EDITORIAL: Agency rebranding initiatives are ineffective without consistent messaging behind them

In June, I wrote about the launch of Golin Harris' new branding, represented by a golden-orange logo, promising a new day for the firm.

In June, I wrote about the launch of Golin Harris' new branding, represented by a golden-orange logo, promising a new day for the firm.

Nearly six months later, the firm's website is fronted by a link to its old branded site, with a pledge that "the new Golin Harris website is coming soon." The irony is that internal enthusiasm for the firm's brand initiative is authentic. Every time you spot a Golin staffer these days, he or she is wearing a smart little pin reflecting the new logo. But the follow through on the touch points that will bring in the business has lagged. And in this business, that's just not good enough. No one ever said rebranding was easy. "Branding professional services firms is the most challenging of any group we deal with," says Allen Adamson, MD of Landor New York. The collaborative nature of the agency environment can thwart progress and decision making. Rebranding is also an expensive and time-consuming undertaking, one in which deciding on the identity is only one-third of the battle. Executing is the hard part. "Most programs start off with the greatest intention and bravado," Adamson says. "But there's not always the same muscle to deliver." Little things say a lot. When Hill & Knowlton acquired Dome six months ago, the initial release identified the new entity as Dome H&K. It quickly changed to Dome HK, but our calls to a couple of H&K offices and a visit to the H&K website revealed there were still some ampersands running around out there. Nevertheless, Dome HK does have its dedicated site up and running, replete with the new logo. H&K's site was quickly updated after we pointed out the inconsistency. MS&L launched its own rebranding with its "change minds" campaign in 2002. Some confusion still stems from the firm's use of its full name (Manning, Selvage & Lee) and its "nickname" (MS&L) seemingly interchangeably in press releases and e-mail communications. But the firm has been rigid and consistent about the use of its logo. CEO Lou Capozzi maintains that a company can sustain a name and a nickname without confusion. But it's easier for companies that are, as he puts it, "famous," like Coca-Cola, which has no problem being recognized as Coke or even by its well-known swirled logo. Capozzi believes PR firms in general struggle with identity and that identity is crucial for recruitment, marketing, and consistent delivery of services. In today's competitive environment, where PR has a great opportunity to demonstrate its ability to lead integration and be the purveyor of the big idea, effective execution of these programs is more important than ever. PR agencies, like other professional service firms, will always be client-centric and will fail to deliver to themselves the high standard of strategy and tactics that they bring to clients. But the challenges just make it all the more important to work harder to get it right. What client would tolerate any less? There are several firms that have told me they are currently preparing to launch a new branding initiative. They should heed this essential piece of advice. "You must think about what your most important points of touch are," Adamson says. "If you can't transition those in an expedient manner, don't do it."

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