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Merger mania

Merger mania

Peoplesoft acquires Vantive, Digital is folded into Compaq, Nortel swallows Bay Networks, Microsoft and CA continue to gobble up anything that looks remotely threatening or interesting. The list goes on.

And that's just a sprinkling of the familiar high-profile companies. What about the myriad marriages among the lesser-known companies, such as the recently announced merger of Megatec and Kanbay?

It's consolidation in one respect and diversification in another as companies broaden offerings to offer comprehensive solutions for the Internet Age.

All this amalgamation activity presents intrinsic challenges for PR professionals asked to communicate the mergers to the outside world.

If there is ever a time for the PR function to reveal how it provides a strategic contribution to a company's business, it's during the merger announcement and post-announcement phase. The first step is to communicate to senior management the criticality of bringing PR into the executive picture early in the process.

This translates into a willingness by PR to take charge and be assertive rather than reactive. Timing, leadership and message development (internally and externally) must together deliver the successful announcement atmosphere sought by both organisations.

All this must be balanced as two PR agencies or in-house PR professionals each work to represent either the interests of the buyer or the seller. In addition, these two PR groups are often located in different cities or even countries. Each carries specific sensitivities and political considerations. Dealing with the two merging companies makes the communication development exercise a fine balancing game.

If you are representing the company being bought, you need to arrive at a level of agreement with the "buying" company's PR people as to how to project the message locally.

Over the last few years, I have been involved with eight merger/acquisition announcements - from small to quite sizeable companies. I have always been able to reach an agreement (not always readily) with the PR folks for the other organisation - whether buying or selling. Objective, sound and market-driven arguments win out over emotional, authoritative ones. Win/win is what it is all about.

For the big merger players, if messages are not seen to be communicated properly, Wall Street or the ASX have the power to kill the deal or seriously impact on share value. Compaq's handling of its Digital acquisition is a recent example of a merger announcement handled without sensiti-vity, meaningfulness or flair for the market - still reflected in its share price today.

Indeed, the most important message should encapsulate how the merged entities will benefit customers and potential customers; not discussions about market share, technology or leverage. And, of course, the media will scrutinise the message, so the data must support what is proposed. The PR professional should also be anticipating curly questions that could undermine the message.

It is during the merger announcement phase that the strategy development, activity, approaches, creativity, enthusiasm and trust demonstrated will be recognised.

The result is converting a possible threat (with the merger completed, only one PR professional/agency will ultimately be needed) to a fantastic opportunity where you are selected to undertake the ongoing communications needs of the newly combined organisation.

Dolores Diez is principal of IT marketing strategy and communications organisation Rivers of Communication. Reach her at rivers@hotkey.net.au


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