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April 16, 2020
When it comes to major news like mergers,
acquisitions, product launches, or big senior management moves, the main
objective for PR people is to generate coverage and maximize stakeholder and
Not long ago, a client planning a corporate
merger contacted me to ask if there is a “playbook” for announcing the news,
and I replied with a qualified, “Not really.”
Why did I answer this way?
I explained that each major news
event really does require a bespoke public relations (PR) plan. While best
practices and lessons learned from other programs and campaigns can apply, the specific
circumstances of individual news events are unique and deserving of distinct treatment
for maximum impact.
For each event, there are, of course,
broad and general recommendations – the “blocking and tackling” that should be
done to ensure success. Let’s break them down.
Great communications programs are
built on messaging, and every major news event deserves a messaging platform
and well-developed press release. Key audiences should understand the impact of
each event, and messages and quotes should articulate how the merger,
acquisition or executive move in question will deliver benefits to key
stakeholders, such as investors and partners. This information can include
company metrics and milestones to provide greater context and illustrate
Thoughtful messaging and a robust
press release and supporting content will enable the media to develop more
in-depth and compelling coverage. Supplementary materials can also include
internal/external FAQs and financial information when applicable and
appropriate that can justify the reason for action. This is particularly useful
in merger/acquisition situations, helping to avoid the perception that an
acquisition is a “fire sale.”
For each major announcement, employees
should be instructed about what to say if they are contacted by the media. Workers
should also receive guidelines about referring media to the PR team and be
offered a review of the company’s social media policies. Particularly when it
comes to mergers and acquisitions, FAQs covering customer communication are
helpful because clients should be fully informed about operational changes. Firms
should also provide ways to identify any clients who are concerned about the
news and could be potentially “at-risk.”
Ensuring that pre-written social
media posts, linked to the news announcement, are available, along with
materials such as customer FAQs and contact phone numbers, is a good way to make
sure that customers aren’t caught off guard and don’t get panicky and that the
company presents a unified public face.
Timing should also be kept in mind
for major news. Ideally, the PR team should have seven to 10 days’ advance
warning about mergers and acquisitions, launches or executive moves, in order
to provide the news to target journalists under embargo. Embargoed pitches
don’t necessarily mean a final FAQ or release is mandatory, because the basic
facts and news hooks around the story are all that is needed for a good media
relations effort. These facts can be confirmed to news outlets via a finalized
press release and supporting materials at the time of the public announcement.
In the end, communicating big news is
best done by creating a custom PR plan that integrates best practices, including
comprehensive customer and employee communication. Robust planning enables the PR
team – and the larger company – to treat these events as strategic,
game-changing happenings, not just as point-in-time news events. The goal
should be to curate impactful, fair and in-depth coverage from major news events
so that they can deliver maximum value.
Curtis Sparrer is a principal of Bospar PR. He has represented brands like PayPal, Tetris and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute. He is a member of the Forbes Communications Council and has written for Adweek, Forbes, the Dallas Morning News, and PRWeek. He is an active member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association. Business Insider has twice listed him as one of the Top Fifty in Tech PR.
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