Publishing is a people business and people are the key to integrating a new organization into an existing one. The assets walk out the door every night. There is no inventory of goods to protect, no factories to worry about, just making sure that the editors, salespeople, and all the staff continue to do their job and do it well.
Integrating a property into your business is not an ad hoc process. You should have a clear strategy about what works and what doesn’t work, what will change, when it will change and how it will change (this includes people, products and processes). If you can’t articulate your strategy in writing, then you don’t have one.
Notice I said a clear strategy. Don’t muddle through. Employees at the purchased entity will be watching every move you make. Your communication and even your body language must be consistent, on message and clear. To this end, It it is best to have one person in charge of integrating the processes. That allows employees of both the acquired company and the acquiring company to bring issues quickly to a point person, and get them resolved. Without this point person, employees of the two companies often do not know who to contact and process issues can impair the business and become emotional issues of right and wrong.
Don’t rush. It’s the most frequent mistake I see. It must have been written in some textbook somewhere that you should make all your changes in the first 90 days. But more mistakes are made in those first 90 days than you can imagine. Isn’t it better to wait a little while, understand the business from the inside out, work with the existing staff, before rushing decisions? Then, you’ll make better decisions and have the support of key managers.
Having a clear strategy doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t change it once you own the property, and have had a chance to get to know the key staff, and discover new issues. For one magazine we acquired, our plan was to quickly change the circulation levels, but once we acquired the magazine, the sales staff convinced us that it would be better to postpone implementation until we’d worked through the changes with key advertisers. We still executed our original strategy, but improved the chance of success. It is much easier to make a financial projection in an excel spreadsheet than it is to execute one successfully, so just because it seemed right before the acquisition doesn’t mean it will ultimately be the correct path.
Be a Good Listener
Communication is key but it is much more important to spend time listening than talking, particularly in the first few months. Remember, you just acquired a business presumably because you thought it was well-run and had potential, so don’t assume you know better. If it’s a turnaround, then that may be another matter, but unless you want to get rid of most of the existing staff, you need to make them feel both wanted and involved. Ask questions, but remember that every question you ask sends an implicit message, so make sure an innocent question doesn’t turn into a rumor about a major change.
Build a New Team
End the "Them Versus Us" mentality. When businesses are acquired, employees on each side of the acquisition think their processes and people are superior. By getting the process-people talking quickly, and often, after the acquisition, names become people. Face-to-face meetings are always best as terse or misunderstood communications that can occur in e-mails are less likely in person.
Above all, pay attention to the people and you’ll increase dramatically your chance of making the acquisition a success, but don’t underestimate the hard work and attention to detail that will be needed.