By Gary Miller GEM Strategy Management
Posted: 02/22/2015 12:01:00 AM MST
Owners preparing for the sale of a company need to start planning three to five years before they actually go to market — and this includes creating a strong public relations program.
PR is often overlooked, even though its benefits help burnish and elevate a company’s brand within the trade and among customers, employees, competitors, suppliers and the community. This higher profile also can help put a seller in a more powerful position when negotiating a sale and attract more interest from potential buyers and investors.
Because the media and investment community are likely to be indifferent to early efforts, the company must approach the problem by exploiting its strengths.
Social media and a robust website can offset much of the difficulty in trying to reach stakeholders and target audiences.
Most small companies tend to shape communications programs to say what management wants to hear rather than addressing the needs or interests of their target audiences. But a company looking for a buyer should think like a buyer as it crafts its public image.
Most buyers are looking for similar information about a company. Three critical items come to mind: management bench strength, sustainable competitive advantage and future growth potential.
They want to know about the company’s products and services and the prospects of new products coming to market. They want to know about company-customer success stories, product success stories and expansion and growth plans. In short, buyers want to know as much as possible about tangible and intangible assets.
Companies large and small tend to present themselves in company news releases and publications with restraint. They hold back important information for “competitive reasons.” However, companies actually can craft their messages to avoid “giving away the store.”
One of the best sources of visibility for a small company is not the company’s activities, but the character and quality of the company’s management. A good place to begin is to focus on management successes. Such stories attract the interest of potential buyers and the investment community and make the company more visible because of the “human interest” aspect of success.
These management stories should be shaped to convey information of value. They should illustrate management’s abilities; for example, discussing how management solved a problem in a new or more effective way.
An article concerning management’s problem-solving ability can be submitted with a byline to many trade and/or general business publications. It also is possible to interest a reporter in developing such a story on his or her own. Any stories published should be reprinted and distributed to a wide audience, including past, present and potential customers, manufacturers, the financial community, suppliers, distributors, employees and, yes, competitors.
A second place to focus is general “media relations.” There are numerous opportunities for companies of all sizes to obtain considerable visibility in the media.
The process takes time and effort but almost always pays off. The biggest problem for inexperienced companies is dealing with reporters. This is generally true because most businessmen and women forget the reporter has a job to do, too. The reporter is looking for “news,” and most corporate stories, at least the first time they are pitched, often aren’t newsworthy to anyone other than the company itself.
The solution is to think like a reporter. Try to identify items of interest at your company, even though they may not be central to the business. Provide an interesting lead or idea and the reporter will flesh out the story.
Identify the correct publications to contact. One publication is certainly your daily newspaper. Local business reporters are always looking for new story leads — particularly about local companies.
A third place to focus is “public service.” Initially, this may seem remote from mergers and acquisitions. But it has been demonstrated repeatedly that the company benefits when management uses its business skills to contribute to the community.
A public service position or appointment, to a nonprofit board, for example, provides a base for additional visibility for the company’s individual members and, by association, for the company.
A fourth place to focus is offering to be a speaker. Speeches on virtually any subject will increase management’s visibility and can be reprinted for distribution. Testimony before governmental agencies also can boost management’s profile.
Whatever activities a small company undertakes, work should begin well in advance of efforts to sell the company. And whether or not the public relations plan results in selling the company, there will be long-range benefits, including improving reputation and visibility among employees, customers and the community at large.
Gary Miller is founder and CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., a national firm focusing on strategic planning, raising growth capital, M&A, planning exit strategies, preparing companies for sale and post-integration processes for middle-market companies. Reach Gary at 970.390.4441 or gmiller@ gemstrategymanagement.com.