Corporate practices are weaving into branding

Over the past few years, a surge in the importance of corporate reputation and corporate social responsibility has contributed to a growing synergy between the corporate and other practices within the agency.

Over the past few years, a surge in the importance of corporate reputation and corporate social responsibility has contributed to a growing synergy between the corporate and other practices within the agency.

Now more than ever, corporate practices are becoming increasingly involved in their clients' branding process.

"Corporate reputation is at the center of all corporate communications, and branding goes hand in hand with that," says Kate Larkin, SVP in the corporate practice at Cohn & Wolfe. "The corporate brand is the central foundation from which all product and service communications can be successful. If you don't have a strong, trustworthy, credible corporate brand, your product and service communications starts at a definite disadvantage."

Carreen Winters, SVP at MWW Group, says her firm follows a "total stakeholder approach" in its work for clients.

"We've always felt that there was more interconnectedness between the various constituencies of a company or a brand than traditional marketing ever took into account, [and] clients understand that more and more," she explains. "They [realize] that the person who buys their product, applies for a job at their company, or decides to invest in their stock can very well be the same person."

Michael Whitlow, SVP in the corporate practice at CRT/tanaka, says that same philosophy is working its way into his firm's business - even before an account is won.

In a recent pitch for a large restaurant chain, he says, a vital part of the presentation was explaining how the company's corporate leadership could take a more active role in the industry, and how staff could better represent the brand.

"We got a great opportunity to be part of that pitch," he says. "Five years ago, it would've been much more about individual products."

C&W's Larkin adds that her agency's corporate practice has seen an increase in referrals from other practices within the agency, especially healthcare. "More and more of the pharma companies have recognized the need for a strong corporate brand," she says.

Some corporate practices are seeing traditional corporate communications or corporate affairs work evolve into branding. Peter Hirsch, partner and leader of the global corporate affairs practice at Porter Novelli, says that has been the case with his agency's work for Penske, the truck leasing company. Four years ago, the agency began working on corporate affairs for the company; in the past two years, that has expanded into a global branding campaign.

As companies like Nike and Starbucks merge corporate communications and branding functions, brand positioning, offered as a vital part of a firm's corporate practice capabilities, is a logical step, says Michael Bayer, senior MD and head of Financial Dynamics' corporate communications unit. In fact, he says, FD's corporate practice was designed to include brand positioning.

While reputation and issues management are always core practice components, Bayer says two-thirds of FD's corporate practice consists of long-term clients looking to define, reposition, and expand visibility for their brands.

"When you're controlling your brand, you're controlling your position in the market," he says.

Key points:

Corporate practices are becoming more involved in clients' branding programs

Other agency practices are turning to corporate practices for counsel

Corporate branding plans are increasingly included in new-business pitches

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