As an agency specializing in B2B healthcare marketing, we can be frequently be found on the front lines of projects related to branding, public relations and communications for healthcare acquisitions. In fact, we’ve been in this industry for decades and have never seen the amount of deal-making that is happening in healthcare right now. This trend is impacting all types of big players—but especially health insurers like Anthem and CIGNA and large regional health systems. PWC has noted that the number of deals in the US health services market in 2017 reached nearly 1,000. Industry research also shows that 71% of healthcare leaders think merger, acquisition and partnership activity will increase over the next three years, a 15% rise from 2017. Major drivers of the trend include the desire to improve financial stability and implement cost efficiencies.

Many of the most widely-publicized deals involve massive organizations swooping in to purchase other sizeable healthcare companies. However, most M&A activities actually involve venture capital firms buying and selling smaller players or integrating them together into health services organizations that have complementary service offerings. No matter what the type of deal, most entities are looking to rebrand and integrate operations within a matter of weeks, not months, because by then they’ll be preparing to make yet another strategic acquisition or repackage and sell the new company itself.

Unfortunately, few agencies have the agility and know-how needed to craft the rebranding, marketing and communications for healthcare acquisitions happening at the speed of light. Even in-house marketing staff involved in these endeavors may not have the playbook needed to effectively manage all the strategies required for these transitions at such a demanding pace, especially on top of their existing workloads. Fortunately, Activate Health has this process down to a science, considering that we work on rebranding and communications for healthcare acquisitions on such a frequent basis. We’ve shared a few key aspects of our process below to help marketers facing ferocious deadlines and increased internal pressure to rapidly rebrand, prepare for the onslaught of media inquiries and effectively communicate about an upcoming M&A event.

Communications for healthcare acquisitions: Who needs to know what.
The most urgent priority after any deal is announced is the rapid communication to all stakeholders—including internal employees (often carving out managers/supervisors separately as they act as the go-to for staff questions), existing customers, prospects, partners, vendors and other interested parties. This does NOT include media, as a separate public relations and crisis communications strategy must be put in place for these highly sensitive communications. Figuring out when and how to communicate to these parties is just as important as what to communicate. For example, Activate Health recently worked with a specialty pharmacy whose staff didn’t sit at computers all day as they were busy preparing therapies in the organization’s clean room. As a result, sending out an all staff email was not the most efficient way to communicate. Those team members instead needed to receive a custom communication delivered by their team leader during a certain time of day when everyone was available. This may sound obvious, but it’s not until you dig into the day-to-day operations of a newly acquired company that you really understand all parameters impacting the success of communications for healthcare acquisitions.

While there is no one-size-fits-all plan for most organizations, there are certain tactics that are common among most strategic communications for healthcare acquisitions. For example, many of our clients need talking points for C-suite leaders and FAQs for employees focused on alleviating their concerns through a positive tone that focuses on growth and new opportunities. Prioritization for these communications is also critical—you’ll want to think through who needs to know immediately (usually upon minutes of the deal being announced), and who can be a second-tier priority among healthcare communications for acquisitions. Do you communicate with the managers first, employees second, customers third, and vendors and partners last? That’s not to say you have weeks or even days between these communications—most will be timed out within a matter of hours. But the order of priority will be important for our next strategy, because when the media makes an inquiry (and they will!) you want to make sure your employees and customers aren’t caught off guard.

The media comes calling: Holding statements, talking points and preparing for leaks.
We could write an entire book about strategy and communications for healthcare acquisitions, and media relations would likely take up quite a few chapters. As mentioned above, the media should not be lumped into the general stakeholder communications plan. Instead they require a separate approach and strategy authored by savvy PR and media relations experts. That’s because there are a whole host of ways the media can make your communications for healthcare acquisitions go sideways. For example, they may announce the deal before you’re ready to disclose by citing rumors and other “off the record” sources. In that instance, you’d better have a holding statement ready to fend off these inquiries and respond strategically yet truthfully. Best case scenario, you’ll have control over the timing over the media announcement of your deal, but you’ll need a proactive approach including tactics for press release distribution and media follow up. However, there is simple no way around it—you’ll want to partner with a public relations agency skilled in these type of communications for healthcare acquisitions, or you could be putting your organization (and your job) at risk! 

What needs to be rebranded? A comprehensive audit and prioritization of key deliverables.
Every good post-acquisition rebranding plan considers a few key factors—and utmost among them is the prioritization of deliverables for rebranding. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Yet when you’re talking hundreds or most likely thousands of different branded materials—from signage to custom post it notes to IT reports—this prioritization process can get unwieldy fast. Bringing in an expert facilitator like the team at Activate Health will help your operations and marketing staff implement a specialized auditing process. This process will involve identifying the master list of all deliverables and identifying the importance, external/internal nature, use, cost and run-off date for each. A cost/benefit analysis of each material is essential during this process. For example, if your inventory includes 5,000 folders and your organization uses 1,000 per month, can you wait to rebrand it for several months? How is this folder being used, what kind of branded materials does it contain, and will rebranding it immediately impact sales and customer-facing priorities?

After this master list is complete, you’ll develop a timeline and tactical execution list for how and when to rebrand and what this rebranding will entail. This might include something as simple as a new logo on a custom report to an entire redesign of a tradeshow booth or corporate website. The end result of this process will be a comprehensive roadmap for rebranding, and a plan that is reasonable for staff to implement and cost-effective enough to please even the stingiest investors and CFOs.

Getting the messaging on point: Re-examining your value framework.
Last, but definitely not least, integrating two disparate organizations will require a careful examination of your organization’s value framework including your pillars (key differentiators), proof points (provable facts that support these pillars) and positioning. This step involves a careful assessment of the capabilities associated with the newly-purchased company, their brand story and their unique positioning in the marketplace. For instance, an entirely new service line can more easily be integrated into your value framework than products and services that compete with or closely complement existing offerings. Much of this discussion will happen at the organization’s highest levels, and should be facilitated by seasoned marketing and branding leaders.

This new messaging will be incorporated into many of the deliverables associated with your rebranding and communications plan above, so this step must happen simultaneously with many other important stages of this rollout process. However, communications for healthcare acquisitions don’t stop the minute a deal is announced, or even closed. Instead, they’ve truly just begun. This new value framework will enhance existing deliverables and drive the development of new strategies and tactics—at least until the next deal is on the horizon!

If this doesn’t sound like a lot, you probably haven’t yet experienced the type of communications for healthcare acquisitions that keep marketing people up at night. The most important aspect of all of these strategies is thoughtful planning for all possible scenarios, as every deal is unique, and every rebranding and communication strategy must take into account different stakeholders, priorities and key messages. That’s where the leaders at Activate Health can help. We serve in an advisory capacity to many marketing teams—but can also take on much of the heavy lifting around tactical execution as well. If you’re looking for a partner to assist your organization with rebranding, public relations or communications for healthcare acquisitions, contact us today for a customized proposal and strategy guide.