How Bonnier leveraged its internal PR to help absorb the Time4Media Acquisition.
In a flurry of M&A activity over the last two years, World Publications, a Winter Park, Florida-based enthusiast publisher, went from a small niche company to a worldwide giant thanks to a sizable minority stake from Bonnier Group in 2006 and then the purchase of Time Inc.’s Time4 Media group in early 2007-eventually becoming Bonnier Corporation following the close of the Time4 deal. The company tasked Dean Turcol, VP, corporate communications, and COO Dan Altman, with leveraging an internal PR group to lead a carefully choreographed information campaign to ensure the smooth integration of a jigsaw puzzle of corporate cultures and divisions spread around the country.
Even while Bonnier was still wrapped up in the bidding process for the Time4 titles, principals at the company were gearing up to get an information campaign in place designed to keep current and future employees apprised of the post-deal results and the identity and mission of the new company. "These people didn’t know who World Publications was, who our leaders were, or even our relationship with Bonnier," says Turcol. "So it was important that we had the information ready to go. That was my first big task."
Simultaneously, Turcol was handling external communications, fielding inquiries from the trades as they became increasingly savvy to the likely outcome of the deal. And realizing that his future colleagues over at the various Time Inc. properties were reading about the deal from those same trades, Turcol was constantly managing the message as elements of the deal were reported.
Things kicked into high gear after Bonnier won the bid, about eight weeks out from the deal close. Despite not having full access to his future colleagues at Time Inc., Turcol took advantage of old acquaintances and backchannels to slip critical information to people where appropriate. "We weren’t allowed to begin integrating yet with the company because you don’t know if there will be any glitches with the close," he says. "But I knew people at the different magazines, so through back channels I at least got to hear what they were thinking. So when the close happened and the internal PR mechanism came into effect, I was prepared."
That preparation paid off when Turcol and the top executives at the freshly minted Bonnier Corp. went on a listening and information tour within a week of acquiring the new properties. More than 500 employees were being integrated into the company and Turcol and the Bonnier leadership used the opportunity listen to concerns and keep the message on track. "We got our message out: What we’re about, what we want to accomplish. But the most important part for me, the PR person, was listening to them," says Turcol.
Yet, a challenge was uniting the various Time4 properties under Bonnier’s corporate umbrella. Time4 was not, as many assumed, a united group. "The Parenting Group knew nothing about the Time4 group, they weren’t even in the same building," says Turcol. "And within the Time4 group, the people in New York knew nothing about TransWorld in California or Ski and Skiing in Colorado. They never associated with each other."
To help pull together the far-flung offices, at least virtually, Turcol kept up a consistent stream of weekly, company-wide e-mail newsletters. "The two biggest things we had to overcome were geography and the different cultures," says Turcol. "And everyone was starving for information. They heard all the welcome information when we did the tour, but they still have questions."
And that, says Turcol, is a continual process. "You have to bring all these cultures together and try to create a sense of community and that’s still ongoing today."
A Timeline of World’s Transformation
2000, January: World Publications acquires Saveur and Garden Design from Meigher Communications.
2002, July: World Publications acquires Cruising World and Sailing World from Miller Sports Group.
2004, February: World Publications launches Power Cruising.
2004, April: World Publications acquires Islands, Spa, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons and Resorts & Great Hotels from Islands Media.
2005, March: World Publications launches Florida Travel & Life.
2006, May: Sweden’s Bonnier Group purchases minority stake in World Publications.
2006, October: World Publications acquires Home: Miami and Home: Fort Lauderdale
2007, January: Bonnier Group and World Publications wins bid on Time, Inc. properties including the Parenting Group, Time4 and TransWorld titles.
2007, March: Time, Inc. deal closes. Bonnier Corporation is formed.
2007, November: Bonnier Corp. launches Snow.
2007, December: Bonnier Corp. launches Science Illustrated.