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January 5, 2009

THE INTEGRATION GAME:How Thomas Cook galvanised its post merger team through an award-winning conference

When two travel companies merged at the end of 2007, it was vital to calm the fears of employees, not just about the newly created business, but also about the approaching downturn. Ian Whiteling finds out how an event celebrating the coming together of the two companies was the answer.

There are two options to consider when looking to grow your business: organic, through expanding your current offering; or acquisition, by buying up another company. The latter is the quicker route if you can find the right complementary business at the right price.

Key to the success of an acquisition or merger is how quickly and effectively you can integrate the new business into your organisation, so that you can get the new set up firing on all cylinders as quickly as possible and reap the full rewards of your new acquisition.

The bringing together of two companies creates uncertainties for staff on both sides, which need to be calmed and refocused before the united business can operated to its full potential. Keeping your existing and new employees up to speed with developments, while reassuring them through communicating your exciting plans for the future is vital, and events can play a key role in achieving this.

Coming together

A conference aimed at doing just this following the merger of two travel organisations, Thomas Cook and MyTravel, at the end of 2007 won two key industry accolades recently at the International Visual Communications Association’s (IVCA’s) LiveCom awards.

The event was key to the future success of the merged organisation, as it sought to celebrate bringing both companies together. However, it had to overcome the usual upheaval that accompanies a merger.

Travel companies united: Thomas Cook conference proved the key to successful integration following merger with MyTravel

Thomas Cook executive Pete Constanti admitted the conference was a tall order considering the transition stage that accompanies mergers of scale. “It was a tough process. But when we factored in branch closures, relocations and redundancies, the risk of a subdued atmosphere started to become a very real possibility,” he said.

Catalyst for change

The aim, therefore, was to create an event that would act as a catalyst for change, uniting the new organisation and enabling the chief executive to communicate to an audience of 2,500 employees his vision for the next 12 months, explaining why belonging to one of the largest travel companies in the world would provide an exciting future.

The theme, Ambitions: United as One Team, was devised by DRP Group, which also created the conference, to reflect the combined interests of the two companies as they forged ahead under one banner.

“We knew going into it that the Thomas Cook mandate would be a challenge from beginning to end,” admitted Dale Parmenter, DRP Group’s managing director. “And I imagine some events and conference organisers would have shied away from such a project. Because of our longstanding relationship with Thomas Cook, we were able to take a lot of responsibility and initiative in the design and delivery of the event. I am delighted that our talented team’s efforts have been appreciated by both the client and the LiveCom judges.”

The conference was even more impressive as the DRP Group had just five weeks to choreograph the three-day event, which was held in Turkey and required the use of three articulated lorries and six planes.

On to a winnner

The event was honoured with The Internal Experience Award and the Award for Motivation at the IVCA LiveCom awards. The former accolade reflects the effective use of the conference to communicate important goals and messages to an organisation that was undergoing structural change, while the later recognises the level of motivation generated among an audience through a live event.

The conference excelled in both categories and was acknowledged for having had a positive effect on the Thomas Cook workforce. This was borne out by a raft of online feedback responses from delegates, 92% of whom were motivated to make the new team work as one. The result was a sales boost in January and February last year that exceeded expectations even against a backdrop of economic uncertainty.

“Having employees fired up and engaged with their business is not just valuable, it is absolutely vital – particularly in these difficult trading conditions,” says Parmenter. “Any company that thinks they will save money by cutting internal communications, events or motivational activity is mad. It is a slippery slope to oblivion.”

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