Originally appeared in Washington Technology on March 19, 2020
The Washington Technology Power Breakfast: M&A Outlook event in February brought nine GovCon executives, bankers and investment firm leaders together to explore and share their insights on M&A strategies in the GovCon market.Coincidentally, their advice can also be used today to help industry craft their COVID-19 communications strategy.
Recently, we’ve all been talking about testing, closings and social distancing. However, we’re also talking about communications. It turns out, many best practices for M&A communications work well for COVID-19 comms too.
For GovCon leaders who are facing an M&A transaction – or managing through the evolving COVID-19 situation – here are six effective communication strategies for keeping stakeholders informed and engaged.
1. Start by Thinking About Your Stakeholders – And What They Expect from You
Communications of any kind are only effective if they resonate with their intended audiences. When it comes to corporate change or crisis communications, your audiences are those exact stakeholders you encounter in business every day.
When putting together your communication plan, consider your stakeholders. What does each group need from you? What do they expect from your organization? Prepare to answer these three questions each person is asking:
- What’s happening now?
- What’s next?
- What does this mean for me?
Avoid ambiguity. Don’t let people speculate if you don’t have clarity. Share the information you have and promise to provide updates when you know more. (Then, do just that).
2. Be True to Your Brand, Your Reputation
Whatever happens next, be true to who you are. Take the time to craft an authentic “Key Message Platform” that captures essential facts and decisions – and communicates them in a way that reflects your brand and reputation. Whether you’re known as an employer of choice, a customer-focused partner, and/or an innovator, be sure your actions and communications connect the dots for your stakeholders.
An M&A transaction – and this COVID-19 situation – are point-in-time situations. Your company, your brand, is here to stay. Stakeholders will be reassured by consistency across your past, present and future sentiments and actions.
3. Tap Multiple Communication Channels
Whether you’re announcing an M&A milestone or a telework policy update, there are many ways to provide information, share updates and engage in conversations. Even if the novel coronavirus prevents you from doing an in-person All-Hands meeting, online meetings, emails, intranet and website updates, and phone calls are all effective ways to stay connected.
4. Select and Prepare Multiple Spokespersons
It’s generally not possible for a CEO to be the sole spokesperson. Employees, customers, investors, partners, the media, analysts and the public may be interested in what you have to say. Identify multiple executives and other leaders to take on spokesperson roles, so all stakeholders get the information they need.
Provide media training to anyone addressing an external audience, to ensure that their comments:
- Clearly articulate the key points for each audience.
- Represent your company brand.
- Reinforce the trusting relationship you have with each stakeholder audience.
5. Communicate early and often
When it comes to M&A communications, the announcement of the transaction can feel like crossing the finish line for executives making the deal. But, it’s actually just the beginning. What follows is a series of presentations, communications and conversations that will last for weeks before the close is complete. So then, communications continue as the company creates and settles into a new normal. The same, it turns out, is true for this COVID-19 pandemic.
Whatever change is happening in your company, it’s important for executives and managers to be visible and available. Now is the time to stay in touch with stakeholders. Provide regular email and meeting updates to employees. Call customers with updates or to check in. Highlight the best ways for others to reach out to you or to ask their questions as the situation unfolds.
6. Highlight Core Business Milestones, Too
Remember the value of “business as usual” communications, too. Your stakeholders all know that you’re running a business. But the real and perceived distractions of an M&A (or the coronavirus) can divert attention away from the very reasons your company and its stakeholders are together in the first place.
Now is the time to highlight your business accomplishments, too. New contract win? Distribute a press release, brief the press via phone, inform stakeholders. Hit a project milestone? Celebrate the result with your employees and customer. New product or service launch? Brief your industry analyst team on your new capabilities. All of these can be done electronically these days, so take advantage.
Every company navigates change, whether it’s change of its own initiative (such as an M&A), or reaction to something beyond its control (such as the novel coronavirus). An effective corporate change communications strategy and plan can help gain essential stakeholder support and help ensure a positive outcome for long-term success.