Years of branding efforts pay off for CBIZ

From a new name to its thought-leadership push, CBIZ is making inroads with various audiences

It took a name change, a major branding effort, and a few acquisitions for CBIZ to create a brand that was consistent with the company message, yet flexible enough to maintain its reputation at various branches across the US.

The Cleveland-based business-services company offers 1,000 services, mainly associated with the financial and accounting fields. When the decision was made to brand CBIZ, the question for the marketing staff became: How?

Through the 1990s, which was also the period during which the company went public, CBIZ functioned as a conglomerate of businesses that basically retained their own names and identities, regardless of ownership or acquisition status. Specialties included wealth management, accounting and taxes, human resources, and insurance.

CMO Mark Waxman, whose agency SK Consulting was a CBIZ acquisition, was tasked by new CEO Steven Gerard with creating a national brand for the company in 2001.

The result was a multi-year strategy, starting two years later, that aimed to consolidate all of its brands without disrupting the flow of business. It was right around then that Waxman, who is based in Silicon Valley, noticed that organizations were just starting to talk about branding.

Waxman started by taking the company's laundry list of consulting services and breaking it down into three categories: financial, human resources, and infrastructure. "One of our key tasks was to logically build groups of services to bring to market," he explains.

Then the communications team developed a plan to convince the smaller, more localized firms that it was important to embrace the diversity of the CBIZ brand and name, something that Waxman considers a major strength for the company's branding.

Gregory FCA, based in Ardmore, PA, was hired as AOR in 2004 to assist this effort.

"There was a tangled web of companies coming together," says Joseph Anthony, SVP at Gregory FCA. "We had to bring in all these different parts to co-exist and get behind the core strategy in marketing."

Leaning more toward internal communications, the team worked to establish tools and marketing plans to provide each of CBIZ's150 different companies with a set strategy that included "consistent messaging with flexibility," says Anthony. "There were a lot of entrepreneurs in the mix and it was one of our biggest challenges."

Waxman adds that each individual firm has its own identity and CBIZ wanted to continue to recognize the various strengths.

"We can't be practice-specific," he says. "So we focused messaging around the client - 'We'll help you focus on core business.'"

The layered rebranding continued with a name change. In 2005, the company did some research and discovered that its name at the time - Century Business Services - was considered somewhat generic and that people had started referring to it by its ticker symbol, CBZ. The PR effort worked with CBIZ branches in a gradual shift toward the CBIZ brand.

"It was more about the creation of a brand that really [hadn't] existed," says Waxman. "XYZ Accounting would be-come CBIZ XYZ Accounting and then eventually CBIZ."

A thought-leadership effort followed to develop the brand and market CBIZ to the press. The team realized that the company had a number of highly specialized experts in various fields. Pulling from that wealth, the PR team began offering the CBIZ experts to various media outlets for stories about industry trends. Thus far, it has secured placements in media outlets such as The New York Times, BusinessWeek, CNBC, Accounting Today, and CFO magazine.

With the help of Gregory FCA, which shared a similar media relations mentality that focused on providing outlets with sources rather than peppering them with news releases, CBIZ began to take the coverage and leverage it internally, Waxman says. The CBIZ team also upped the Web content and added niche newsletters.

"It was too fragmented," says Anthony. "We wanted to start connecting people to a variety of experts... We started looking for opportunities to insert those folks in."

Since the official start of the branding campaign five years ago, Waxman says the initial strategy has not changed and the uniqueness of the brand remains the strength for the company's PR efforts.

At a glance

Organization: CBIZ

Chairman and CEO: Steven Gerard

Headquarters: Cleveland

Revenue: $643.9 million

Key trade titles: Local business journals and Crain's publications

Comms budget: Undisclosed

Communications team: Mark Waxman, CMO; Kristen Kosek, national marketing manager; Lisa Rice and Erin Lombardi, national marketing coordinators

PR firm: Gregory FCA Communications

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