EDITORIAL: Employee comms is the name of the game when changing the letters on your shingle

What's in a name change? As WorldCom turns into MCI, and everyone adjusts to saying Altria instead of Philip Morris, one can't help but think about the enormous investment that companies outlay to change the letters on the door, and just what that investment is worth.

What's in a name change? As WorldCom turns into MCI, and everyone adjusts to saying Altria instead of Philip Morris, one can't help but think about the enormous investment that companies outlay to change the letters on the door, and just what that investment is worth.

Obviously, communications must play an integral role in any kind of identity overhaul in order for it to take among the full range of stakeholders - let's just take that as a given. Companies need to pay particular attention to the most critical audience of such rebranding exercises - the employees. Never underestimate the demoralizing impact of having to tell people you work for fill-in-the-blank-disgraced-corporation. Even now, people will offer their work history with formerly prestigious firms like Arthur Andersen with a sheepish look and a disavowal of any personal shredding practices. But employees will not be convinced by a renewed brand identity that does not reflect a shift in what some call the "corporate culture," which in many cases was a major part of what contributed to the scandals. If the workforce is engaged and convinced the change is more than superficial - and ideally the efforts to ensure that should have begun long before the rebranding was even announced - the investment will be more than worthwhile. These stakeholders then become the best spokespeople a company can have. Unfortunately, too often this kind of communication is watered down and imprecise, failing to address specific concerns, and the different ways individuals reflect, communicate, and embody the brand. A rebranding effort as it plays out in the media typically follows a familiar pattern. The announcement is made and business observers debate the likelihood that the company will successfully distance itself from past malfeasance, as in WorldCom's case. But investors and the media will basically hold the company up to the same standards. The only ones who can prove there really is a new way of doing things on a consistent and credible basis are employees. Diversity dominates discussion at LA forum I spent some time last week in Los Angeles, which was the first stop in PRWeek's editorial whistle-stop tour of some of the US' key markets, also to include the Bay Area, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Texas. Without giving away too much of the discussion, which will form the basis of our regional report to be published next month, I was struck by one particular theme that recurred. It seems that there is no such thing as multicultural marketing or multicultural campaigns in Los Angeles. A program designed and executed in the region will naturally reflect the community in all its diversity. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, including those that also reflect substantially diverse populations, the term can often be siloed in the marketing plan. When the distinction was pointed out to me, it seemed absurd that there should be any other way of developing a program today, especially as the industry strives to expand diversity in its ranks, and in its client roster.

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