In new business, you make your own luck. From working smart by developing key strategic targeting plans to working hard and tenaciously sourcing new leads; it’s luck derived from a strong plan and an even stronger set of actions.
One way to ensure you’re working smart (and hard) with your new business plan is incorporating moments of change into your strategy. This can be anything from upcoming brand anniversaries through to senior personnel changes, or the biggest change of all – a merger or acquisition (M&As).
Moments of change often signify – you guessed it – change. It’s a time when companies are looking outward to bring about and enact something new. It is therefore the perfect time to take action and be at the forefront of some interesting conversations and plans.
That said, a lot is happening during the M&A process – jobs are changing, internal politics are at play and, in some cases, the competition and markets authority (CMA) still needs to approve the deal. But with all that said and done, it offers a wealth of opportunities for agency business development.
So why M&A’s?
With big changes, comes big responsibility. We joke, but we also don’t. When a company is undergoing an M&A, it often means a new company is on the horizon, and in some cases, the need to create a new brand. This means that there will be a future need for things like brand strategy, brand identity, internal and external communications, design, sponsorship, employee communications and digital.
M&A’s, unlike other moments of change, offer opportunities across the board.
They also provide great opportunities to use the ‘show me you know me’ approach as part of your outreach. While congratulating a marketeer on their latest campaign or product launch is valid, demonstrating that you understand what their business is currently going through and their wider business needs can be a big win, especially if you can show you understand the potential challenges this change poses. It’s especially true when marketing is primarily focused on growth.
Let’s get down to business: things to consider before targeting M&A’s
First up, take what you read in the news about a potential M&A with a pinch of salt. If the press say it’s confirmed, check to see if the article mentions anything about the CMA approving the deal or whether they’re in discussions. It is unlikely an M&A can happen without their approval. You can nevertheless start conversations with the organisations while they’re in this phase. Just be aware that there is a risk that this M&A will not come to fruition.
Think back to the npower and SSE talks in 2018, which were subsequently called off due to ‘challenging conditions’ among increasing competition and government price caps. Make sure you weigh up beforehand whether the brands at play are valuable enough for the effort. (That said, if the M&A doesn’t proceed, your newly-formed senior relationships may still be valuable.)
Next, ensure you get an understanding of why a company is looking to undergo a merger or acquisition. It’s no simple task for an organisation, so often they’re doing it to expand the company’s reach (in new markets and among new audiences) or to gain market share and impact shareholder value.
Lastly, consider your language. Make sure it’s softer. When it comes to brands in the M&A process, you want to be polite and careful. While there is plenty of opportunity for interesting discussions, a lot is still unclear for people within the companies, so don’t come bounding in with expectations and talk like the deal is set in stone. Create a tone and use language that reflects a helping hand or guiding figure.
With all that said and done, there are some serious perks to targeting brands who are undergoing an M&A.
M&A’s will command senior stakeholders and management attention; they’ll be considering the future of the company from a strategic brand point of view through to communications both internally and externally. If you’re looking to engage with and create relationships with those in senior roles, using the M&A to shape your approach and how you could share insights around their challenges will catch their attention – and be something they’re more likely to create time for amid the change.
It’s also worth considering the effect an M&A might have on a sector and what this means for their competitors and the market in general. M&A’s often occur to increase a company’s dominance in a market, so competitors are likely keeping a close eye on this and put a game plan together that enables them to remain prevalent in moments of change to ensure they come out as market leaders. It is therefore an interesting time to start conversations with the other players in the category – even if the M&A doesn’t directly involve them.
Other benefits include the ability to carve out and shape a potential brief. If you get in early, as a guiding hand, then you’ll have more scope to swoop in when the time comes, as you can offer to define the brief with your previously-built relationships.
But when’s the right time?
We wish we had the perfect, neatly tied-up answer for this – that you should contact brands at the seventh hour, on the seventh day of the seventh week but unfortunately, it isn’t that simple (like everything with M&A’s).
There is no perfect time. Waiting until things are 100% confirmed and moving forward will mean that you are likely to miss out as things might move faster at that point. Likewise, hitting too early and acting like things are confirmed won’t win you any favours either.
Depending on where companies are in process, people will be moving around – either between departments or leaving the business altogether. So think and tread carefully; expect to meet a lot of new faces along this journey.
The final downside you should consider around M&A’s is how to incorporate them into your new business strategy. They’re part of the long strategy game. With all the chop and change of business, there’s also periods of settlement. While conversations can begin early and be ongoing, it might take longer than normal for projects to come to life. If you’re looking for quick wins, M&A’s might not be for you
Before you crack on, here’s a few final, important pointers for how to apply M&A to your new business activity:
Understand what the company’s future pain points could be and subtly show how you can help combat or erase them – from uniting two brands and two workforces, to the need for a new purpose or identity.
Refer to experience you have in this area.
If you don’t have highly relevant case studies, be sure to demonstrate understanding of industry trends. M&A’s often come about because companies are wanting to enter new markets, build a bigger presence or have a greater market share. What’s happening in their sector, and how they can overcome new disruptions will be key areas of interest.
Too many agencies avoid M&As when it comes to their new business plan, largely because there are so many variables at play. Bear this in mind.
Truthfully, there’s some interesting conversations to be had, doors to knock on and knowledge to share during this time of need. A lot remains the same in the general new business outreach game, but as long as you go in softer and focus on being more of a guiding figure (with expectations of campaigns put on a slow back burner), then you’re on to a real winner, we promise.
Alison Ralph, senior account manager at The Future Factory.
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