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How Strategic PR Can Support A Successful Exit

PR.exit strategyAsk any PR or communications professional how to succeed with an investment in strategic public relations, and they will surely ask about goals. The most powerful PR programs are focused on supporting business objectives from product visibility to expansion into new markets. But the right PR plan is also valuable for accelerating a business exit – the good kind, that is.

Whether it’s a planned public offering, acquisition, merger, or employee buyout, an exit is not only a legitimate reason to invest in public relations, but it’s one situation where the right PR strategy can even help drive a higher valuation for the company.

Some clients are coy about their end game, often due to uncertainty around market conditions or because they don’t want to risk employee anxiety. But it’s often advantageous to make your PR team, whether internal or external, aware of your goal to be positioned for an acquisition or other liquidity event, even in the most general terms. Here are some common examples.

Strategic PR can support a high-value positioning.  A just-launched portable ultrasound therapy device called sam® is positioned as the next frontier in “wearable technology.” Handybook, a service that lets you hire a house cleaner through an app, is described as “the Uber for your household chores.” These companies are creating advantageous comparisons to develop a strong positioning. A positioning is more than an elevator speech, and it must be backed with real evidence. But a smart communications approach can help change or expand a company’s identity, which in turn helps build a healthy valuation for the business.

My agency was brought in by a successful email services provider (ESP) who had made smart acquisitions to offer a full range of services in digital marketing. But perception can lag reality, and the client was still known as an ESP by many marketers. Recognizing that a “marketing technology” identity would help grow its business and also build a stronger positioning for an exit, the client and our team worked to create an updated, technology-focused perception. Two years later, the client has recently closed a deal with a Fortune 20 company.

A good PR plan is built to communicate leadership. We represented a midsize credit union in the Northeast with a leadership platform that promoted its status as a non-profit and an advocate for financial literacy versus big banks. The campaign, which issued a call-to-action for users to “Break Up With Your Bank,” was designed to promote the individual company, but also to update the image of all credit unions. It made such a splash in the personal finance press and category trades that it caught the attention of a larger organization who initiated talks about a strategic partnership.

Thought capital can drive differentiation. The right strategy can also position a client as a major player and reinforce brand differentiators even when its size and customer base don’t rival the big guys. One recent client, a European mobile navigation company called skobbler, is based on a crowdsourced mapping technology that represents a new wave in navigation. A smart strategy helped it stand out, and as in the case of the credit union, positioned it as a leader in a dynamic category, not just a great navigation app.

The right strategy can help a brand “join the conversation.”  We helped a client called skobbler achieve notoriety far beyond its size by publicly commenting on moves─positively and otherwise─by heavyweights like Google and Apple. Its founder became known for his trenchant observations on the giants. One leading tech blog suggested—somewhat facetiously—that Apple might do well to acquire his company, and, boom, it was officially in play. skobbler did close a deal this spring…not with Apple, but with a navigation services leader that is definitely going places.

Good internal communications helps manage change.  Finally, strategic PR can help an acquired or newly public company grapple with the communications challenges that come with a merger or a liquidation event when the company typically needs to maintain a sharp focus on its business. And during times of change, the support and cohesion of critical internal audiences like employees, partners, and stakeholders can mean the difference between a sloppy or disastrous exit, or a smooth and profitable transition—the happy ending that everyone wants.

I  am proud to blog for Marketing Executives Networking Group, and a version of this post ran May 28, 2014 on MENGBlend.

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