We also knew we had to get all employees on the same page. Each agency had its own culture of close ties and fun times combined with hard work. We wanted to carry this culture into the new organisation too.
So those were our two key challenges - positioning NATIVE as a serious player in the industry and ensuring all 140 employees were on board. You could sum up our goals with two words. We wanted to establish "credibility" and "transparency".
This was the ideal opportunity to demonstrate just how effective a digital approach could be, so we launched a four-stage digital strategy known as The Making of NATIVE. The idea was to launch our agency onto the scene in a unique way, one that clearly illustrated how effective digital could be - from internal social networks and profiles on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to a well-designed visually appealing and content rich site.
For employees to truly embrace a new concept, whether it be a merger, name change or acquisition, they need to be integrally involved in the process. From the start we wanted to ensure our employees understood that they were an important part of the creation of the new NATIVE brand and we provided employees with the opportunity to discuss and debate various aspects of the merger. Our aim was to lift the heavy aspects of the change with fun.
The Making of NATIVE campaign was run over four months and covered the key elements of the formation of NATIVE, kicking off with the first phase, Origins, which focused on the unique abilities and talents being brought to the NATIVE stable.
With the three agencies operating out of their offices for the first three months of the merger, we had to find of a way to get them speaking to one another. We launched an internal social networking site called "Think NATIVE". Employees were encouraged to interact on this platform and we spoke to them regularly about merger developments. Employees wrote about different themes - including 'origins of the Internet', 'my personal path to NATIVE' and input on our values.
Think NATIVE was also used for crowdsourcing - we moved the best content from this platform to the official website
for the public to read. This formed the basis of our 'inside out' approach. Essentially, we were giving the world a view of the process we were going through, working with our employees to develop the brand form the inside first and then sharing that information with the outside world.
Internal events were held at different stages of the merger to encourage further interaction and relationship building, to begin the process of creating the new NATIVE culture and to minimise feelings of alienation and loss amongst employees. Two glamorous launch parties were held in Johannesburg and Cape Town to coincide with the Loerie Awards. We also held a Yoga day to celebrate the NATIVE value of agility, a mask-making day for our creativity value and a dress-up party for Tribal to name just a few.
The third stage focused on the thought-leaders in the company and podcasts were produced, covering 11 industry insights for 2011. These were placed on the website as well as handed out to existing and potential clients.
The final phase focused on the mobilisation of employees into a new office. Videos were created of the building of the new NATIVE premises and employees once again shared their thoughts on the process.
Throughout the process employees were blogging and social networking about their experiences. Obviously exposing a newly-hatched company to the world through social networking and live events on the web is a brave move. It makes one vulnerable, but at the same time we made a point of being totally open, honest and willing to listen, which is what we stand for at NATIVE. It also provides the public with a unique insight into the culture of the company.
The exercise has been highly successful for NATIVE and it's given us a chance to see how powerful social networking can be. It's what we preach, so it we knew it would work.
If other companies want to follow a process like this, I would recommend getting involved with an agency that understands the space. Apart from the set up of the social networking side, it needs to be understood that if you are going to be exposing your company to the opinions of employees and the public, you need to be prepared to handle the feedback you receive. Having a community management team on board is vital as they will know how to turn a negative into a positive in the public domain.
You need to know what your objectives are during the merger campaign, you need to be sincere and when you get feedback you need to respond and have people equipped to ensure a positive outcome for your brand.