Rebrand the firm the way you would a client

All PR agencies have likely pursued a rebranding campaign on behalf of a client. But occasionally, the shoe is on the other foot: It's the firm itself that needs to rebrand.

All PR agencies have likely pursued a rebranding campaign on behalf of a client. But occasionally, the shoe is on the other foot: It's the firm itself that needs to rebrand.

When that time comes, an agency must be as honest and hard on itself as it is with its clients about what needs to stay the same -and more importantly, what needs to change.

Mike Swenson, president of Kansas City, MO-based Barkley Public Relations (until last month, Barkley Evergreen & Partners), says his agency decided a year ago that it wanted to rebrand, reflecting its evolution into a "truly integrated" company.

"We've been trying to de-silo ourselves and converge our offerings because that's where the world is today," Swenson says. "The discussion became how to reflect that change, and that we're a different company than we were five or 10 years ago. And [that] we are a truly integrated offering."

Swenson says most people believe that a rebranding effort means everything has to go and "you have to start completely all over again. [But] you can't throw away everything from the past," he explains. "There is built-up equity, whether it's in the name or the work. It's a mistake to think of discarding everything."

In addition to changing its name, Barkley also changed its color scheme from purple to red, and will be relocating into the former TWA headquarters in Kansas City later this month. And the firm's rebranding effort involved extensive research among stakeholders, media representatives, clients, and agency consultants, as well as staff, Swenson says, noting that internal discussion is sometimes the hardest part.

"You have to open your minds and drop the baggage outside the door," he says. "Not everybody has worked at [the company] for the same amount of time. Everyone has a different perspective. You have to get in a room, be willing to listen to each other, and not allow the words that won't work to come into the conversation."

Stacia Tipton, AVP at Washington-based Widmeyer Communications, says rebranding a PR agency is similar to any other kind of branding exercise.

"The idea is to find the overlap between the needs or wants of who we consider the target audience, the personality or essence of the firm, and what would make the firm most distinctive or unique," she explains. (As part of a rebranding campaign, her agency changed from Widmeyer-Baker to Widmeyer Communications in October 2000.)

Like Swenson, Tipton says research needs to be a component in the agency rebranding process.

"Try to find what's unique about the firm and what will resonate or motivate prospective clients or circles in which they want to be moving," she says. "Then with the creative team, you can come up with a more strategic brand."

Tipton adds that, as with all PR efforts, an agency's rebranding message must be credible. And that can be easier to achieve for a client than for one's own business.

"However you package or market yourself has to directly correlate with the day-to-day work within the firm," she says. "PR pros know how to approach rebranding. It takes a little discipline, though, to rebrand yourself."

Key points:

While rebranding, solicit lots of input from internal and external sources

Determine the firm's target audience and the qualities that make it unique

Take a hard look at firm strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to admit improvements can be made

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