Good communications, both internal and external, is vital to the smooth and effective working of any organisation, but perhaps never more so than in a time of merger and change.

This short guide provides an introduction to communications in the run-up to, during and immediately after the merger of two or more organisations.

A plan of action

Be clear on the timeline that communications should be structured around. Although things can always change, right up until the last minute, a detailed plan for when and how information will be shared will allow you to minimise speculation, misunderstanding and the inevitable fear of change.

Establish clear messages for all

Whether this is a meeting of two equal partners, or whether you’re the stronger or weaker partner in the arrangement, you’ll need as much buy-in and support from your staff and stakeholders as possible. Their support can only be built on a real understanding of the reasons for the decision to merge, and what it means for the future of their role and for the organisation as a whole. Develop a set of clear messages for use from day one – possibly quite top-line at first, but becoming more detailed as the process develops. Use plain English and short, clear sentences to communicate as honestly and openly as you are able to.

Work together

Regardless of who is the lead organisation in the merger process, it’s important that both work closely together in planning and delivering communications. Timings and messaging must be coordinated and care must be taken to ensure that any overlapping audiences receive information in the right way – don’t double up without knowing it and don’t let anyone slip through the gaps.

Engage in discussion

It’s important to share information and allow discussion to happen within and across the two organisations. The way you do this will depend on the number of staff, trustees and volunteers, and what systems you have in place. A simple intranet or enewsletter can work, though this is no substitute for face-to-face discussion. Listen carefully, address concerns in a timely manner, stick to the facts and close down speculation. Be engaged, while remaining considered in your responses.

Senior management must lead the effort throughout

Communications should be fronted by members of your senior management team, demonstrating confident leadership. The task of communicating and maintaining a strong vision for the future is not something that can be delegated. If the management team seems to be inaccessible, or appears to be aloof and ‘untouched’ by the changes, particularly where restructures and redundancies may affect others in the organisation, speculation and ill-feeling will spread like wildfire and undermine your best communications efforts.

In order to feel confident in giving senior managers this crucial role, you may want to consider arranging training for them in face-to-face communication, as well as media training, so they are able to handle tricky questions in all situations.

Looking beyond internal audiences

Your comms plan should of course include external audiences, but where mergers are concerned, one size does not fit all. Those closest to you – funders, partners, corporate supporters, celebrity ambassadors – should hear the news directly from you. Draw up lists and appoint the most appropriate person to make contact.

And think carefully about what you announce more broadly – on your website, and through social and traditional media channels. Once staff and stakeholders have been informed, a clear and simple statement can be issued. Have a Q&A prepared in case journalists contact you for more information. And a social media monitoring system set up, to handle questions and speculation from donors, service users and others.

Be consistent

Once you’ve started sharing information, you’ll need to remain consistent at all times throughout the merger process. You may need to tailor some messages so they are suitable for specific audience groups, but make sure that their essence is the same. Consistency will help you ensure your position is made clear and will build confidence, whereas any hint of confusion can easily suggest you might not be telling the whole story.

Don’t think you can put your feet up once the merger has gone through! After the signatures are on the dotted line, you still have a lot of work to do, in repeating and reinforcing the future vision for the organisation in its new form, ensuring any changes to the brand and messaging are fully bedded-in and observed by all staff, and in promoting positive stories to all your external audiences. Commissioners, service users and partners will want reassurance that it’s business as usual or that things have changed for the better as a result of the merger.

Merger communications

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