When the agency becomes the client

Promoting a firm after a significant change requires a persistent, carefully honed message.

Promoting a firm after a significant change requires a persistent, carefully honed message.

Changes in management, ownership, or name can provide a valuable opportunity to promote an agency. What's most important is to evaluate the impact, create positive messaging, and then reinforce it broadly and consistently, both internally and externally.

"Treat yourself like any client looking for counsel," says Lisa Throckmorton, SVP of SpeakerBox Communications, which was known as Shea Hedges Group until Elizabeth Shea bought co-founding partner Kristi Hedges' stake last year. "We created a team focused on the rebrand and the messaging, and we assessed [the plan] regularly.
Promotion has to start inside - your people are your first line of messaging."

SpeakerBox helped employees let go of old materials at a "purge party," and provided a style guide for new materials and procedures, including how to answer the phone.
Linhart McClain Finlon Public Relations became Linhart Public Relations (LPR) last year after its partner ad agency departed and two new partners joined Sharon Linhart, managing partner of LPR. Linhart used the opportunity to tout the agency's strengths.

"Help clients and employees understand [how the change] benefit[s] them, and position it that way," Linhart says. "Our key messages were the strength of steady growth through our history and continuity in terms of me still being here."

If a split has occurred, it's important to quickly communicate the positives of the change. "Own the story," Throckmorton says. "Our situation was an elected change [and] more than amicable. If left to interpretation, people could take that in the wrong way. We worked hard to get on top of the message and make sure we controlled it."

Consolidation led Bliss, Gouverneur and Associates to change its name to BlissPR.
MD Abby Carr advises the use of outside input to help define differentiation and craft new messaging. A third party conducted a client satisfaction survey and brand assessment, and a sister firm created new marketing guidelines based on survey feedback.

SpeakerBox also benefited from outside feedback. "We sent out a short list of names to see which one [clients and friends] liked," Throckmorton says. "It was a nice way to give them opportunity to buy in before the change. They [got excited] and became an extension of our ability to communicate to [the] general public. It gave momentum that we wouldn't have had."

Make sure Web sites are updated and reflect new branding. "Redo your Web site to make sure all capabilities are highlighted," Carr says. "We have a [new] healthcare capability. We have thought-leadership pieces on the Web site and [have also] pushed them out to clients and prospects."

SpeakerBox e-mailed a preview of the new graphical elements of its Web site to clients as well as local media and trades.

"It's not always easy to get media interested," Linhart says. "[Use] relationships and help journalists understand how and why it's important and newsworthy. It's good when clients get it from media too."

A 10-year anniversary party in October gave SpeakerBox opportunity to perpetuate the new brand among clients, prospects, friends, and partners. "It [was also] a press opportunity to talk about the company's focus," Throckmorton says.

Be sure to promote yourself in community and professional groups. "It's important that our reputation and visibility remain strong in the industry," Carr says.

Linhart sent releases to community organizations, which ran news of the change in their newsletters. "We take any reasonable opportunity to remind partners in the community that we're at the top of our game and highly respected," she notes.

It's important to keep at it when promoting an agency after a major change. "When you have brand equity, it takes persistence and consistency in reinforcing the name change," Throckmorton says.

"Slow is better because consistency and stability [are] important to employees and clients," says Carr.

"Keep sending messages until it's not relevant anymore," Linhart adds. "Keep telling the story until you feel like you've gotten the message across."

Technique tips
DO
  • Develop new messaging; get outside input
  • Promote directly to staff and clients
  • Reach out to local media and trades
DON'T
  • Allow assumptions. Own your story
  • Neglect community outreach
  • Stop until messages sink in

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