When Peraton secretly began plans to buy a piece of Northrup Grumman and another rival firm for $10.5 billion, Peraton Chief Communications & Engagement Officer Matt McQueen knew he had a problem.
Once it became public, the deal would be hailed as one of D.C. defense contracting world’s largest tie-up in years – and the regulators, workers, investors and media would be surprised, skeptical and fault-finding. The trick, McQueen knew, would be to get each them onboard before the deal was announced. But how?
Here’s in an inside look on how Peraton and McQueen did the nearly impossible. McQueen thinks his blueprint could be useful to other companies undergoing pivotal changes amid a sea of stakeholders who hate sudden shocks. He spoke exclusively to Zenger.
“When Peraton made our acquisitions, the entire communications team — from marketing to PR to employee engagement — sprinted for six months,” McQueen told Zenger. “Our current and prospective customers, employees, and influencers needed to know that the larger and more complex Peraton was stronger than ever.”
Peraton, which is based the Washington, D.C., suburb of Herndon, Virginia, ended 2020 with $1 billion in annual sales. After acquiring government services firm Perspecta and several business segments from competitor Northrop Grumman in the first half of the year, the company is on track for annual revenues of $7 billion and industry-leading margins.
It was up to McQueen to develop and implement a strategy to show key stakeholders that the company was ready to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in weekly revenues and hire thousands of people per year to handle those new contracts. He cited publicly available information that the purchases gave Peraton a business backlog of $24.4 billion and a multi-year qualified pipeline in excess of $200 billion.
“We had to inform three very diverse audiences that critical integration, growth, financial, and other information was provided in the right way to the right stakeholders through the right mediums,” McQueen said. “We couldn’t reassure government customers that the new Peraton could take care of current and future contracts while ignoring the 20,000 employees who do the actual work. But we couldn’t ignore public-facing branding because that would leave lots of people – staff, customers, investors, and lenders – missing out on a lot of important information.”
Here’s how McQueen’s team helped Peraton communicate to each of its target markets.
Current & prospective customers
Topline message: Show current customers that Peraton’s acquisitions would not interrupt current work, would provide more offerings in the future, and introduce prospective customers to Peraton’s new brand.
- Support Peraton employees who work with government stakeholders who needed to know how and when to make critical changes to paperwork, accounting transactions and other matters.
- Engage government customers and influencers through targeted sponsorships, trade show appearances, and ads on subways and in two of the Washington, D.C. region’s three airports.
- Create digital marketing assets for Peraton’s business development team to communicate to current and prospective customers.
Staff and prospective staff
Topline message: Show current and prospective staff that they have a pride of place at Peraton through the unique value they add to the company’s mission. Prove to both audiences that they will make a material impact on the government’s critical missions.
- Launch an internal integration hub and comprehensive weekly newsletter to keep staff up-to-date on where the acquisitions stood, where staff stood on jobs and benefits, and how staff roles were changing.
- Coordinate with Peraton’s talent acquisition team to fill the employee pipeline with the right future staff. Peraton currently has about 2,000 open jobs, and plans to add thousands of more people each year.
- Create trust with staff through virtual town halls where company leadership provided critical information about the acquisitions, and receiving feedback and questions from staff.
“Information and trust roll downhill, and leaders need to nip the rumor mill and staff anxiety during g acquisitions,” said Government Marketing University executive vice-president and co-founder Stephanie Geiger, who declined to specifically comment on Peraton’s acquisitions. “People speculate when a lack of information leads to uncertainty, and this causes problems such as reduced productivity and unnecessary staff departures. Companies with successful acquisition communications seek to maintain employee trust in the organization, earn staff buy-in to the bigger picture, and focus staff on driving the business forward.”
Topline message: Saturate staff and customers with on-brand messages through industry influencers, including those in the press.
- Insights on Peraton’s future were shared with industry press through targeted press releases and interviews with company spokespeople.
- Widespread advertising took place in industry press outlets, at industry events and in the region’s major travel centers – the Metro system, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and Dulles International Airport.
- Thought leadership through white papers, industry panels and conference presentations showed the continuity of Peraton’s industry leadership, which was then propagated by industry influencers and press to all relevant stakeholders.
The effect of effective communications
McQueen and the rest of the Peraton communications team did it so well that one of the industry’s top influencers — Washington Technology podcast host and senior staff writer Ross Wilkers — praised them to Zenger.
“Peraton has set itself up to chase what was once considered the absolute ceiling for service and intellectual consulting contractors — $10 billion in annual sales,” said Wilkers. “I reported on their acquisitions because they fit the definition of news that moves the market. However, it wasn’t just that they expanded services and increased revenue seven-fold in less than a year — they created brand positioning as a leading IT provider to the entire federal government, putting themselves on par with the larger firms in their space who are traditionally viewed as industry leaders.”
What’s next for McQueen, who is also on boards for George Mason University’s Honors College and the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce? He told Zenger that he and his team are ready for whatever comes next, but “catching up with our families, friends and couches first wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Bryan Wilkes