PR and HR: Communications and Culture “R” Us During an M&A

25 Apr PR and HR: Communications and Culture “R” Us During an M&A

Report from the April 17, 2013 Human Resources Management Association of Chicago (HRMAC) breakfast panel: “Leadership Challenges in Mergers, Acquisitions, Divestitures and Restructuring.”

Communication and culture are critical to merger and acquisition (M&A) success,  say panelists Tony Hunter, Chicago Tribune Company’s CEO, Peter McDonald, United’s COO  and Pamela Forbes Lieberman, True Value’s former CEO. Phil Ponce of Chicago Tonight moderated the event.

The panelists regaled the large audience with anecdotes of past M&A experiences, including what to wear (no ties!), “influencer training,” communications forums, and the impeccably calculated and executed detail involved with an M&A.  Nothing is left to chance.

27 and 24

Those are the approximate number of times the panel said the words “communication” and “culture,” respectively, during the  program–a breakfast panel before an audience of 300 attendees. As an actively tweeting attendee (Twitter: @LTPR), LT Public Relations followed the discussion closely noting the focus on culture, tackled by human resources (HR), and communications, the responsibility of public relations (PR). It became abundantly clear that HR and PR must work in lockstep before, during and after an M&A deal to ensure a successful transition.

Mergers, acquisitions and divestitures are complex events that can completely alter a company’s culture and organizational structure. Throughout a merger, the important cultural integration and communication responsibilities often fall directly on the shoulders of executives in the HR department, even though it’s rare for HR professionals to be experienced with merger/acquisition communication.

Take merging cultures into account

On the public relations side, LT PR has played an integral role in many corporate mergers. We’ve found communication is consistently overlooked during M&A activity, often void of the requisite communications strategies or culture-meshing necessary to be successful. A good starting point, then, is to take both merging cultures into account, using the strengths of both PR and HR to establish a strong culture built on communication post-merger.

Interestingly, PR support is usually brought in during an M&A through the marketing department for media relations or crisis management (which we do!).  However, our true point of entry and impact should be working first with the merging companies’ HR departments before the merger/acquisition is announced to ensure a smooth transition.

Internal communication first

There are numerous sensitivities and issues to address during the M&A process that the HR department is predominately aware of when merging cultures. PR’s role is to act as a bridge, communicating through these sensitivities and issues with both internal and external audiences. Once appropriately addressed and communicated internally to executives and staff, HR, PR and marketing should continue to work in concert to communicate details of the merger externally to customers, vendors, community, media and social media channels.

Internal HR departments and PR are not alone in strengthening this communication and culture integration process during an M&A. Support from HR trade associations such as HRMAC and a host of partners (e.g. HRMAC sponsors Lee Hecht HarrisonSpencer StuartTower WatsonArlington ResourcesBPI GroupChallenger, Grey & ChristmasCity StaffingFragomenKensington InternationalQuinlanSlayton) all play important complementary roles in the M&A equation too.

It takes a team of professionals to facilitate a successful merger or acquisition, and strong communications and culture integration are the keys to the success.

LT Public Relations can assist through strategic M&A communications services. Contact us to help…




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