CHICAGO - Communicators whose corporations are in the acquisition or merger mode know that legalities limit much of what they can say or do. But instead of sticking to a mum's-the-word tactic, there is much that PR professionals can do while the deal is being gelled: setting up an integration team; maintaining contact with not only the soon-to-be-acquired company's execs but its staffers as well; and filling the communications gap by identifying what you don't know.

First understand that employees generally aren't concerned about the details of the deal the way the press or investors might be; rather, they need to know "where they fit in and what the big picture is," says Jack Goodman, senior director of corporate communications for The McGraw Hill Companies. In the corporate culture, it's often the case that those striking these business accords ignore their most important audience: the new employee force that might evolve or the existing one that might be wiped out.

Timeline of Communications Efforts

  • The McGraw-Hill Companies announced in July 1996 that they had signed a letter of intent to acquire the Times Mirror higher education venture;

  • The deal went through in October;

  • The announcement naming Jeff Sund as the new McGraw-Hill Higher Education unit president - as well as the announcement about the new higher education unit being headquartered in Burr Ridge, Ill. - was made right after the deal closed;

  • The announcement of the first senior tier of execs and then the subsequent downsizing was made in the late fall;

  • McGraw president and COO Harold McGraw III met with the new sales force in January 1997; and

  • McGraw Chairman and CEO Joseph L. Dionne went to Burr Ridge to meet with a diverse group of employees in April 1997.