Research looks at how to make mergers work

Only half of marketing communications companies that have acquired other companies regard the transactions as successful, according to research released by Results Business Consulting this week.

The qualitative research, which was carried out in collaboration with Ashridge Business School, was conducted by issuing written questionnaires to senior advertising agency figures, with the aim of determining the critical success factors for mergers and acquisitions.

Respondents, who came from holding companies, operating networks and independent agencies, were asked a range of questions including whether they felt they had paid the right price, whether the tone of negotiations was positive and whether post-acquisition changes were well planned and implemented.

The findings, which were compiled over the space of a year, revealed that those involved in mergers and acquisitions felt two ventures are more likely to have a successful relationship if there was a cultural "fit" between the two and the synergies were clearly identified.

Meanwhile, the transactions that proved more difficult to pull off were those where the motivation included financial synergies, economies of scale or market entry.

Less than 3 per cent of buyers who responded admitted they embraced performance measures beyond traditional procedures when conducting an acquisition or merger.

Most acknowledged the importance of applying broader performance measures for tangible assets, for example client and employee satisfaction, but rarely applied this to their operations.

Graham Beckett, the chief executive of RBC, said: "No-one sets out to do a bad deal, a deal that destroys shareholder value. Yet it is clear that those involved in merger and acquisition are not necessarily measuring those factors that determine whether a transaction will be successful.

"It is crucial, for example, to consider the employee and client perspectives that are at the heart of those businesses. There is a clear need to change attitudes to merger and acquisition success measurements."

The results, based on 28 interviews, indicated that the widely used earn-out model, which the vast majority of deals are structured on, is perhaps not the best option.

The results will be released on 26 November at the English-Speaking Union at a seminar chaired by Bob Willott, the editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence.

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