A merger or acquisition often involves a long courtship. The announcement of the transaction can feel anti-climactic after months, or even years, of cultivating the relationship. For public companies, though, a pitch-perfect announcement is critical to earning the approval of shareholders.
To be successful, news of the deal must engage not only the hearts and minds of investors, but employees, customers, governments and regulators as well. To achieve this outcome, the practice of investor relations cannot exist as a standalone function within an organization but must be tightly integrated with other communications functions.
The announcement of Tim Hortons’ acquisition by Burger King in 2014 was one such event that needed a thoughtful approach to gain support. The six-month negotiation ended with a $12.5-billion takeover bid for one of Canada’s most beloved brands. The acquisition premium (nearly 40%) was rich enough to be attractive to shareholders, but more blessings were needed.
During the merger talks, Tim Hortons management had, recognizing the significance of putting the institution in U.S. hands, demanded that Burger King make commitments to the Canadian operations. In its press release, Tim Hortons president and CEO Marc Caira was careful to recognize all of his company’s key stakeholders. “As an independent brand within the new company, this transaction will enable us to move more quickly and efficiently to bring Tim Hortons iconic Canadian brand to a new global customer base,” he said. “At the same time, our customers, employees, franchisees and fellow Canadians can all rest assured that Tim Hortons will still be Tim Hortons following this transaction, including our core values, employee and franchisee relationships, community support and fresh coffee.”
After much national hand-wringing, the merger got the green light—a success that depended heavily on investor relations working closely with the company’s marketing, public relations and operations teams to ensure a consistency of message to customers, franchise owners and employees, as well as investors.
The lessons here go beyond M&A, too; the power of an integrated communications strategy also contributes enormous value during normal course operations. Positive or negative news has the ability to cross multiple internal and external stakeholder groups through many media channels. It can influence brand value and market value. A company must speak with one voice because many audiences are listening. And its story must be carefully calibrated to consider all of these outlets.
The challenge is that internal and external communications roles are often separated within corporate structures. Employee relations will typically reside in a human resources department, public relations in marketing, and investor relations in finance. In a highly collaborative corporate culture, these functions may be encouraged to work effectively together. The risk in larger, hierarchical organizations is that these functions become silos focused on their own domains. In this environment, opportunities to strengthen the company’s narrative are lost, or worse, the narrative is weakened through contradictions.
CEOs and CFOs can set up their corporate communications programs for success by structurally integrating them, appointing executive oversight of both internal and external stakeholder communications. The centralized approach results in messages that can be subtly tweaked and customized to suit its audience, but that complement each other.
Such coordination doesn’t mean attempting to control all sharing of information; that would undermine transparency. But if a company is prepared to leverage the convergence of communications and ensure messages across all channels are consistent, the reward will be a brand identity that gains in credibility and value.
Chaya Cooperberg is chief communications officer and senior vice-president, corporate affairs, at AmTrust Financial Services. E-mail: Chaya.firstname.lastname@example.org.