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August 15, 2016

Content strategy after mergers and acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions often result in a new content strategy. In a typical scenario, the merged company needs to align disparate content organizations. Before the merger, the companies had different tools, technologies, workflows, deliverables, and content culture. A goal of the merger is to unify company products, and therefore, the merged organization must also unify content development.

The two (or more) combined content organizations see value in having a single content strategy instead of maintaining multiple tools, technologies, and publishing systems. But aligning content strategy is hard work: the organizations probably have different workflows, different corporate cultures, different locations, different localization strategies, and so on.

The ugliness starts when you have to decide whose publishing system is the best approach. Depending on the relationship between the organizations, this can go smoothly or turn into a shouting match. During one infamous project years ago, we discovered that group A so despised group B that A would block any initiatives from B simply because they came from B. B, of course, returned the favor.

Most groups are more professional than this. Nonetheless, a merger is a big change. A new content strategy is also a big change, and piling change upon change wears people out.

A few years back, we had a classroom training session that was much more difficult than usual. The participants and the trainer were experienced professionals, but the class just didn’t go as smoothly as expected. At the end of the first day, the trainer found out that most of the participants were new to the organization. There had been a recent merger, and our training was the third consecutive week of training and travel for the participants. No wonder they were a little cranky! Had we known about the merger-related training, we would have recommended deferring our training to a better time. At a minimum, we could have addressed their travel fatigue at the beginning of the class.

Consider these points when working on content strategy in a merger and acquisition scenario:

  • Understand that mergers are stressful for employees. Changing tools and workflows adds to the stress, especially because employees are often concerned about job security after a merger. They have hard-won expertise on how to publish in their current tool, and that expertise is of no value if you change tools.
  • Consider the timing of your initiatives in the overall merger scheme. Will employees need to change their benefits enrollment at the same time as your new CMS roll-out? Is there going to be a layoff in the midst of your content strategy work? Make sure you know the overall merger plan before you start scheduling your project.
  • It is not sufficient to evaluate the toolsets already in use against each other and choose from those options. The merged organization may need an entirely different class of tool than the individual organizations did.
  • Sometimes, it’s best to create only losers. Instead of having a winner and a loser, consider imposing the pain of change on all groups. This gives the content professionals a common enemy (the outside consultant!).
  • Because merged organizations do not have a common history, you need to be careful about assumptions. Communicate. And then communicate more. Listen more than you talk.
  • Pay attention to the official and unofficial reasons for the corporate merger, and be sure that your content strategy aligns with both. If, for example, two organizations merge to improve their global footprint, localization strategy should be a priority for you. If you have just been acquired by an organization that focuses on great user experience, look for ways to align with that priority in your content strategy efforts.

Struggling with content strategy in a merged organization? Talk to us. We offer coaching and consulting.