Winning the Game
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Winning the Game

Cingular and AT&T Wireless, the second and third largest U.S. wireless carriers with a combined workforce of approximately 70,000 employees, announced their intent to merge in February 2004. This event represents the largest cash deal in the history of U.S. business.

Paul Holmes

Cingular and AT&T Wireless, the second and third largest U.S. wireless carriers with a combined workforce of approximately 70,000 employees, announced their intent to merge in February 2004. This event represents the largest cash deal in the history of U.S. business. The target date for the closing, with regulatory approval was October 2004. The merger took place on October 26, 2004.

Employee communications played a critical role in the successful planning and implementation of the merger between Cingular and AT&T Wireless. In particular: Employees needed to be aware of the benefits of the merger, the overall goals of the merger and have confidence in the company’s integration planning. Investors required assurance that Cingular management took the necessary steps to create value for all stakeholders through the merger and customers needed to understand the benefits of combining the assets and operations of the two companies.

Operational challenges included: the compressed timeframe in which the merger was slated to occur. Most corporate mergers can take up to two years to accomplish. Cingular’s goal for merger acceptance and completion was accomplished in eight months and significant redefinition and reengineering of work processes as a result of two companies becoming one.

Legal challenges included: both companies made certain to operate independently and competitively until the closing day. Employees from both sides were only allowed to communicate in pre-approved conference calls through attorneys regarding company-related business and there were limited resources on the legal side to expedite approvals for internal communications.

The team needed to anage the message and keep it focused: simplifying messages around a complicated and constantly changing merger environment, keep employees focused on jobs at hand – 2004 goals and objectives. In addition to “business as usual,” many employees were responsible for creating new processes for the company to “act as one” post-merger and employees received a daily barrage of information—succinct, focused communications was required.

It also need to manage employee expectations, assure and retain employees who had feelings of uncertainty about the future and who would be highly sought by competitors during the transition, remain sensitive to the inevitable workforce reduction to occur in 2005, keep employees motivated and encouraged about this positive change, and to itigate the potential erosion of employee loyalty and poor morale, preserve integrity of the Cingular brand and reputation internally and externally, the possibility that customers’ perceptions of Cingular’s service levels would be negatively impacted as a result of changes in work processes, policies and philosophies and the competition, former employees or the media exaggerating the outcomes of the Cingular and AT&T Wireless merger which will negatively impact customer, employee and industry confidence.

The imperatives were to pay attention to the human impact of change – acknowledge it and leverage supervisors as advocates, support and build confidence of all audiences and influencers, work toward gaining the industry leadership position, gain employee understanding, acceptance and support and maintain employee loyalty, institute changes quickly, shape and frame the story – internal and external communications integration is key and garner support for company leadership in their decision-making.

Merger communications to employees was organized into three general phases: Preparation, Execution and Sustaining Momentum.

The first phase, in May and June, focused on educating employees on the benefits of merging the two companies and demystifying the merger integration process through a weekly Intranet newsletter titled The Big Deal. A bi-monthly, printed version was mailed to the homes of all employees of Cingular and AT&T Wireless. Mid-summer, communications shifted from process to key decisions and plans that shaped the new company post-merger. All merger-related communications were kept in a central repository was created and branded The Big Deal.

During this phase leading up to Day One, all Cingular employees were equipped with a universal, strategic Game Plan and an operational Playbook relevant to each employee’s work function. 22,000 shipments of more than 80,000 Game Plans and Playbooks were sent overnight to all employees within hours after the merger closing.

Kickoff Coordinators in each Call Center and Cingular region in the U.S. facilitated market kickoff meetings for retail store employees and Call Center Pep Rallies. A change management training “tool-kit” was created and shipped to all 27 markets of the combined Cingular and AT&T Wireless. All materials in the tool-kit were branded with the new Cingular logo and tagline, “Raising the Bar.”

Between Oct. 26 and December 9, 2004 the following events took place: 85 Market Kickoff events and 104 Call Center Pep Rallies

More than 81,000 employees (including Agent retailers) participated in events across the country. Based on feedback from evaluation forms completed by employees in each region, communications efforts were well-received with an average score of 4.5 (based on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “Excellent”).

Fourth quarter 2004 growth results were outstanding with 1.8 million new subscribers pro forma, which was more than double pro forma net subscriber additions in preceding quarters and fourth quarter a year ago. This was the highest quarter ever in the history when historical results of the two companies are combined.

Twenty days after the merger, retail store employees had additional tasks to complete. After store hours on November 14, 2004, all retail store employees gave their stores a massive “makeover” including new POP displays, products and POS (point-of-sale) systems. Store managers were sent an additional tool-kit—the “Team Huddle.”

Accompanying the store merchandising materials, this kit included inspirational posters for break rooms, pennants and koozies with the new Cingular logo, a meeting guide for store managers with interactive team exercises and a video message from John Madden entitled “Winning the Game.” Similar to a tailgate party, the Team Huddle was an encouraging and celebratory component of the overall communications program for frontline employees. More than 3,000 retail store managers hosted “Team Huddle” events for their employees. 

An internal communications audit of AT&T Wireless was performed immediately following the close of the merger. Former AT&T Wireless employees were allowed access to Cingular’s Intranet and shared networks. The employee communications team combined the best communications practices of AT&T Wireless with existing Cingular communications vehicles to maintain positive energy past the first day of operations. It was necessary to keep communications flowing consistently by using existing channels now available to all post-merger employees.

The Big Deal continued to publish articles about post-merger efforts from all functional areas within the new company. New content created for The Big Deal included: a functional area’s achievements are recognized each week and tied to company strategies, a fun, informal poll of employees from both companies on their favorite things (color, snack foods, pastimes, pets, etc.) to illustrate the similarities of Cingular and AT&T Wireless employees.

Over 18,000 employees participated in the survey. Results were compiled and illustrated in a cartoon depicting a typical Cingular employee, AT&T Wireless employee and a composite sketch of both and published in Cingular Voice – a bi-weekly online newsletter, Quickreach is a network text message system enabling employees to receive automatic updates on company and industry news. Subscribers were sent a text message, company-related trivia question each day on their pagers and cell phones. For each correctly answered question, they were entered in a contest to win a new wireless device.

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