High-level communications counselors are called upon to support organizations of all sizes and types in weighing significant business decisions and strategies. We are asked to look ahead to identify opportunities and challenges. We are relied upon to listen and learn the needs of every audience and stakeholder. And we are engaged as partners to forge the best possible recommendations for communicating through all channels, strategically and effectively.
It’s a privilege to work with our clients in this way. But there is a special kind of exhilaration when we have the opportunity to turn those skills on ourselves.
So what do senior communications professionals learn when it’s time to take our own counsel regarding significant organizational change?
I recently had the opportunity to take my seat at the other side of the table, as it were, when CooperKatz – the agency I helped to build for nearly 22 years – was acquired by G&S Business Communications.
Intensive and Rewarding
It was an intensive process on all levels, which is the nature of transactions like this. Yet it was also immensely rewarding – and not just in the ultimate outcome of two wonderful teams coming together to bring more opportunities to both our people and our clients.
Particularly rewarding are the insights gleaned during the process that have profound relevance to our work as senior communications counselors, as leaders and as individuals.
Here are three of the insights that will surely resonate through our client work moving forward.
1. Don’t lose the human in the transaction
When organizations find themselves in the process of coming together through any form of M&A, the dominant nomenclature skews transactional. It can feel like it’s all about “the deal.” The dollars. The terms. The legal provisions. The points of negotiation. The positions and counter-positions.
The importance of these pieces is without question. And the stakes of these terms are high. Yet when the overall intensity of the financial and legal pieces heightens them to such a central level of focus, it’s easy to lose the human in the process.
Who are the individuals who wanted to come together in the first place? Why did everyone feel that there was a strong potential fit to pursue? What is the real nature of the opportunity between these two teams? And who are the people who are truly going to make this work – long after the paperwork is signed and wire transfers are executed?
Throughout our own process, we kept the people – all of our people – at the heart of the vision. While this did not reduce the number of pages of legal redlines to wade through, it did keep our minds focused, our purpose clear and the human dimension always present and accounted for.
2. The little things ARE the big things
No detail is too small to consider when it comes to the experience of significant organizational change – particularly in its planning and communications.
In the heat of intensive legal and financial discussions, the many small and individual threads can feel overwhelming. They can seem too much to account for in the grand scheme of the deal. There is a tendency to want to push the “details” off for later — particularly all those necessarily complicated pieces that make up the lived experience of actual people, day-to-day.
When it comes to the typical course of events in striking a deal or closing a financial transaction, the vital human details can get shunted off as “soft stuff.” Either implicitly or explicitly, the message can be sent that these questions are less important than numbers and contract terms.
The fact is that to bring together two organizations successfully, the little things ARE the big things.
When it comes to the myriad “What will we…?” or “How will we…?” or “When will we…?” questions to be parsed, there can be no “Oh, we’ll figure it out later.” Instead, open your arms and embrace it all as it comes. And then keep working out real answers in live time.
3. It’s good to spend time in the hot seat
One of my greatest joys as a communications professional is planning and leading high-level training sessions around media interviewing and presentation skills. I’ve spent many years giving hundreds of leaders advice to improve their skills both in interviews and on stage.
So in my former role as President & CEO of CooperKatz, I savored the experience of getting in the hot seat myself — taking on media opportunities in which I would be quoted as the spokesperson or expert. Yes, this was important for the stature and growth of our agency (PR works!). But it also was personally gratifying to actually do media interviews, rather than simply counsel others on how to do them.
Being on the front lines of our own transaction to come together with G&S has added new dimensions to my knowledge – and significant new depths to my empathy for all it takes to go through a process like this. There are the tangibles such as monetary and human capital, outside counsel, collateral materials and robust action plans. And then there are the essential intangibles, such as mental focus, courage, collaboration, emotional resilience, stamina and patience.
Listening to our own Good Advice
As with so many organizations in the midst of change, our story at the newly-combined G&S is still being written. And there may be a few stumbles along the way as we propel forward.
Yet the openness, caring and engagement with which our people have embraced this process from day one is a sure sign that, together, we will overcome any obstacle. We will continue to work to do the right thing for our clients, each other and the agency as a whole.
In turning the tables, this experience has also brought new and even deeper insights to how we counsel our clients. Because, truly, if we can’t listen to and act on our own good advice, why should anyone else?