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Developing Your AEC Brand Through M&A

The motivation to develop and market a brand and implement a marketing strategy is, at its most basic level, the same motivation that propels buyers and sellers to agree to join forces in an M&A transaction: the desire to create long-term value.

What drives value and what can threaten it? When it comes to M&A, most AEC firms tend to focus on legal risks, financial models, tax implications, and employment contracts.

Firm leadership often wants to design and engineer (excuse the AEC pun!) the parts of a transaction that are quantifiable before they get to the closing table, but lose momentum after the points are negotiated and the agreements are signed to lend the same focus to the “softer” sides of the deal.

But a merger or acquisition is actually one of the best opportunities a firm has to rethink its brand and develop its marketing strategy — especially if it hasn’t been giving them the attention they need up to this point.

Much like a patient on a therapist’s couch, a buyer that talks through their own marketing strategy to a target firm might uncover unique insights or diagnoses about their strategy that hadn’t been previously articulated.

Sellers have to discuss their historic marketing investment and will have an idea of their brand value when they come to the negotiation table. Both sides have to weigh their brands in comparison to the other in determining post-closing branding.

SEE ALSO: The Most Important Factor for AEC Firms to Win New Clients

 

Smart firms leverage the opportunity to drive brand value in an M&A by creating a thorough integration strategy. Planning and executing a post-acquisition integration strategy is crucial to M&A success, and minimizes interruption in “business as usual.”

A well-developed integration strategy is one that has an action plan to marry the firms operationally, with individual plans and strategies for each department or function within the firm, from human resources to project management to marketing.

One specific tactic that we recommend is that firms hold a joint strategic planning retreat to align their core values, develop a joint mission and vision statement, develop an integration strategy, and decide how to communicate changes internally and externally.

Download the M&A Guide for Professional Services Firms

A strategic planning session allows leadership at both firms to leave the office and spend a few days meeting with their counterparts at the other firm in a relaxed, informal setting that promotes open dialogue and discussion. In addition to making decisions about integration strategies, the rapport developed will be perceived by lower-level employees at both firms upon their return in a sort of “trickle down” morale boost.

Examples of marketing and branding decisions that the firms will need to make include:

  • Which CRM tools to use
  • Creating a new logo or co-branding versus keeping separate identities
  • Social media advertising
  • Budgeting and cost allocation of marketing resources
  • A client retention strategy
  • Business development

Aligning marketing operations is important in the on-boarding process and will create efficiencies, even if there are costs associated with the process. The marketing strategy will also have timeframes for specific events, such as announcing the M&A internally, to clients, and to the public, phasing out a brand, or transitioning to a new CRM database.

The integration strategy needs to include consistent messages from both firms in clear terms with as few points of contact as possible. When there are ten people discussing the same aspect of the M&A with the public (or internally), there can be ten different messages communicated.  This is important not just for external marketing, but also for internal purposes.

It’s not just about crafting a press release – internal positioning of the firms relative to each other is extremely important to employees at both firms, almost all of whom will be naturally nervous about undergoing the process. Marketing and leadership should craft unified, consistent messages and communication methods, establish points of contact, and arm all points of contact with the same information.

Firm leadership would be wise to turn over the marketing and branding strategy to the experts – which may include their own marketing directors and external marketing and branding strategists – as leadership may want to talk more about “synergies” (i.e. cost cutting), and less about marketing best practices.

The window of opportunity to craft a joint dialogue about the M&A that energizes staff at both firms, gives clients confidence, and generates buzz about the transaction is extremely short. It is critical to capitalize on the opportunity by engaging and empowering the right stakeholders to make decisions in their respective areas of expertise.

Growth through M&A is exhilarating, challenging, and tumultuous at times. Firms that are able to maneuver through the process strategically are the ones that realize the most value through the transaction and create something that they can all be proud of. And if that doesn’t market itself, I don’t know what does.

 

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Increase the brand reputation of your firm with Hinge’s Branding Program, designed to help your firm stand out from the competition and build a brand that drives sustained growth.

Author: Jamie Claire Kiser

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