Putting your agency in the spotlight

Rebranding gives firms a chance to tell their own stories to clients and other audiences.

Rebranding gives firms a chance to tell their own stories to clients and other audiences.

Given the changes taking place in the communications industry, it's no surprise that many PR agencies are looking to reposition themselves in the marketplace. But while it may seem fairly straightforward, rebranding can be a daunting task for agencies accustomed to focusing all of their resources to helping clients tell their stories.

"It really is hard to be self-promoting," notes Elizabeth Shea, who last month changed the name of her McLean, VA-based agency from the SheaHedges Group to SpeakerBox Communications. The switch was intended not only to reflect management changes, but also an expansion of the firm's services and geographic reach. "A lot of clients are also considering rebranding efforts," she adds. "If we can't do one for ourselves, how could our clients rely on us to do this for them?"

Rebranding efforts can include anything from a new logo or Web site design to complete name changes and tag lines. Porter Novelli president Gary Stockman stresses none of these should ever be done in a vacuum and should always be the trigger for - or the result of - a complete strategic re-evaluation of a company's vision.

"We asked the fundamental questions first and then looked at the way our brand could reflect who we felt we were and aspired to be," Stockman explains, noting the biggest change from the agency's rebranding was a new tag line, "Many Minds. Singular Results."

"It's important that a brand really answers the question of why a company exists," adds Stockman.

Beth LaBreche, president of LaBreche, formerly LaBreche Murray Public Relations, stresses that it's important to keep existing clients informed throughout any rebranding process.

"Because it involved a management change, we did a lot of outreach to key clients," she explains. "But there's a secondary opportunity when handing out your new business cards to reinforce your new key messages and give [people] an update on any new services you can provide."

"Other than your internal team, your client partners are really your most important stakeholders," adds Bryan Harris, managing partner with New York-based Taylor, formerly Alan Taylor Communications. "So you need to be way out in front and make sure they understand not only the rationale of the rebranding, but also the implications."

It may be tempting for an agency to rush through a rebranding process so they can get back to their real work of helping clients. But it's important to devote both the time and the resources to get it done right.

"We thought we could get in done in three months, but it took closer to six months and we still have a couple of dangling strings that we need to wrap up," LaBreche explains. "You need to set a realistic timetable so you can overturn every stone from how your office lobby looks to how people answer the phones to the fonts in your name - everything that your brand will touch."

Shea also suggests leveraging a firm's most important asset - its employees.

"The big thing is to involve your staff because you really want them to buy into the process," she says. "We had a contest internally as part of a team-building exercise. One of the names that came out of those sessions was SpeakerBox."

Because a rebranding can be a great new- business-development tool, it's important to ensure the process doesn't end with the unveiling of a new name, tag line, or logo.

"You need to have a plan for the next several months after your rebrand," says Harris. "And it needs to involve aggressive marketing, not just to national and regional media, but also to key influencers and potential new clients."

Technique tips


Get staff involved so that everyone is committed to the new brand

Keep existing clients in the loop. Make sure they know what you're doing and how it will benefit them

Be realistic in your timetable. A complete rebrand will take time and there's no rushing through the process


Take half-measures. Use the process to evaluate your entire strategic vision and goals

Shortchange your firm. Make sure you treat the rebrand as you do client work

Go to the well too often. Rebranding too many times could muddle your message in the marketplace

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