Say you had to get a message from your CEO to 70,000 employees in 64 countries. You could e-mail it. But what if you also had to make each recipient feel personally addressed in a respectful way? You could do careful work with translators to get not just the overall message right but local nuances as well.

But what if you had to deliver the appropriately translated message; make each recipient feel understood and respected; welcome all of them as employees of a new, global company being created from their former employers; make it a two-way interaction; and deploy the whole enchilada by an immovable deadline?

At that point, you’re really going to need some help.

Day One
That was the communications mountain Karen Horn faced when she and a team were charged with creating a campaign to integrate the 52,000 mainly U.S.–based employees of MetLife and the 18,000 worldwide employees of AIG-owned Alico, which MetLife announced its intention to acquire in early 2010. It became known as the Day One campaign, a reference to the literal “day one”—November 1, 2010, the day the $16.2 billion deal was finalized.

“We wanted Alico employees, on day one, to feel welcome, and to operate as part of MetLife,” says Horn, the company’s New York–based vice president, internal communications. “Likewise for MetLife legacy employees. We wanted them to understand that this made us a totally different company—a global company.”

Horn partnered with event marketing agency TBA Global, and everyone’s first instinct was to consider one worldwide event. But as tempting as it was to have 70,000 people sharing a moment, Horn and the team realized it would, in fact, send the wrong message. So rather than expecting all offices to tune in at an appointed time, MetLife and TBA Global reached out to contacts in the seven geographic regions and asked for advice on delivering the message of unity. “We said, ‘Here’s what we want people to think and feel. What would that take? A ballroom? Lunch around the office conference table?’” Horn explains. “The whole point was for everyone to feel, ‘I’m a part of MetLife, and MetLife understands and cares about me.’ It was important that we do things as it made sense in each location.”

So instead of one event on November 1 (which had its own problems, since the day is a religious holiday in many countries), Horn worked to arrange 60-plus events held at times that best suited each office or region within a week or two after November 1.

Keeping It Simple
But what would they celebrate? Horn recalls meeting with Alico’s regions and offering communications concepts: “What we came away thinking was, ‘We knew they all would be different, but, wow, they’re all really different.’”

The brand message, therefore, had to be “translatable, universal, and able to be internalized and embraced in any language,” says Alison Jenks, vice president, marketing, at TBA Global. Creative, yes; complicated, no. “We realized it had to be as simple as possible,” Horn says. “Everyone understands concept of ‘one.’ We are one company. We are ‘One MetLife.’”

The next challenge was how best to carry that message through at the local events. “Our solution was to make a variety of materials and give them options,” Horn says. Each of the 100 offices received a “digital toolkit” with elements (translated into 19 languages) that they could use in their own Day One events. Among the tools were logos, photos, brand identity guidelines, and videos.

One video, created by TBA Global from clips submitted by each region showing employees displaying a special One MetLife logo, was included for use as the opener for all of the Day One events worldwide. “From Uruguay to Athens to Tokyo, it was amazing to see what they did,” Horn says.

TBA Global also produced a five-minute video called “Who is Met Life?” Leaders of every business area and region were included. “It’s important that you hear ‘your’ person,” Horn notes, “and for you to think, ‘My leader is there. I’m a part of this.’”

The U.S. event was held November 5, with 600 legacy MetLife and former Alico employees gathering at the Sheraton New York. Many of the MetLife executives had just returned—in at least one case, coming directly from airport to stage—from attending Day One events in Japan, Chile, France, Dubai, and Mexico.

“Our goals were to create a welcoming environment that allowed attendees to mix and mingle, as well as feel recognized for their contributions to the acquisition and integration process,” says Lori Allen, manager, global events, at MetLife in New York, who served as lead planner for the event. “We also wanted to showcase the fact that this was not the only event, merely the final event, in a weeklong series of international celebrations commemorating our new global presence.”

As the meeting’s technical director, Rich Young, meeting specialist, says, “Our goal was to ‘wow’ them with the graphics and videos that were being shown that night. We used a 60-by-20-foot screen that gave a lot of power to the room and enhanced the videos and images. It also was a dramatic backdrop for the presenters and for group photos during the evening.”

Alico meeting professionals Trish Anderson and Darrell Drason, were on hand as well. “The event was great exposure for them to MetLife associates, and they were familiar faces for the Alico attendees,” Allen notes. “We’ve realigned our department as a result of our expanded international scope. Trish and Darrell now are senior planners in our Global Events Team.”

Message Received
So did Horn successfully scale the mountain? In terms of engagement, yes: Every region participated in creating a video for the opening montage and every employee was reached by a Day One event. In terms of retention, also yes: Two months post-acquisition, MetLife had met its goal of retaining 90 percent of target employees.

“Our regions exceeded our expectations because they added so much energy with their local interpretations of the event and its meaning,” Horn says. “People were genuinely excited to see ‘real people’ in other locations saying with a big smile, ‘One MetLife.’ That made it all worth it.”