6 minute read

Focus Article- Stacy Dreher

Marketing’s Role in Post-Merger Integration: Creating a ‘One-Firm’ Culture

Over the past 30 years, merger and acquisition activity has reshaped the landscape of public accounting.

And for good reason — larger firms have a broader reach, benefit from economies of scale, diversification of services and skills, and the ability to attract talent. However, merging in firms can disrupt client relationships, service delivery and create barriers to maintaining a “one-firm” culture many firms strive to achieve.

In an industry faced with constant realignment and interruption, how do marketers create unity from chaos?

Caren Rodriguez, chief marketing officer with DMJPS, emphasized the importance of messaging.

“Firms need to understand that their brand is more than just a logo,” she said. “It’s about the perceptions of those who experience it — your services, your firm, working with your professionals.”

The more involvement marketing has with shaping the messaging and communication internally and externally, the easier it is to adopt a “one-firm” culture.

Training and Orientation

Internal communications and marketing play a pivotal role in unifying a brand and culture postacquisition. After all, a firm’s team members are the direct connection to its clients through the services they offer, and they can make brands come to life.

“As soon as we sign the paperwork, we hold an orientation with the entire firm that’s merging in,” said Tara Davis, marketing manager with Harris CPAs. “We talk about who we are, our mission, our vision, our values and some of the more fun things we do.”

They also take time to discuss the elements of their brand, their industry group practices and more opportunities to get involved with marketing activities.

Merging in new firms can also uncover flaws in existing processes and create opportunities for improvement. As M&A activity increased at Harris CPAs (four firms have been merged in and they are currently working on two more), Davis realized they didn’t have a unified client onboarding process.

“I wanted to get every office on the same page because they all had different ways of doing it,” Davis said.

They now have a process that leverages the firm’s executive assistants and involves welcome emails, data collection forms, phone calls and data entry into a centralized database.

Davis also holds training on the firm’s proposal process for manager level and above in the firms they’re merging in and with their own staff. They discuss the types of proposals available and when to use marketing. She also created templates to ensure branding and messaging is unified firmwide.

Once initial orientation and training is complete, marketing’s job isn’t done, said Joe Kovacs, APR, director of marketing and business development for CBM CPAs and Business Advisors.

“The merger doesn’t happen on the merge date,” Kovacs said. “It happens after you’ve moved in and you start getting used to being part of a larger team with other industries and services.”

Kovacs emphasized the importance of constant reinforcement. He regularly reminds new staff about their service offerings and invites them to industry events and presentations hosted by the firm. His ongoing communication helps new team members understand “this is where you are, and this is where you belong.”

Internal Teams and Collaboration

To maintain a one-firm culture post-acquisition, firms must find ways to break down silos within departments and offices.

“After a recent merger that brought in close to 20 team members, we gave them workspaces throughout the office to ensure they had exposure to CBM team members who had been around for a while,” Kovacs said.

CBM also hosts happy hours, client receptions and holds other social events throughout the year. These events give their clients and staff the opportunity to meet their new team members and get to know each other.

DMJPS holds monthly GOALs (growth, opportunities and leads) meetings via Zoom to build accountability around their sales pipeline.

“What I did not expect as we were going through all of our M&A activity is what a fantastic educational tool these meetings have been,” Rodriguez said. “The meetings are a conversation tool for people from multiple offices to come together on a monthly basis.”

They use these meetings as storytelling sessions to highlight the depth of services they provide, their industry specialties and how they collaborate. It also puts faces to names and showcases their lively personality and culture.

Harris CPAs also finds ways to blur department lines and office boundaries.

“We have numerous committees and groups firmwide that help us create a unifying culture,” Davis said. For example, the firm has a “thematic goal group” that includes people in all offices and departments. Annually, three or four teams develop and implement initiatives around one of their core values to help keep it top-of-mind.

External Communication

Marketing’s biggest role postmerger is increased communication internally and externally, paying close attention to referral sources and clients, said Bob Lewis, CEO of Visionary Group.

“Marketing should be looking at the types of clients that are coming in to determine if client experience and communication styles need to be adapted,” Lewis said. “They can help their firms embrace a 'white glove' service with high-end clients, for example. Don’t email them, call. Talk to them and get to know them.”

But client experience isn’t just about client interactions, Lewis said. It’s about creating an internal process (before interfacing with the client) that makes the workflow easier and smoother for the professionals performing service delivery.

Lewis also said it’s important to segment clients by industry and service area to ensure they receive appropriate communication and uncover cross-selling opportunities.

“When merging in smaller firms, cross-selling opportunities can be massive because the acquired firm likely had minimal resources and didn’t data mine their clientele,” Lewis said.

Marketers also need to ensure referral sources from both firms receive clear and concise communication regarding the merger and what it means to them.

When Kovacs obtains referral source lists from firms merging in, he tags them in the firm’s email platform to ensure they receive timely and relevant communication. He also meets with firm owners to explain the type and frequency of communications their referral sources (and clients) will receive.

The M&A process can be disruptive and complex for marketing departments and their firms, especially when culture is so important to staff. So one last piece of advice for marketers is not to be afraid to step on toes, Davis said. “If you see something, say something.”

She recommended listening to what’s being said by incoming partners and staff and asking about their experiences. Always stay involved and help ensure communication internally and externally is clear and unified.

Stacy Dreher, marketing director, James Moore & Co. Contact at stacy.dreher@jmco.com.