General economic conditions are improving, there are growing signs that the reins on credit availability are loosening, investor and buyer sentiment is trending in a positive direction, and companies are starting to feel the pressure to accelerate growth.

Ladies and gentlemen, the urge to merge is returning.

I worked for a global private equity firm for eight years and led marketing and communications on 45 transactions during that time. I fully understand the adage, “It’s easier to buy, rather than build.” Mergers and acquisitions can be game changers. Companies with healthy balance sheets acquire businesses that add operational bandwidth, expertise, blue-chip customers, and valuable competitive advantage. It can be a beautiful thing.

As companies plan for a transaction, the focus centers on financials, legal requirements, operational issues, and integration. But there’s one other business element that should not be overlooked: communications – in announcing the transaction, in managing the transition, and in building the business longer-term.

A merger or acquisition brings significant change. It can be an uncertain time, and when that uncertainty is not addressed proactively:

  • Productivity declines. Employees become anxious and distracted and spend hours at work speculating about their futures.
  • Employees depart. It begins with “the stars,” the organization’s best employees. They start looking for new opportunities. They can no longer see a clear direction and career path with the company.
  • Customers defect. They are no longer confident in the company’s ability to meet their needs, and competitors are knocking on their doors, anxious to capitalize on the organization’s perceived vulnerability.

Communication is the great stabilizer in a merger or acquisition.

It prevents erosion within the business. It eliminates uncertainty, improves productivity, provides clarity and understanding, and mobilizes support.

The goal is to proactively engage key stakeholders — the audiences that affect the success of your business internally and externally. Communicate with them early and often, providing information that addresses their concerns and is consistent and strategically aligned. Communications should articulate the reasons behind the deal, showcase the business value, reveal timing for key actions, and be candid about what is known and what is unknown.

M&A communications begins with a strategic communications plan and requires flawless execution. This is not the time to “wing it.” Develop a thought-though strategy that details stakeholders and messaging, carefully choreographs tactical execution of the announcement, and sets a roadmap for sustained communications about the transaction, from announcement through post-close transition.