Merger Madness in the Sunshine State

JLL’s South Florida acquisitions illustrate why PR matters in an M&A

It’s hunting season in Florida – and pythons aren’t on the kill list.

With interest rates near all-time lows (but climbing) and Florida in the cross-hairs of investors and multinational corporations around the world, we’re seeing a record number of companies being targeted for mergers and acquisitions in the Sunshine State.

Florida was home to 478 completed M&A deals in 2015, a 4 percent increase from 2014, as brands expand their footprint in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states.

While most deals are saddled with legal and financial hurdles, the road to completing a merger or acquisition can also be fraught with public relations pitfalls (just ask Staples and Office Depot).

The good news is that a little bit of planning prior to making an acquisition (or being acquired) can go a long way toward strengthening a company’s messaging – and telling its story – as the transaction becomes public.

JLL Merger

Take JLL South Florida. The global commercial real estate firm had long been the regional leader when it comes to leasing office buildings. Meanwhile a competing firm, Cresa, had built South Florida’s top tenant advisory practice by counseling companies looking to enter South Florida and expand here.

Recognizing that acquiring Cresa would be a major step forward in the pursuit of market dominance, JLL scooped up Cresa in December of last year. The public company doubled down on its South Florida expansion strategy this quarter, adding the region’s most active industrial leasing practice of Brian Smith and Audley Bosch to its team.

Understanding that the narrative surrounding these moves was as important as the deals themselves, JLL crafted and delivered a message that explained why these additions made sense in tangible terms.

“Dominating South Florida across our key business lines is critical when working with multinational companies that value creating relationships with a single advisor who can provide a full suite of services. These acquisitions are putting JLL in position to win those clients and bolster the service we’re delivering to our existing clients. We’ve only begun adding the right pieces, and we won’t stop until we cross the finish line,” said JLL managing director Alan Kleber.

There you have it. In three sentences, JLL explains the rationale for its acquisitions, why they make sense for the business and its clientele, and sends a message that more growth is coming.

And because a message is only as strong as its reach, JLL put this narrative in front of its core audiences – clients, employees, investors and competitors – through favorable stories in the media, the firm’s social media channels, direct-to-target marketing outreach, and more.

Sounds simple, right? Not really. Consider Staples’ proposed acquisition of Office Depot, which has been on shaky ground ever since plans for the deal were announced in early 2015.

While the business case for the deal might have made sense, Staples failed to communicate how a union between the two brands would help consumers. There was no compelling story, no perceived public benefit, and no cohesive message. This left the door wide open for regulators and the media to characterize the transaction as a monopoly in the making. It’s no surprise that the deal remains on life support more than a year later.

Companies navigating a merger or acquisition are no doubt distracted by the ebbs and flows of getting a deal done, but a dose of PR planning can be the difference between sending the right messages and reaching the right audiences – and letting outside forces shape the narrative.