Should PR firms rebrand to communicate they have more of a full-service offering?

A new identity can communicate a new level of expertise, when many communicators are searching for simpler, integrated answers to their challenges.

Lynn Casey, CEO and chair, PadillaCRT
Let’s say a client was expanding its offering to better serve customers and increase relevance with new buyers. We would urge them to investigate a verbal and visual rebrand to avoid any marketplace disconnects

If the investigation showed that the current positioning captures what the client is becoming, time and money can be spent elsewhere. If not, it’s time for a change. So why would PR agencies treat their own business any differently?

PadillaCRT’s decision to rebrand was easy. Last September, we became a new company through Padilla Speer Beardsley’s acquisition of CRT/tanaka. Even if we had not combined forces, we still would have rebranded our agency.

Our own investigation had uncovered a major disconnect between what prospective clients thought we offered and what we had added in recent years – a full-on creative group, brand and digital strategists, analytics, and other expertise to offer an authentic PESO solution. Our elevator story, website, and marketing materials reflected the evolution.

But our visual identity was lagging. The business case for a makeover was clear. Our brand planning also forced the definition question. Those raised with the classic definition of PR lobbied for "PR firm." Newer employees from ad and digital agencies reminded us that PR is largely synonymous with publicity – an important tool, but not the entire tool box. Marketing communications didn’t tell the whole story.

Neither did integrated. In the end, we decided the descriptor was not as important as ensuring we have compelling messaging around what we do and the results we get, in addition to a bold new look.

Jacqueline Kolek, partner and MD, Peppercomm
As brands try to find the right mix of partners to meet a diverse set of marcomms needs, agencies are competing to get a piece of the integrated marketing pie. 

For those of us who grew up in the traditional PR model, it is key to communicate the full scope of an agency’s offerings. However, with most agencies able to boast a mix of integrated service offerings, your positioning and brand need to reflect what makes your agency unique in order to thrive.

At Peppercomm, we began adding integrated services including social media and creative services before our rebrand in 2012. As we found ourselves competing with digital shops, advertising firms, and event management groups, we needed to communicate what made us different from this growing competitive set. To accomplish this, we had to practice what we preach.

Our internal agency marketing team conducted a positioning and brand audit to identify our strengths, personality, and differentiators, as well as a full competitive review. We learned that what set us apart was not our fully integrated offerings, but how we applied those services.

Our approach of listening to clients’ audiences to determine what they want to hear and where they want to hear it and then designing programs that employ the right mix of platforms and approaches resonated with clients and prospects. And so, Listen. Engage. Repeat. was born.

Since we launched the new brand, it has made a difference in terms of the clients we are attracting and winning. Now, we need to listen, engage our targets, and repeat the process to ensure our audiences are receiving our brand messages in the right way.

Dan Mazei, car comms manager, Ford

Reputation is arguably the proudest asset of an agency. It’s what has built client rosters, developed generations of professionals, and shaped the perceptions of the collective PR industry. Today, reputation can be a double-edged sword.

Having an established history as a strong corporate communications shop, for example, was once a badge of honor. Now it can – and likely does – become an unintentional obstacle to clients searching for a full-service firm, even if those capabilities exist.

There’s an argument for rebranding, which can be the literal introduction or framing of an agency’s capabilities. A new identity can communicate a new level of expertise, when many communicators are searching for simpler, integrated answers to their challenges.

But, rebranding comes at a cost, not only in terms of dollars, but also culture and identity. Logos are more than an art project; names more than ink on a business card.

One key task is properly positioning and communicating a firm’s resources. Any agency expecting to support a client’s media planning or product marketing will need to make those capabilities clear.

That means showcasing the diverse experience of all personnel that clients will be dealing with day to day. And it means highlighting any new resources the agency has developed in response to today’s communications ecosystem.

These assets and differentiators need to be more than slides in a new business deck. The agency needs to make them the focal point of their communications, owned properties, and speaking engagements.

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