M&A activity is expected to increase this year. That means you may soon find yourself leading communications on a transaction — a merger or acquisition that is critical to the long-term success of your organization.

This is an incredible opportunity for you. Bring your “A” game. There is no margin for error.

M&A communications is all about first impressions. This is when credibility and brand loyalty are built. The messages you convey, and how you communicate during the transaction process, will be remembered for a long time — by employees, customers, partners, suppliers, the news media, industry analysts, financial analysts, and pretty much everyone who has a hand in the success of your business.

When you nail it, you articulate the value of the transaction, anticipate and address stakeholders concerns, and deploy and sustain communications with precision. You put the transaction on stable ground and give it momentum for success. You build powerful trust with your stakeholders and mobilize valuable support for your business and its direction.

The keys to success in M&A communications are founded in the fundamentals. Good communications practice applies regardless of deal dynamics. Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Form a communications team. Surround yourself with professionals who have a deep understanding of your stakeholders. If there are multiple entities in the deal, get the right people involved from each organization. Consider this your “discovery” phase. Listen to your team and leverage their experience to define stakeholder audiences, identify issues and top-of-mind concerns, develop relevant messages, and outline the tactical elements that will engage each audience.
  • Develop a plan. I can’t say this enough: begin with strategic communications planning. Focus on creating a plan that will put your stakeholders at ease and give them peace of mind so they continue doing what stakeholders do — buying, selling, producing, investing and positively influencing the success of your organization. Your communications plan should be created during due diligence, the period before the contract is signed and the deal finalized. I typically map out the plan in two phases, announcement of the transaction and post close — the 100-day transition period that follows the initial announcement. It should include all transaction-related communication activities. Think “integrated communications.”
  • Choreograph the announcement. Day One should be planned out hour-by-hour, and I usually detail the first week of communications, as well. The transaction should be announced to each stakeholder audience at an established time. It must be tightly choreographed and executed with precision. Day One events are symbolic. They set a tone, and they are remembered. Ideally, I start with the management team, then employees, followed by key customers, targeted media and industry analysts. Of course, if you’re working in a publicly traded environment, you need to structure the announcement to meet disclosure requirements.
  • Involve executives and the management team. And put them out there with face-to-face communications. Your leadership team should be a part of the communications plan. When announcement day arrives, and throughout the transition process, use your organizational leaders to “tell the story” internally and externally. They should be in front of employees on announcement day — and beyond. Additionally, your leaders should be deployed into the field immediately after the announcement to meet with key customers. And it should not stop there. Involve managers and supervisors, as well. They are on the front line, and employees will always rely on their immediate leaders for the “real story.” Be sure to arm managers with the information they need to confidently explain what is happening and why.
  • Keep it real. Be as honest as you can, don’t make things up, and don’t over promise. Remember, credibility is on the line. It’s much better to say you don’t know, rather than provide an answer that is later perceived as misleading.
  • Focus on customers. Establishing a dialogue with customers during the transaction is key. In fact, a merger or acquisition is actually an opportunity to deepen your relationship with the customer. Know this: your top customers will be hounded by your competitors right after the transaction is announced, so it’s important to move fast and aggressively. Immediately engage your customers and tell a compelling value story related to the transaction, and articulate the new competitive advantage of the deal. You should reassure customers of a seamless transition with no disruption in service and address any concerns they have.
  • Sustain communications. Make sure it doesn’t stop after the announcement. Communications related to the integration of cultures, and the changes of leadership, systems, structures and processes must be delivered progressively as decisions unfold. Remain agile. Listen to your stakeholder audiences and respond to issues with clear, thought-through communications.

Do not go it alone. I’ve outlined some initial things to think about, but there’s so much more to consider. Experience is a big advantage in this communications discipline. If you’ve never done this before, get some help.