Merger & acquisition series: Part 3/11 – Navigating close dates during a merger & acquisition rebrand
In Part 3 of our ongoing series, we take you through a key planning stage: navigating close dates and the considerations you should take in evaluation and planning of the Merger & Acquisition stages.
If you haven’t already, download our in-depth M&A playbook.
Landing on a close date for an Merger & Acquisition (M&A) is always tricky—and often leaves brand leaders in the dark, trying to decipher frustratingly ambiguous timelines (“It could be as early as X, or as late as Y”) while attempting to sync-up rebrand efforts with a constantly moving target. For many, the close date represents an ideal opportunity to launch a shiny new shared brand. Not only does this allow the brand launch to capitalize on the excitement a close date creates, it also helps facilitate a more (seemingly) seamless transition to a new brand, with fewer questions about “what this all means”.
Brand launch and Merger Close Date
While your first instinct may be to attach brand launch to merger close date, it’s not your only option. In fact, there are several scenarios where separating the two important events may actually make more sense for your M&A rebrand. After all, you only get one chance to get your brand launch right and giving yourself the time and mind space to do so is essential. In some instances, postponing the big reveal is exactly what’s needed for a successful launch.
The first thing you’ll need to determine is how important it is—to you, to your CEO, and to your organization—to tie the new brand launch to the close date. How quickly does the new organization need to operationally integrate? Do you have the flexibility to allow separate entities to continue operating independently until the brand is ready? Is there an option to create a “faux” holding company until a new direction is aligned on? Answering these questions can help you conclude whether the brand needs to be ready to go at close date, or whether you can give yourself more a bit more runway on the way there.
Learnings from a Healthcare Merger and Rebrand
A few years back, we helped two Arizona healthcare systems, Scottsdale Health Network and John C. Lincoln Healthcare, navigate a rebrand while undertaking a M&A. Early on, brand leaders on both sides knew that the new, shared brand identity must be strong and lasting. They wanted to put in the time to do it right, even if the process took them past closing. As a solution, the team set up a temporary holding company—dubbed Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network—that was announced on close date. This option allowed them to publicly champion their shared intent and start on an integration journey, while also buying them time to build a thoughtful, research-backed brand. The result was HonorHealth, announced about a year after closing with an ample system-wide celebration and much excitement from the community and employees alike.
While separating close date and launch creates much more flexibility in the process, many don’t have that luxury. That’s why immediate scenario planning will be key to success. Planning ahead will be essential to setting clear expectations and staying on schedule during this complex process, and the earlier you can start the better.
Top Merger and Rebrand Timing Considerations:
1. Explore what day one will look like after the rebrand:
Aligning on expectations for launch day is critical to understanding what actually needs to be ready by this date. Map out what launch day should look like and entail, from an internal and external perspective. Will you have a single, livestreamed announcement or facilitate a multi-site celebration? Will it be a big splash or under the radar? What different activities will take place? How do you want people to get involved? What are you asking employees to do following launch? How are you planning to engage your customers?
A key distinction we often run into is viewing launch as a symbolic announcement of what is to come (i.e. need a name and logo) or needing to be operational (i.e. need key materials converted and ready to go). Another important factor that often comes up is how much internal training and education is needed before launch day. There are a million ways to launch your new brand—make sure you plan a day that feels right for your business objectives, culture and vision.
2. Outline your must-haves:
Updated brand applications, touchpoints and collateral can be broken down into the following categories: must-haves, nice-to-haves, and “can waits”. Your must-haves are the core, foundational items that are essential to operations. That may include stationery, PowerPoint templates, sales decks, uniforms, a website, and more. Narrow your must-haves list down to what is absolutely necessary for day one success. Nice-to-haves, which may be anything from business cards to capabilities brochures, are those pieces that won’t be detrimental if they aren’t 100% complete by launch. Anything non-critical becomes a “can wait”, to be addressed once the hectic-ness of launch has subsided.
You also need to start thinking beyond converted materials for the rebranding, especially if the goal is to be operational on day one. This can require new call scripts, new messaging and training for sales and service teams, governance processes, etc. A good way to ensure you are covering your bases is to form a “transformation committee” made up of key business and functional leads who can complement your brand knowledge with operational expertise. If this becomes a brand/marketing initiative only, the new brand will fail.
3. Start working on production timelines:
Next, start gathering production timelines for any items that typically include a long lead time—think uniforms, security badges, websites, signage, UX/UI, and more. This can often take time, since this can involve supply chain partners and even manufacturing process changes (e.g. changing brand and product names on product molds). Longer production timelines can also cause you to go back to rethink your must-haves. Additionally, if you have products that have long lifecycles (e.g. advanced medical devices), you need to consider how you are going to manage those legacy brands, and how that impacts your materials. For the most effective and efficient transition of the merger, consider how you plan to deliver the new elements and align production timelines to distribution schedules.
Updating or replacing signage can be a particularly time-consuming and costly endeavor. You may want to consider temporary signage, which allows a faster turnaround and continues to increase in quality over time. Accept that this will be an inevitably long process, and people don’t expect you to have signs changed on day one. At this point, as long as you’ve made a plan and done your prep-work, you can start looking forward to the end of the journey.
4. Create a workback schedule:
Creating and adhering to a detailed workback schedule will help keep your rebrand process smooth and on track, and will also help you determine the earliest possible launch date. This master schedule should map all of the tasks that must take place before, during, and after launch date. Assign each task a due date and an owner who is equipped to make it happen. Make sure everyone involved knows what they are responsible for, and who to go to with questions. Tracking all of these tasks and timelines in one place will allow you to pinpoint the soonest possible timeline for launching the new brand, as well as allow you to map out different scenarios that show the tradeoffs for what you are able to accomplish if you move the date sooner/later.
5. Prioritize your people during the merger:
Last, but definitely not least, is a reminder to consider and prioritize your people throughout the planning process and rebrand efforts. Don’t forget to plan for engagement, education, and brand training opportunities when creating your timelines. You never want to surprise your employees, and you want them to be champions of the new brand. This can require the development of training materials and facilitating training sessions, which can all impact timelines. Your people, at every level and function, will ultimately be the face, heart and soul of your new brand and should be a top priority and consideration during every step in your M&A rebrand process.
With day one outlined, production timelines in place, and all tasks assigned, you’re ready to determine what makes the most sense for your launch date. Use your workback schedule to discern what can and can’t happen by different dates. Outline what can be ready if closing were to happen at the earliest possible date. Then, create at least 1-2 additional scenarios to demonstrate what more can be done, along with the benefits and tradeoffs that come with a later close date, or launching the brand post-close date. This allows you to plan for the worst-case scenario of having to launch the new brand at the earliest possible date, but also potentially aligns executives on an ideal launch date regardless of when the merger close occurs.
A Rebrand Built To Last
Ultimately, if you can’t meet the bare minimum of must-haves by the close date, it may be time to start brainstorming more flexible solutions. Be realistic with yourself and your team and set clear expectations with leadership early. Taking your time and waiting until your brand is ready to launch and built to last is preferable to rushing the process and making mistakes. As HonorHealth and countless others have proven, waiting can be a highly effective and worthwhile choice to ensuring maximum brand launch success. That said, if you are tied to a close date, make sure you have a brand partner deeply experienced with M&A so they know the shortcuts that can be taken without sacrificing quality of the brand identity. This is why scenario planning is so critical, because you can tailor a process to meet specific day 1 goals, and then backfill any gaps as you continue to rollout the brand over time.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series so far—but there’s still so much more to come. Stay tuned for the next installment of our M&A Rebrand Playbook, where we’ll talk teamwork, and outline how brand leaders can select, rally and motivate effective rebrand teams to help take you from A to Z. In the meantime, happy branding!
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