With PR M&A activity rising - how do you approach bringing two companies together effectively under one brand?

Mergers and acquisitions activity in marcomms in the past year is up 4% according to Results International, and with further consolidation predicted, it looks like more shake ups are on the cards. Which begs the question: when you have two well-established businesses with different, but well communicated propositions, how do you approach bringing two companies together effectively under one brand?

Who are we?
The issue of brand and identity can be easily dismissed as a fluffy one, but it is quite fundamental to get right when two organisations come together. It is essential to decision making and planning. Who are we now? What do we stand for? Who do we sell to? This issue can be fraught with difficulties, and clarity around brand and purpose is often the best touchstone to answer these questions. This is often why you see so many Surname/Surname brands in communications rather than conceptual ones. The brand is often set by the personalities of the leaders behind the business, rather than trying to shape something new.

A third way
Every new business brand exercise demands a unique approach based on their identities and direction. We recently set to establish a new united identity following the acquisition of Limelight, a PR firm with a 16-year heritage in B2B comms, by Acceleris, which boasted a similarly established history and identity. The businesses benefited from complementary, broad and non-conflicting client bases from a range of different industries, but each organisation was already well known. Usually following a merger or acquisition there may be a naturally dominant or better positioned brand – in this case, each were strong in their own right, and a third way was needed.

People first
The best place to start with a PR agency is the people – they’re at the core of the service, values and culture while also being key to client relationships. It’s critical the new brand is authentic and both reflects and represents them. Staff also have the clearest sense of the kind of business they want to be working for, as well as essential to communicating (of course) and driving forward the future of the business. In a series of sessions, the agency’s people not only contributed to name ideas based on some core brand personas, but also helped define and refine the values of the agency and its people – namely to advise wisely; deliver consistently; support positively and think differently.

Third party
It’s also important not to forget that when two established brands come together there is be a lot of pride, emotion and equity wedded to existing identities – this is why an impartial third party can be essential in giving a trusted adviser perspective. But that level of trust also has to be established with the branding partner, as such an extensive process can be expensive to roll out, and damaging to businesses if they get it wrong. For a communications agency, especially one that promised to 'Define Communications’, to misstep would be a tremendous error, which is why so many creative businesses play it safe.

It’s fair to say that the resulting brand, Definition, has been a success so far. The new identity, inspired by the new name and the new collective values, has delivered a single banner beneath which all teams can unite and march as one. And it has united three offices in three very different locations. Whether all of the rebrands still to come this year will prove as unifying, only time will tell.

Written by Mark Easby, MD at Better Brand Agency

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