2 Become 1: The Art of the Perfect Merger

Perfect Merger

By Emma Harris, CEO at Glow London 

High profile mergers aren’t a rare occurrence in the business world – just see Disney’s $4bn acquisition of Marvel in 2009 or Verizon’s $130bn takeover of Vodafone. Both deals sent massive shockwaves through their respective industries.

But negotiating a price is only part of the battle. Multiple obstacles and sensitivities need to be overcome. Success isn’t a foregone conclusion. And it won’t happen overnight.

WPP’s latest agency shake-up sees Essence and Mediacom become one. And whilst they have already settled on the name EssenceMediacom, the hardest part of the merger is yet to come.

Agencies can’t wave a magic wand and make everything go smoothly. Thousands of employees need to be factored into the equation. This isn’t about trying to put two halves into a whole – rather, the goal should be to create something new and original.

Developing a rewarding environment – and a positive culture that resonates with everyone – is the bare minimum. This is the catalyst for attracting and retaining the best talent on the market, something made all the more important due to the ‘jobpocalypse’ we are currently facing.

So what do agencies need to consider during a merger – and what does an effective merger strategy look like?

We Are Gathered Here Today…

Ultimately, no matter how much people are drinking from the company Kool-Aid, everyone will consider this change with the same perspective, “What’s in it for me?”.

As a result, employees’ response to a merger shares remarkable similarities to people that are going through the grieving process.

Denial comes first. They may have worked for one of the companies for a number of years – and may not be prepared for this drastic change. Anger might quickly follow when they acknowledge the scale of what is about to happen and the fear around what they might be about to lose.

Creating a bargaining chip is key to progressing beyond the anger stage. They will need to understand why their new world, in the new organisation, will be better. Often the focus of a merger is in the external communication but as success or failure will sit entirely with the people delivering it,  achieving internal buy-in should be prioritised above all else.

Often with such change there’s an urge to present news with a “jazz hands” approach. However, doing the basics in terms of education from the outset is key to ensure everyone starts on the same page; make sure they understand why this change is happening, how and when and the fundaments of what’s about to happen. Only then should you to move onto the inspiration stage when you can get people excited and motivated. And remembering (as with consumers!), some people need to hear a message 7 times before it sinks in- don’t be afraid to over communicate. Also, consider using highly inclusive language to ensure everyone realises they’re involved and responsible for achieving a successful outcome.

These are subtle methods to ensure that your communication lands. But getting the merger ball rolling is just the beginning. Cultivating a new and improved culture takes time, patience – and a good pair of ears.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Businesses typically embargo all news of the merger from everyone – employees included – to protect the moment of the big reveal.

This helps build quite a spectacle. Blindsiding those that are most affected, however, is far from an optimal strategy. A lack of communication will damage the process. You need to not only be sure to communicate internally ahead of externally but also ensure a two-way process; genuinely listening to the concerns of the people who matter.

Open forums provide employees with a platform to speak their mind. Be sure to harness the power of getting the leadership team out in front so they can see the whites of their eyes . Being honest about the changes they are facing and defining what success looks like early on is the catalyst for building an umbrella position that connects everyone across the board.

Customer experience (CX) is always top of the list of discussions – time and money is constantly invested into establishing and maintaining paths to purchase. But your staff are your biggest customers – and biggest advocates.

Therefore, it’s actually developing a powerful people experience that is essential. Make your employees feel that they are part of something, ensuring their rhythms and rituals ladder up to the overarching narrative. Even a simple thing like branded merch can be a straightforward – and highly effective – way to generate internal affinity.

Forge Your Own Path

It’s early days so EssenceMediacom has a long way to go before the merger can be deemed a success or not. Overcoming both organisations’ unique cultures represents the first hurdle. Essence were seen as the cool kids on the block whereas Mediacom were deemed the old veterans. Now that everyone is going to be staying under one roof, this gap needs to be bridged.

As most smart business leaders know, happy employees equals happy customers equals a happy business. Taking the team on the journey is the most important element of a successful merger. The reality is that customers don’t really care who you are or what your name is.

But the team needs to feel like their new organisation is a home away from home.