Why Melissa Waggener Zorkin will never tire of the rebrand

Since the rebrand announcement on September 28, Melissa Waggener Zorkin, founder and CEO of the newly named WE Communications, has been travelling to the network's 16 offices, evangelising the agency's new look. But, she insists, she never tires of answering questions about it.

PRWeek Asia: You're not even tired of the questions about the rebrand being a means of succession planning?

Waggener Zorkin: No. And the rebrand really isn't about that. I would have done the rebrand 10 years ago. I did introduce it then but my team wasn't ready to hear about losing the brand equity of Waggener Edstrom.

But when I first thought of this back then, we didn’t have the strategy in place to back it up. Now, we have evolved and when this idea came up, we thought it made sense.

I am so excited by what this means from a strategy perspective and how our people feel about it. They feel they are as important as I am and each other.

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How have clients in Asia received the rebrand?

Our clients have been, and this is across Asia and ever other region, so flattered by - and felt so respected by - being brought into the WE fold. There’s been a outpouring of response… for example, in Singapore, the website’s hits have increased by 200 percent.

Rebrands are too often top-down. What are the small, everyday, concrete things you’ve introduced to ensure employees really feel that this is real and it is happening?

You can make a big beautiful sign but if every pay off doesn't start happening, it can feel empty. From the very beginning of the rebrand, we brought together 70 people from the company, from all walks of life, to San Francisco to form a team we called Fuse. I said, "I have ideas about where the branding should go. Be the brand ambassador for your teams and tell me what you think of these ideas".

But to answer your question… what’s in the fabric of the company that shows we’re making things happen? From the very beginning in our intern programme, I speak to them and ask them, "What do you think of our company? What’s important to you? When I say, WE, it means your point-of-view matters".

As an agency we’ve never invested this much in an internal branding programme, and the rollout will continue for another 18 months. Funny story, when we rolled out the rebrand in San Francisco, I wore one orange, and one green sneaker. It’s become a bit of a thing.

What else is part of the 18-month roll out?

One of the big ideas of WE is the benefits of unlikely pairings. Juxtapositions. Part of our brand is around how ideas come from everywhere. We’ve put in place a programme where we put a client together with another client. On the surface, it would seem that they would have zero in common. One such example we’ve done is putting Volvo together with a publication called Garden & Gun. Both found they care deeply about the quality of the work they produce. Now they’re partners on some initiatives.

We’ve also always underlined the importance of leading with a point of view. To drive discussion rather than just react to it. We are racheting this up. Recently we put together an industry gathering of prominent people for cybersecurity. The list included US homeland security, NYT journalist David Sanger, a representative from Microsoft… we put the panel together and stepped back to let the POV lead.

Why is this such a priority for you? How do you feel that as a PR agency, this serves your clients?

WE is completely rooted in the fact that people like to build relationships. They don’t like transactions. They want an agency to truly address their pain points and opportunities from a relationship perspective, not just a project perspective.

Project work is taking over our industry. But we fundamentally believe that even if you do only have a couple of projects, you draw a line, you fill it in. Serve a continuum. Clients come back when they feel they can rely on you repeatedly.

They also do feel flattered when invited to be part of a panel, to talk about current events, the context, and where communications is going. They learn from this and take it back to the CEO.

Where do you think WE, and the PR industry as a whole, needs to be next year if it’s going to thrive?

As an independent firm, we have the luxury of starting with purpose rather than profits. I’m not going to comment about the industry as a whole but, for us, this is what we need to be in the business.

The first thing the PR industry needs to focus more on is the actual work and what the client is getting in the relationship. What is the true impact of your agency’s work?

In our work with Volvo, we’ve gotten to do some really exciting creative stuff during the Super Bowl, but you can’t go in to the client pitch and talk about creativity. You have to say if it will sell more cars. We can’t say it’s all us, but we have definitely contributed to an increase of 70 per cent sales of the XC60 in the month following the game.

It’s very important to be creative, but creative to what end? The PR industry needs to focus on moving people to action.

We have to partner with advertising, search and digital agencies. We can’t invent everything ourselves. As an independent firm, we need partnerships that are win-win.

Part of having an impact is being able to say no to a bad client idea. This can be hard for agencies. Any advice?

As an agency, figure out what you can do that's so special that it's not easy to let you go. For us, this ties back to the filling-in between the projects we talked about. Yes it's about delivering better than anyone else but you fill in everything from A-Z with other ideas.

It’s very hard to be retained for just that one thing. The relationships you build could take different forms based on who the clients are. Some clients may want an idea a minute. Others may want a team member in the office during a crisis. It’s about going that extra mile.

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