Figma announces 'a new collaboration' to frame the 20 billion acquisition.

Leoni Janssen
A recent high profile acquisition prompted us to write from experience about why acquirers need to be clear and transparent in their communications.

As Figma-users we received that email yesterday. Many thoughts - first the human ones: "Wow, Adobe really needed this!" and "Well done Figma!" and also from a practical perspective, "hope they start package pricing now.... as it is getting really expensive."  

Then comes my professional brain considering the question all successful growth companies have to ask themselves sooner or later - 'how to communicate around M&A'. The Figma example illustrates a common mistake often made at this point of an acquisition. One which can have a significant impact on the subsequent integration trajectory.  

They position the acquisition as a 'partnership'. While it sounds nice, and they will need to cooperate very closely throughout the communication and integration stages, this positioning is dangerous for the success of the integration. Figma does refer to 'acquisition' in the next sentence at least, but it’s a timely example, so let me explain.

Often, post acquisition integrations stall because of the mental position people/companies get into at the start. The framing of what the acquisition/change means, sets up or takes out mental obstructions to later integrations. 

As soon as any kind of change happens, people want to understand in detail what that means for them, which is often addressed too late by company leadership because: 

1) They don't know yet. The deal needed to be done and there was pressure to announce it, without time for a lot of forward planning (sounds ridiculous, but actually we’ve seen that frequently).

2) They want to soften potential impact and avoid shock for the acquired business and its people; well meant but often has the opposite effect. 

3) They have solid plans and good ideas, but the art of articulating those is lost in the urgency to get the news out.

In this vacuum, people, CMO's, CEO's, Chief Strategists and 30 other roles, start debating terminology. The acquiring CMO/CEO doesn't want to be a bully (or worse, doesn't care) and gives in to the acquired company’s suggestion to term the transaction a partnership or collaboration. With that, the golden opportunity for momentum for the future announcement is spoiled and wasted, confusion is born and people become inflexible, because 'partnership' feels like 'business as usual'. 

 

Our advice to companies making strategic acquisitions: 

1) Go in knowing what the path will be for the first 1-2 years and talk about that openly with all stakeholders right from the start. 

2) Do not sugar coat it, or pretend the acquired company will have 'independence' if they won’t, because if you are looking to make the strategic acquisition fruitful, you will need to integrate and effect change. It can be smooth or painful (aka: costly).

3) Stay in very close contact with the leadership of the acquired business. If they are not on board with your plan, they will let it fail.

4) Involve your communications team or agency - ensure to have the right ones - as soon as you can. They can help you ensure immediate open lines - communications channels to 'all staff'. We’ve seen many times, even 1 or 2 years after the acquisition, that leadership is still unable to communicate with the staff of the acquired business, which creates power centers, lack of trust and support for the bigger mission, a massive barrier to success. 

 

If you’re readying for a strategic acquisition and you need communications support and advice, we should talk. Myself and my team have successfully helped steer technology companies through multiple small and large acquisitions to achieve their full potential. 

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