acquire, e-mail exchanges will increase dramatically and a significant number of meetings will appear on calendars. To ensure confidentiality surrounding the acquisition, select a project name and use it in all communications and scheduling requests. This small step will help a lot when it comes to organization.
  •  Form a project team. Prior to the acquisition, select:

 > A project manager who will have the internal relationships and executive respect to enforce plans and deadlines, press leadership for decisions, etc.

 > A project lead from each department. This is a great opportunity to elevate high-potential employees. Tap the talent within your organization to work on a project that will have a huge impact.

> An assistant or deputy whose sole responsibility is to manage the overall project plan and support the team through upcoming deadlines/outstanding actions. Do not leave this role vacant. While it may seem that everyone can keep track of their own deadlines, that is a recipe for disaster. For the sake of accountability, it’s best to have someone else managing the timeline. 

  • Establish project spaces (both virtual and physical). Establish a site within a secure shared space online (aka a virtual data room) where teams can house acquisition-related resources and easily communicate. Every department/lead should have a defined space to house documents and review, edit, comment. Additionally, if you have a cohort of team members in one place, consider the physical location(s) where meetings will take place. Is it possible to reserve a private war room for the team’s exclusive use?
  • Develop and share project plans. Create a project plan template with a tab for each department/project lead. This could look similar in format to a Transformation Management Office (TMO) plan. This is helpful for keeping track of all of the moving pieces and identifying interdependencies.
  • Inventory your non-monetary assets. As you consider the potential value of a merger or acquisition. Don’t forget about some of your less obvious assets. What BD, HR, IT, finance, legal, recruiting, training, and other systems do you own or lease? What subscriptions do you hold? What memberships are committed and paid? What marketing equipment do you own? During the very busy integration process, you’ll want to understand where there are potential synergies and potential conflicts. Ask the same of the acquired organization in order to realize savings and achieve synergies. Save time on your end by coming up with this list now.

In the Thick of Things: Conducting Due Diligence and Pre-Announcement Activities

Once you have a target acquisition, have your banking/equity partners in place, and read-in your project team, you can prepare in earnest for the announcement.

  • This begins with due diligence, during which time you will have an opportunity to review the target firm’s operations including financial and sales pipeline information and ask questions of the acquired organization’s leadership. Time is precious and planning should run concurrent to the due diligence process.
  • Once the project team is in place, determine the frequency with which the team will meet. Likely, this will be daily during the pre-announcement period, then weekly during the integration.
  • The planning document is a living one and will change often in this phase. During team meetings, assess where tasks stand in relation to deadlines, what hot spots might flare, and what decisions are needed.
  • Governance becomes a frequent topic during this period. What role will the leadership of the acquired company play following the transaction? How will their titles, physical location, and direct reporting relationships change? It’s important to think this through instead of making assumptions. If employees don’t see a clear hierarchy and know to whom they are expected to report, chaos will be the likely outcome.
  • Additionally, consider naming conventions for the combined organization, as well as its business units or lines. Does the company name change? Does the acquired organization become a business unit, a subsidiary, or a portion of an existing business line? The answers to these questions will impact everything from the website(s) and corporate signage to stationary and e-mail signatures. Consider how you can engage employees and even customers in the re-branding process. For the best results, engage a professional as well!

One note of caution: Often, the creation, review, and approval of announcements, manager talking points, FAQs, press releases, and online content will reveal decisions that haven’t yet been finalized or information that has not yet been disseminated to the entire project team. Be conscientious about version control as you may need to do a significant amount of coordination within your team and with your external advisors (legal, banking, etc.) during this phase.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work 

Most importantly, be patient during this process. Acquisitions can be highly emotional transactions for owners and employees. It’s necessary for the acquiring organization to be sensitive during this delicate dance, since 1) everyone wants to close the deal and 2) any rips in the culture or workforce could become red flags for your clients. This is especially true for professional services firms, in which the value of the sale lies in the company’s employees and their customer relationships. 

At Audacia Strategies, we help organizations prepare for and communicate during mergers and acquisitions. We never shy away from a challenge, in fact we thrive and hit our stride working with teams to communicate during times of transformation. If you need an M&A best practices communications strategy, let’s chat!

In our next blog article, we discuss M&A best practices in relation to running a smooth integration after an acquisition and we’ll summarize everything with a checklist you can put to use. Stay tuned!

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay