Enter Heartland Industrial Partners.
Heartland Industrial Partners is a private equity firm formed in 1999 whose purpose is to acquire and expand industrial companies who are seriously undervalued on the public equity markets.
In July 2000, Heartland directed Weber Shandwick Worldwide’s Detroit office to begin drafting templates for an internal communications program to announce their first acquisition. For several weeks, this acquisition company was only known to Weber Shandwick as “Company X.”
It was not until eight days before the acquisition announcement that Weber Shandwick learned that MascoTech – an extremely well known automotive supplier – was the company being acquired by Heartland. Weber Shandwick’s first meeting with the MascoTech communication team was July 24, 2000. Eight business days later, the communications team rolled out a massive internal communications program to inform every employee and business unit general manager that MascoTech was “going private” and that Heartland Industrial Partners was the primary investor.
Use a “top-down” approach to inform and educate employees about “Taking MascoTech Private.” This strategy allows for more personalized communication with MascoTech employees and is consistent with the company’s decentralized organizational structure.
Although there were other aspects of the public relations strategy associated with “Taking MascoTech Private,” our internal communications objective was clear:
Ensure that all 9,500 MascoTech employees working in 60 facilities in eight different countries heard about the acquisition from company representatives instead of from the media.
The primary audience for this internal communications effort was two-fold:
- Corporate Office and Plant Employees — We needed to make sure that all employees around the world were notified of the transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- General Managers — The general managers who run the MascoTech facilities have a lot of autonomy within the corporate structure and needed the tools to communicate the core elements of the transaction to their employees, customers, suppliers, the media and the community in which their facility is located.
Because Heartland was Weber Shandwick’s client, the agency began working on a communications plan for Heartland’s first acquisition several months before they had identified their first target. Then, when it was clear that an acquisition was imminent, Weber Shandwick began to flesh out the plan. Finally, the real planning began eight days before the MascoTech announcement. Weber Shandwick began meeting with MascoTech executives who were privy to the fact that they were being acquired. The communications objectives were set. Tactics were agreed upon. Timelines were solidified. Logistics were arranged. Production schedules were drafted.
In order to accomplish our objectives, we implemented a variety of tactics. Supporting materials for the tactics listed below are included with this award entry.
General Manager’s Tool Kit
Given the decentralized nature of MascoTech, our primary approach was to develop a general manager’s tool kit that outlined the specific communications task surrounding the “Taking MascoTech Private” announcement. Timelines, expectations, an overview of the transaction, Q&A, a PowerPoint presentation for employees, letter templates and fact sheets on Heartland and MascoTech were only some of the key components of the tool kit.
We felt that it was important to develop a brochure that would address specific employee questions. Within our eight-day time frame, copy was written and a tri-fold brochure was designed. Because of our time constraints, we printed enough brochures for all corporate employees and general managers. General managers were given the option of ordering more brochures if they thought it helpful for their employees.
We organized an all-employee meeting for employees at the corporate office to share the news of the “Taking MascoTech Private” announcement. Many General Managers around the world used the tool kit to hold employee meetings at their facilities.
“Trends” Newsletter and Newsflash
We used the existing MascoTech “Trends” newsletter to put out a newsflash announcing Heartland’s acquisition of MascoTech. As more information became available, the information was shared with employees using the “Trends” newsletter.
Management Team Reception
We organized a management team reception several days after the announcement. MascoTech executives and Heartland executives were on hand to discuss the future of MascoTech and to address specific questions regarding employee security and next steps.
We used a video format to address questions that emerged after the transaction was announced. The video was shot during the management team reception, was edited and produced very quickly so that it could be sent out to general managers to share with their employees.
Several obstacles had to be overcome in order to successfully achieve our communications objectives:
The time constraints surrounding the announcement were something that we did not have any power to change. Our mission was clear — we had to plan and execute a major communications plan in eight days. And we did it.
About four days into the process, we were told that many of the materials (PowerPoint, press release, etc.) had to be translated into German, Spanish, Italian and North American Spanish. We identified a vendor who could do the translations and worked with them day and night in order to meet our deadline.
Because MascoTech was a publicly traded company, it was imperative that Heartland’s plan to acquire MascoTech not leak before the announcement. This secrecy often made even very simple tasks difficult. Getting answers to questions and working with vendors was a much more laborious process because of the tight controls on information.
MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS
Our communications objective was to ensure that all 9,500 MascoTech employees working in 60 facilities in eight different countries heard about the acquisition from company representatives instead of from the media. Because of the hard work of the Weber Shandwick and MascoTech communications teams, briefing books were at every facility in every country the morning of the transaction — achieving our objective.
It was also important, however, to measure the usefulness of our efforts. We surveyed general managers approximately three weeks after the announcement to see what they thought of the tool kit and other materials. MascoTech had never orchestrated such a comprehensive internal communications effort before and, as a whole, feedback was extremely positive. With a 90 percent response rate, we learned that over 95 percent of the recipients ranked the tool kit and the leadership team meeting as highly useful, followed closely by the newsflashes, the “Trends” video and the “Trends” newsletter.