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Feb 11, 2005
How To

Marketers: How to Survive a Company Merger or Acquisition

SUMMARY: Big news! Your company was just acquired by another, or you're merging as equals. How can you protect your staff, your programs, and your career? We asked Carl Tsukahara, an expert who's helped many high-tech marketing departments deal with the politics of mergers, for his advice on what you should do -- and what you should avoid at all costs.
Your company has been acquired by another -- and as a marketing executive, you're wondering:

o How do I continue to do my job during the closing period?

o What do I tell my staff and contractors?

o Is it business as usual, or should I make big changes?

o How can I make sure my own job is safe?

"Any marketing executive of the acquired company can shine in the eyes of the acquirer if they can show, during the closing period, that they're able to keep their customer's confidence and continue to drive forward," says Carl Tsukahara, principal of Marketing Arts, a marketing consulting firm that helps enterprise technology companies such as BEA, PeopleSoft, and Oracle manage mergers.

Going on with business as usual in the face of the merger distraction can be nigh impossible, but it's a necessity if you plan to be a key player in the new company, Tsukahara says. "What happens to revenue and the ability to make your numbers [during a merger]?" he asks. "Invariably, they miss."

Here are Tsukahara's top six tips to surviving a merger:

-> Tip #1. Let the acquiring company know what you're up to

Should you continue to do the work that's already in the pipeline, or should you ask the new company's permission? That depends on the size of the acquiring company and the role you want to play, Tsukahara says.

If it's a merger of like-size companies, there will be competition about who's going to do what as you move forward. Your best bet is to continue to do business as usual.

If it's a bigger company acquiring you, be proactive. "If you want a role in the new company, go to them and say, 'Here's what we're doing,'" he says.

While the onus is really on the acquiring company to tell you how much they want to hear from you about current projects, you'll shine more brightly in their eyes if you take the initiative.

-> Tip #2. Don't rewrite company literature

Don't take your proactivity as far as rewriting company literature. "Anything that will reflect the new corporate brand... put the stops on it," Tsukahara says. "It's a job termination strategy to go ahead and rewrite the literature."

Somebody on the integration team should be thinking about this and creating a positioning platform. But even if they're not, "it's tantamount for the smaller company's marketing executive to wait."

-> Tip #3. Internal PR: agencies, employees, yourself

In theory, every operational marketing executive in the industry is supposed to measure their own effectiveness, so you should, ideally, be able to prove what you've done and how well you've done it.

"Even if you think you're going to take the exit visa and leave the company, it's your responsibility to take initiative to help the merger," says Tsukahara. This means helping new management understand what you, your employees, and your partners have accomplished.

This means putting together reports and pitching them to the right people. But who is the right person to speak to?

"You can do it on your peer level or one level up," Tsukahara explains. "Sell up if you're coming from a position of strength. It can't hurt to do some merchandising to the CEO or the CMO. And you don't have to wait to be summoned: you have a right to talk with whoever you want to under the guise that you need to understand what's going to happen, the opportunity for yourself and your people."

(Note: Nine times out of 10, the vendor relationships will only survive on the acquiring company's side. Your vendors will probably get the boot.)

-> Tip #4. Be honest with your staff

"I've been in situations where my company merged with another of like size, and if you have similar lines of business, people will get combined and cut," Tsukahara acknowledges. "If there is uncertainty, tell them straight out, 'I think they're going to combine operations and some of you will be released.'"

Your longevity as a successful leader depends on your honesty, not just about their job security but about the merger itself. "If you believe that this was done for the right reasons, you owe it to the acquiring company and to your people to sell it. 'I would encourage you all to hang in there and see how the cards fall.'"

-> Tip #5. Help get positioning nailed down

When companies merge, or one acquires another, invariably they do a good job of going back to Wall Street and positioning what the new company will mean from a financial position, Tsukahara says.

What doesn't happen as well is the question: What are we going to tell our customers?

The investor conference calls are often "horrible," says Tsukahara. "When questions are asked, such as what's the new product vision for the combined company, they don't have the answers. It's a shame."

Offer to help get these questions answered before they're asked.

-> Tip #6. Give sales a phrase to tell customers

This is one of the most difficult areas in bringing two companies together, Tsukahara says. You need those sales people out in the field doing their jobs, "but I don't often see companies doing a good job going out to their sales organizations and saying, here's what's going to happen. These people are left in the dark and they don't have a message to take to their customers."

When customers call their sales reps and say, "Hey, I hear you're merging with ABC, what does that mean for me?" the rep should have an answer for the customer. 75% of the time, the answer is, "'s going to be fine."

Put a phrase into the hands of the sales person on where they stand and what they should tell customers, and it will make a world of difference, says Tsukahara.

The bottom line during a merger is to make yourself visible, Tsukahara says. "The worst thing to do is go hide in your office behind a piece of paper. Get out there, make it understood how you're valuable to the organization. Don't sit on your hands and try to disappear."

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