Acquisition communication and messaging

Jun 13, 2021

Developing a communication program with the right messaging principles is the proactive approach to ensure a successful transfer of brand equity.

Timing and messaging are essential for seamless mergers and acquisitions. You have to consider when and how to announce a change in ownership, when and what to tell your employees and clients, and when you should officially change your name.

Developing a communication program with the right messaging principles is the proactive approach to ensure a successful transfer of brand equity – a benefit to both the buying and selling firm.

Kyle Copelin founded EPOCH in 2012 and grew it to become a successful and thriving 11-person architectural design firm in South Bend, Indiana.

As the years passed, Kyle wanted his staff to have as many opportunities as possible to grow and develop. What would the future of EPOCH look like 10, 20, 30 years down the road? A stable continuum of growth would be critical for their longevity.

Then, Kyle met Jeff Lewis, vice president and office director of Shive-Hattery’s South Shore Corridor design office.

The two became quick friends and as their professional and personal relationship evolved, Kyle learned about Jeff’s experience when Design Organization joined Shive-Hattery in 2012. What Jeff shared gave Kyle pause to consider whether Shive-Hattery might also be the right fit for EPOCH.

“I was warned during a networking group meeting of the pitfalls of joining another firm,” said Kyle. “It can be a big mess if not handled correctly or done for the right reasons. I truly felt, without question, that wasn’t going to be the case. I had Jeff’s experience to lean on. He advocated for it all the way and I trust him.”

Let’s take a look at what worked for EPOCH when they joined Shive-Hattery.

Cultural fit. As part of his due diligence, Kyle looked deeper to determine if Shive-Hattery had the right cultural fit for EPOCH. “It’s about quality relationships,” explained Kyle. “This supersedes everything. Being successful means having quality relationships with one another, families, clients, and friends.”

Over the course of two years, Kyle had conversations with several people on the Shive-Hattery leadership team to gather different perspectives and a sense of who they were.

“As I investigated, our cultures were identical,” Kyle said. “I could talk to the leadership team about anything. I found they were honest people with a ton of humility who do great work. These conversations were eye-opening.”

The flat, decentralized culture resonated with EPOCH’s value that everyone including leadership was an equal player on the same team and working together toward a common goal.

Pre-game and talk to the people who matter. Transparency was built in from the forefront and Kyle identified two stakeholder groups to personally deliver messaging to: employees and clients.

As the point person, he created a trusted and safe space for everyone to ask questions and offer feedback which led to their support.

Opening the lines of communication created a free flow of information to help guide the decision-making process.

“I met with staff individually and as a group to learn what success looked like for them if we moved forward with the acquisition,” Kyle said. “I put myself in everyone else’s shoes. If it was not an advantage for everyone, I wasn’t going to do it.”

Kyle also reached out to trusted clients and their top priority was a seamless transition. He was able to share why he was considering the acquisition.

“Some of our clients were curious if the potential acquisition was driven for financial reasons and they appreciated the transparency,” shared Kyle. “They knew I was committed to maintaining the same level of service with the same people they’ve developed relationships with. The only change they’d experience is a name change and that the ultimate decision was mine.”

Making the name change a non-event. When the acquisition moved forward in November 2019, the firm name became “EPOCH, a Division of Shive-Hattery” to raise awareness of the relationship between the two firms and to position it for its future name change to Shive-Hattery.

The communication program included informing EPOCH’s clients of the new name before the change took place. With new clients, the firm is introduced as Shive-Hattery.

“We’re equally proud of both EPOCH and Shive-Hattery but did not want to choose between nurturing the relationship or providing education on the name change.”

For Kyle, employee-driven reasons determined the timeline for the acquisition. Client-driven reasons will determine the timeline of the name change. Kyle was thoughtful about the name change occurring too quickly or too late; both would be detrimental.

Because the value of your brand name is individual to you and your market, clients, and staff, consider the following as you plan how to make the name change a non-event.

  • What is the value proposition of keeping the previous brand name?
  • What is the risk mitigation of keeping it?
  • How will clients (and employees) respond?

You can identify tangible variables with these questions.

To ensure a smooth transition, Kyle has migrated digital traffic from EPOCH’s social media and website to Shive-Hattery’s platforms.

The next step will be to sunset “EPOCH, a Division of Shive-Hattery” and fully transition to “Shive-Hattery” by the end of 2021 including signage, marketing materials, and other supporting collateral materials. From acquisition to full rebrand, the process will conclude in roughly two years.

With Kyle and the design team remaining the same, clients have confidence knowing service will not be disrupted. The same people will be there but with more horsepower. The only impact is a name change. The result is a seamless, successful energy transfer of brand equity.

Because each merger or acquisition is unique, what works for one firm may not work for another. When developing your communication plan, adjust and customize your plan for the specific firms involved. Base your decisions on a continuum of what makes most sense for you, your employees, and your clients. The result is an individualized approach that successfully transfers and enhances the brand equity that all parties have invested in.

Jenny Phan is the corporate communications manager for Shive-Hattery Architecture-Engineering. She can be reached at Kyle Copelin is a principal at EPOCH a Division of Shive-Hattery. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.