24/02/11

Simon Lawrence, CEO at Information Arts

Managing the process of a business merger or acquisition can be one of the most stressful and exhausting periods of an entrepreneurs career. Businesses usually acquire other businesses to enhance their overall go-to market proposition — “the sum of the parts should be greater than the whole.” But bringing together two businesses and integrating them seamlessly whilst facing challenges of potential culture clashes and client issues is by no means an easy task.

Information Arts came to the end of an option to acquire agreement with Harte-Hanks, a leading global direct marketing company in September last year. Being acquired by Harte-Hanks was absolutely the right decision for our business. As an impressive multinational company with a prolific client list that spans a diverse range of industries and locations, the acquisition would support our growth internationally, whilst allowing us to invest in providing the best quality independent marketing data and insight.

That said, it wasn’t an easy decision. When considering this route, I needed to consider the synergies between the two business propositions well before completion of the agreement. The reason the relationship between Harte-Hanks and Information Arts is so strong is because the process was handled effectively, maintaining client relationships, staff understanding/morale and work with other businesses within the group. And in addition to effective internal communication, as if you are being acquired by a listed company, the analyst community, as well as your competitors, customers and employees, will be looking to see what value there really is in the acquisition as well.

It is vital that the new joint vision is first agreed at board level, then communicated consistently and regularly throughout the business. This won’t happen overnight, but it is absolutely critical to keep everyone pointing in the right direction.

In terms of managing the acquisition process, there are three crucial areas to focus on: Internal and external communication, practical integration of functions, and cultural change. Most importantly, you need to protect the very product you are selling. People are the lifeblood of most companies, so a major challenge for an acquisition is ensuring staff and teams continue to function well. Good communication is absolutely vital to making the process efficient and minimising conflict and uncertainty.

When managing the acquisition journey, try and plan regular updates for your staff both in the form of emails and meetings. Senior staff must be briefed as early as possible, empowering them to play a key role in staff engagement through this process. Invariably acquisitions will result in some level of change in the business, so ensure you have time and budget put aside for training sessions and workshops which will bring employees up to speed on new processes and ways of working.

It is also important to reassure clients as soon as possible. Let them know that the service will not be affected and encourage them to speak to you about any concerns they have. Be open and use the opportunity to highlight benefits to them. For example, you may be able to offer a better international service post-acquisition, so emphasize this early on.

Any kind of M&A activity will involve some level of integration, even when companies continue to operate relatively separately. As much as possible, prepare key teams such as accounts and IT for these changes so they are ready to go before the paperwork has been signed. But be aware that whilst logistical changes should be happen rapidly, managing the culture shift will inevitably take longer and can’t always be rushed.

One of the best tips I can give on integration is to stay true to your own culture. As much as you should embrace your new position as a business within a larger group, your culture is what your clients relate to and what your business it built on — so try to look at it as an evolution rather than a revolution.

Adapting the business to work within a larger group of businesses means you need to understand the position you now hold with the group, what your specialism is, and how you can promote this. The first three to four months after the deal has gone through are hard work and a crucial time, but with careful planning and clear communications a smooth transition should be possible and those involved should reap the rewards.”

About Simon

In 2000 Simon established Information Arts which has grown to become the UK's leading business-to-business marketing consultancy. Simon is widely regarded as the leading expert in business to business marketing which is evident when he was included in the Top 20 most influential figures in B2B Marketing magazine. In September, Information Arts was acquired by international marketing group Harte Hanks.