Communication is key and oftentimes the decisive success factor. This is especially important when merging two big companies. And even more so during a global pandemic.
It is possible to do a remote merger in 6 months and our story shows that such mergers succeed. But behind them there will always be people who cannot be forgotten even for a moment, especially in a period of such dynamic changes. Get to know the reflections of Katarzyna Ostrowska, who took care of internal and external communication and Agnieszka Durst-Wilczyńska, who was responsible for the image campaign of the merged brands, as well as for technical rebranding, i.e. changing all paper and electronic communication on the part of AXA, throughout the merger process.
Merger during a pandemic
For Katarzyna the merger was a time of big and intensive changes, which required one to act extremely quickly and flexibly. The merger of the two organisations coincided with the outbreak of the pandemic, which paradoxically turned out to be an additional driving force, as all meetings were held online.
"We didn't waste time travelling from one office to another. This saved us a lot of time," Katarzyna reports. "So you could say that the pandemic paradoxically helped us in this process, because people were able to act faster on the operational level," she continues. But she also notes that it wasn't without its difficulties, which were that people were unable to integrate and get to know each other."
Agnieszka: “For the first time in my career, I tendered for a creative agency remotely. It was quite an inconvenience, the internet didn't always work as fast as we would have liked. We also had to focus on finished concepts online. In my case, it was not a facilitation. Creative work, discussing scripts, ideas requires a creative atmosphere. Observation of reactions, emotions is limited in the case of connection on Teams. I am therefore even more pleased that we finished on schedule. The multi-channel image campaign was a big success in Poland”.
Honest internal communication
Communication to employees played a key role during the merger period. It was important to use all tools available. And above all to get ready for the process. A detailed schedule was created. Every month and even every day was planned. "We opted for teamwork and listening to the voice of the employees. This is why we asked employees to choose their own ambassadors. This was successful. 20 people, 10 from each organisation, became unique integration communication advisors, or UNICAs for short. Meeting them was a very interesting experience, they not only advised us, gave us their opinion on our ideas, but also suggested additional ideas," says Katarzyna.
Agnieszka: “Communication with customers worked in the same way. We published a section dedicated to the project on our website when the integration was still at an initial stage. We openly communicated the next steps and their consequences. Letters informing about the change were sent to all exAXA clients. It was a considerable effort, although it is worth adding that we did not do it out of obligation. We were simply very keen on proper and comprehensive communication, leaving no room for doubt”.
For Katarzyna and Agnieszka, it was important to keep the employees and customers informed about every important stage of the merger and to answer their questions. "We set ourselves the goal of being open and honest. We introduced project groups, which always included representatives from both companies, there were online meetings, lots of video content. We wanted to show everyone what our company would be like after the merger."
We set ourselves the goal of being open and honest. We introduced project groups, which always included representatives from both companies, there were online meetings, lots of video content. We wanted to show everyone what our company would be like after the merger.
Katarzyna found flexibility a key part of the merger process. "On the one hand, it was extremely important to listen to people and be sensitive to their needs, and on the other hand, to meet those needs effectively. Hence the idea for the 'Great deanonymisation' campaign or letting people from two different organisations suddenly becoming one big company get to know each other," she continues. Employees were involved in the campaign and lent their faces to it. In addition, there were various activities and games for employees, and the campaign culminated in an online event for all employees.
Agnieszka: “At the same time, a massive image campaign for the merging brands premiered. We wanted the message not to single out any of the parties and to reassure customers, who might have been concerned about the merger. We prepared a very cheerful, calming spot, which also showed the scale of the merged organisations”.
External communication in the background
Katarzyna notes that her biggest surprise was the low level of interest in the merger among journalists. "I did not expect it, because market had not seen such a big transaction, especially in the Polish insurance sector for a long time. A company was created, the 5th player on the market, with 5 million customers, whose annual premiums amount to PLN 4 billion. And yet the media’s reaction was moderate at best", admits Katarzyna. But this does not mean that the merger was unnoticed. Forbes magazine ranked the takeover of AXA by UNIQA as the second biggest transaction in Poland in 2020.
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