CHICAGO — Merging two companies can be arduous from a financial, operational and legal perspective. But the process is also a challenge for public relations professionals, who must quickly determine how to publicly communicate the merger and successfully integrate the companies' brands.
Amid significant industry consolidation in the past year, the messiness of several M&A deals has played out in the public eye, including Prime Healthcare Services' unsuccessful attempt to acquire Los Altos Hills, Calif-based Daughters of Charity Health System and insurer Anthem's unsuccessful takeover bid for Cigna Corp. Three executives from Baylor Scott & White Health shared the lessons they learned during the integration of Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare Thursday during a panel at Modern Healthcare's Strategic Marketing Conference in Chicago.
LaVone Arthur, chief integration officer at Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health, oversees how the systems' many financial, operational and legal wires cross, while Corporate Communications Vice President Jamie Rambo and Public Relations Vice President Nikki Mitchell zero in on the combined companies' communications strategy.
Following news of the merger, the Baylor Scott & White team was given two weeks to prepare a communications plan to present to board members, Mitchell said. It was important that the two systems could successfully explain that the merger was an opportunity to improve care, and not the result of financial issues like many other mergers, she said.
In the midst of a merger, a health system's public relations team needs to prepare for and mitigate all the communication risks that come with M&A activity, Mitchell said, including rumors, news media leaks and negative stories that try to paint the merger as detrimental to the market. Communication representatives also have to be careful how they articulate the details of the merger when regulatory approval is still pending, she said.
Well before Prime Healthcare Services announced its plans to acquire the Daughters of Charity Health System, regional media outlets described Prime Healthcare as “controversial, “notorious,” and having a “troubled track record,” following multiple regulatory investigations and a legal battle with the Service Employees International Union and Kaiser Permanente. Mitchell said merging health systems need to be ready to face such bad press.
Public relations professionals communicating a merger should also use good judgment when determining what is newsworthy, Mitchell said. Too many miniscule details can cause reporter fatigue and make for a confusing narrative.
Creating a public-facing timeline for the merger can be a great way to explain what's expected to happen over the course of integration, Mitchell said. Other good approaches include talking points for executives, and a comprehensive question-and-answer document. Getting accurate and clear information can be a grueling process, especially when drafting a Q&A, but it's worth it, she said.
“You sit down for hours, days, it's tough,” Mitchell said. “But it is so beneficial. You can get things approved and make sure that your organization and leaders are all on the same page.”
Combining the two systems' advertising campaigns wasn't particularly difficult, Rambo said. Baylor Scott & White retained the system's existing ads and simply changed the outro segments to explain that the two systems had merged.
But explaining a merger is not just about public-facing communication—health system leaders have to engage employees too, Rambo said. The two systems contracted McKinsey & Company to conduct a culture audit across the two companies to identify values the employees thought the combined company should showcase.
Simply renaming facilities, let alone communicating their new brands, can be taxing, both internally and from a regulatory perspective, Arthur said. The combined system, comprising 43 hospitals including joint ventures, hopes to have its 19 fully-owned hospitals rebranded under the Baylor Scott & White Health name by the end of the year.
“That's a tremendous amount of work and we've learned a lot from that process,” Arthur said.