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Surviving the merger: Top 10 considerations for CMOs

Ryan Rieches

There’s one sure thing in the high-stakes world of 21st century mergers and acquisitions: there will be changes.

At the very top of the organization, executive roles are often agreed as part of the deal. For others, they are times of uncertainty. A CMO is especially vulnerable when executive roles are being scrutinized and evaluations are being made. Here’s a top 10 list of ways to survive the merger and add value based on our experience of working with some of the best.

  1. Align yourself with the new executive team. In consolidating markets, mergers and acquisitions are invariably about synergies and cost savings. Your counterpart in the other company might be competing for your job. In that case, you need to shore up your value and prove yourself indispensable to future leadership.
  2. Position yourself as an impartial member of the team. Focus on the big picture and the needs of the company and not your self-interests. Working across all departments, demonstrate the appropriate leadership and collaboration style in building the future of the new business.
  3. Lead the process of understanding how the combined business assets and brands can be leveraged to accelerate growth. Beyond the numbers, there are often many intangible benefits that can add value to the organization. Make the alignment of sales and marketing a valuable part of the integration process. Speak the language of business and not marketing jargon which signals isolation and self-importance.
  4. Embrace outside consultants and advisors. Not just the financial advisors who are focused on the deal but rather develop a short list of potential partners and trusted advisors to be fully prepared for the next phases of implementation. Depending on the situation, consider lining up resources in marketplace research, brand strategy, cultural alignment and investor/public relations.
  5. Collaborate with the right amount of initiative. As two companies come together, integration teams are formed with people from different cultures, disciplines and even different languages; being collaborative and yet authoritative and thoughtful vis-a-vis your peers and colleagues is an important asset. Develop a proactive plan that will inform, support and align key internal audiences; not just sales and marketing, but all departments and systems.
  6. Motivate and maintain performance. With the additional responsibilities, accept your time restraints and empower your next in command to run day-to-day marketing. Bring your team together and make your expectations clear. Now is not the time to deliver lackluster results. Motivate your team and consider how to reward and incentivize them as when the proposed M&A is announced, employees often react by searching other employment opportunities based on their own assessment of the future. Pay close attention to the high performers as they are in the greatest demand. A combination of monetary and personal motivations is essential to retain the right resources.
  7. Conduct brand research with customers and prospects. Across both companies and key competitors, assess existing perceptions and brand reputation to clarify current brand equity. Third party research is invaluable in presenting compelling insights and data informed recommendations to leadership. Often, emotionally charged decisions such as keeping, retiring or changing the corporate name is not finalized until the financial deal is done. Research can be very effective in evaluating and guiding the best path forward.
  8. Evaluate potential brand synergies that go beyond financial benefits. With your core advisors and a cross functional internal team, begin the process of developing the ‘New Co’ brand and value proposition. Assess the combined and potential new benefits that can be leveraged for the new brand positioning. Develop drafts for storytelling and introducing the rational for this business.
  9. Begin internal communications early. Be prepared for when the news hits the street by proactively preparing the appropriate communications to your internal organization. Often the story gets out before the deal is done; therefore it’s ideal to have statements prepared for swift communications. Work in concert with HR and the executive team to facilitate ongoing announcements from the top down – appropriate for your company’s unique culture. If the deal is complete, coordinate with the appropriate members of the acquired company for unified communications.
  10. Prepare an external announcement, launch plan and budget. Prioritize your audiences such as existing customers, trade and financial press, industry partners and key influencers. Prepare a synchronized plan to deliver an impactful announcement to each specific audience so they feel appropriately recognized. After the initial communications, implement a multi-phase approach to ensure clarity, sustainability and long term success.

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