WellPoint executes comms surrounding merger amidst CA wildfires

THOUSAND OAKS, CA: WellPoint Health Networks' internal communications team battled fires inside and outside of its Southern California offices last week, as the health-insurance company finalized details of its mega-merger with Anthem while devastating wildfire broke out across the region.

THOUSAND OAKS, CA: WellPoint Health Networks' internal communications team battled fires inside and outside of its Southern California offices last week, as the health-insurance company finalized details of its mega-merger with Anthem while devastating wildfire broke out across the region.

Under a merger agreement announced last week, the combined entity, called WellPoint, will serve 26 million members and operate as a Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 13 states. The estimated value of the transaction is $16.4 billion.

Ken Ferber, VP of corporate communications for WellPoint, was told about the pending deal on Friday, October 24, two days before papers were officially signed. Ferber and Andy Morrison, head of public affairs, were two of the few insiders privy to the news before it went public. Legal restrictions also prevented Powell Tate, WellPoint's AOR, or any other external counsel from being involved.

Ferber called the situation "surreal." He said, "We were inside dealing with this secret merger while the building was literally engulfed in smoke."

Corporate headquarters for the combined company will move to Indianapolis. Ferber said details about how the merger will affect employees would not be discussed until the deal is finalized, some time in mid-2004.

"We had to put personal issues aside and come up with a solid communications plan," said Ferber.

Morrison was entrusted with coordinating a conference call for 5am PST Monday October 27 with approximately 250 constituencies, including insurance commissioners, federal officials, heads of medical associations, and affected governors.

Heather Rim, director of investor and corporate communications, was brought in Sunday afternoon to handle internal efforts. Company-wide e-mails hit employees' in-boxes at 4am EST on Monday, and additional voice mails were left for senior-level officers and associates. The news and anticipated Q&As were also posted on WellPoint's intranet and internet sites by the time employees arrived at work.

At the time PRWeek went to press, WellPoint had retained no M&A specialist firms to help coordinate communications surrounding the merger.

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