AEC Branding After a Merger or Acquisition, with Donya Edler

Episode 4:

About Judy Sparks

Judy is the founder, CEO, and President of Smartegies LLC. Founded in 2008, Smartegies is a specialty marketing agency that has helped more than 150 companies across North America build stronger brands, implement effective communications, and develop winning strategies and proposals. Judy has worked in B2B marketing and sales roles exclusively since 1993, specializing in the AEC industry. Judy is a true expert in AEC marketing and has a proven record of success across her 25 years in the field.

About Katie Cash

Katie is an architecture, engineering, and construction marketer with over 15 years of experience serving the AEC industry. Katie is an expert strategist who helps her clients win big projects through creative marketing methods. Katie believes in thinking outside the box and has a gift for tackling challenges by using innovative and unconventional solutions. Today, Katie serves as the Vice President of Smartegies, working alongside Judy to help clients achieve maximum impact in their marketing efforts.

About Donya Edler

Donya Edler is the Vice President of Marketing at Wood, an international firm that provides performance-driven solutions throughout the asset life cycle, from concept to decommissioning, across a broad range of industrial markets. At Wood, Donya leads internal and external marketing efforts, manages corporate and employee communications, and develops and executed on Wood’s marketing and branding strategies. As a member of the executive leadership team, Donya is responsible for corporate branding, business development management, advertising, media, community relations, and employee engagement.

In this episode of AEC Marketing for Principals, hosts Katie Cash and Judy Sparks talk with Donya about the difficult challenges most firms experience after a merger or acquisition, specifically with regards to employee trust and morale and the merging of two sometimes very different company cultures. They talk about strategies firms can use to help restore employee trust and allow employees from both firms to have a role in the development of the new post-M&A culture. They also discuss the value of hiring experienced outside consultants to help develop new, post-merger AEC branding.

What You Will Learn:

  • Donya discusses why mergers and acquisitions are becoming increasingly common in the design and construction space, with nearly $4.7 trillion in mergers and acquisitions taking place globally in the last year.
  • Donya shares her many experiences on all sides of mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures. She also discusses being closely involved in the culture changes that occur post-merger or acquisition.
  • Donya discusses the crucial period immediately after announcing a merger or acquisition and why employee trust and morale tend to drop in that period. She presents the idea of a culture change plan as a critical first step.
  • Donya explains why employees need communication on day one. This communication should address why the firms have combined and what the vision is behind the move. She further shares her suggestions on how firms can best address employee concerns.
  • Judy discusses why firms of all sizes can struggle with the challenge of merging cultures, and she explains why it is important to have a trusted brand as well as employees within the company who share that trust.
  • Judy shares why the biggest growth challenge for her clients is a lack of available talent due to the 96% employment rate in the current economy. She then discusses the importance of bringing acquired employees into the cultural conversation.
  • Donya discusses the value of investing in a strategy firm specializing in AEC marketing and AEC branding to help lead a rebranding effort. She shares why it is important to give employees a voice and involve them in sharing the new brand’s story.


AEC Branding After a Merger or Acquisition

This episode of AEC Marketing for Principals features a conversation between Katie Cash, Judy Sparks, and Donya Edler. Donya is the Vice President of Marketing at the international firm Wood, and throughout her career, she has been on all sides of various mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures. As a result, Donya has experienced the many ways a firm can correctly or incorrectly handle employee trust and morale issues following a merger or acquisition.

During this episode of the podcast, Donya discusses the critically important period immediately following the announcement of a merger or acquisition, when employee trust in leadership may have been eroded and morale may be suffering. She shares her advice to firms looking to navigate this delicate transitional period as two teams become one, and she offers valuable and actionable strategies for creating a positive culture and engaging an AEC branding story after the ink has dried.

Addressing Employee Trust and Morale

As Donya explains, the period immediately following the announcement of a merger or acquisition (or, the period after the rumors start) is vitally important. Employees often feel a sense of betrayal and uncertainty about their futures, and so it is imperative that firms address these concerns in a sensitive and authentic way. The key is to explain in clear terms why the merger or acquisition will be beneficial or why it is necessary for the firm. Statements like “nobody will lose their jobs”, while intended to reassure, can be seen as disingenuous. The better course of action is to be honest and forthcoming with information relating to the merger or acquisition.

Another important consideration to make employees feel that they have a “voice”. Employees should feel comfortable bringing their concerns to leadership, and they should feel involved in the process of developing a new company culture. Leadership should take the time to fully explain their vision for the merged firms and address employee morale.

Creating a New Culture and New AEC Branding

As Donya explains, it is important to invest time and resources into the culture of the new organization. Too many firms see mergers and acquisitions as transactional and don’t take the time to consider the effects these deals have on employees. Hiring an outside firm like Smartegies can help AEC firms navigate the difficult process of developing a new company culture. With this strategic insight, a firm can successfully rebrand and develop marketing that reflect the “story” of the new company. This can be an incredibly difficult process, and having experienced outside help can make the entire experience go more smoothly.

Size, in this situation, really makes no difference. Small mergers and acquisitions can be just as difficult as large ones and, in part due to today’s very low unemployment rate, AEC firms need to make strong efforts to retain their talent regardless of whether they have twenty employees or two hundred. Loss or lack of talent can significantly impede growth, which can be especially damaging after a merger or acquisition. But if firm leadership is willing to take the steps necessary to make the process easier for their teams, the resulting post-merger organization can be stronger than ever.

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