In May 2001, ChemConnect Inc. faced a four-week critical business and communications challenge. Since the beginning of the year, it had been struggling to overcome defeatist analyses of the B2B exchange space in general, and its own identity as the leading B2B exchange for the worldwide chemicals and plastics industries in particular. It was losing analyst support (a major analyst firm, AMR, had released a report calling ChemConnect’s competitor, CheMatch, the obvious victor in the race to own e-commerce for the industry}; experiencing negative press coverage; and was about to announce its merger with a private consortium, Envera, a back-office integration solution —a move that threatened to undermine its whole value-proposition and encourage more judgments that it had failed as a company. At the same time, it was going to lay off employees, a move that increased the risk of being perceived as a failure.
· Position the merger with Envera as proof of the strength of ChemConnect’s business model.
- Convince top industry analysts, business press, and chemical industry press that ChemConnect was not just surviving—it was thriving.
- Balance the message of viability against business realities including the layoffs.
- Large chemical companies, which were conducting e-commerce through ChemConnect.
- Smaller chemical companies, buyers, sellers, and brokers, who mistrusted consortia, and who were also ChemConnect clients.
- Chemical industry, information technology, and general online and traditional business press.
- Financial and industry analysts, information providers, consultants.
- Focus effort 50% on chemical industry, 30% on IT press and 20% on business press.
- Target several key B2B analysts covering chemicals exchanges for validation and support of merger announcement.
- Target the top chemical, IT, and business press outlets for recognition, validation; consistent coverage.
- Position merger as proof of ongoing vitality.
- Position cutbacks as proof of good business acumen.
- Stop the potential negative impact of AMR report positioning CheMatch as the victor.
- Emphasize vision, chemical expertise, and business model to reinforce the company’s staying power, seriousness, and commitment.
- Highlight the business and industry knowledge of the new CEO.
Phase I: Build Advocacy
Hold meetings with top analysts, to give them early warning of the proposed merger.
Brief ChemConnect and Envera employees worldwide (Europe, Asia, North America) with unified messaging.
Brief financial backers.
Phase II: Target media with story
Announce the merger to selected media targets: Business Press: Wall Street Journal, Industry Standard, Reuters.
Industry press: Chemical Market Reporter, Chemical Week, EyeforChem, Chemical News & Intelligence, Chemical and Engineering News, European Chemical News, Modern Plastics, Plastics News, Asian Chemical News.
Top Tier IT/B2B: InformationWeek, eWEEK, InfoWorld, eMarketect, Line56, B2B
Phase III: Announce layoffs
Phase IV: Manage and extend post-merger ongoing story “The B2B Survivor”: Position merger as a means to claim victory with business and IT publications.
Highlighted key transactions and services: with targeted industry pubs. Announced and pitched information on new services, offices, trading, and personalization capabilities.
- Timeframe of merger fluid: Still not confirmed by both company’s Boards of Directors; could fall through at any time.
- Layoffs needed to take place regardless.
- AMR Research brief leaked early without ChemConnect input.
MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS
Successful pre-briefings with AMR Research resulted in favorable analyst response (AMR Research notes) and cooperation for press interviews.
Stories about the merger appeared in all targeted pubs, including the Wall Street Journal, InfoWeek, Chemical Week, Modern Plastics, European Plastics News, Reuters, EyeforChem, Dow Jones News Services, eMarketect, Chemical News and Intelligence, The Standard.com, InfoWorld, Line56, and isourceonline.com.
Coverage of lay-offs was in context of broader story of company’s strategy for success