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CEO and sole owner of Next PR, an award-winning, full-service public relations firm with offices across the U.S.
It was during a (pre-Covid) tour of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, near our headquarters, when I overheard confirmation of what I’d suspected for quite some time: My team had no connection with our brand. When the tour guide asked our staff what the then-name of our firm, SSPR, stood for, most of them had no idea.
We’d been SSPR since I started with the company as an intern in 1997. The firm, named after its founder and my professional mentor, Steve Simon, had a well-known reputation in the PR industry. But in the time since Steve passed away in 2015, so much had changed within our agency — new leadership, new faces, new office locations and new services — that few of us had any remaining connection with Steve and the brand he built.
That day at the training center, it was clear it was time for a change.
Rebranding an agency with such a strong legacy is not an easy decision, but after some serious introspection, I knew it was the only way forward. Here are three critical questions I asked myself to determine when it was time for a rebrand:
1. Does our current brand resonate with the team?
Steve started SSPR in 1978 with just $2,000. It was the company where I launched my career. Now, as the sole owner and CEO, I still feel a deep commitment to the brand and Steve’s legacy. But my team didn’t share that connection, that same passion, and it wasn’t fair to them or the company to hold onto the name for personal sentimental value when it just didn’t fit the brand any longer.
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One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Steve is that a willingness to embrace change is important, both as a human and as a business leader. Our agility as a company has become our core strength, especially within the last year, as we’ve pivoted to serve clients with the services they need during a time of rapid change.
As a leader, it can be hard to let go of a brand you’ve felt so invested in for so long. But in order to grow and move the organization forward, you need a brand that holds meaning for your staff — and one that truly represents the value of your collective team.
2. Does our brand resonate with clients and set us apart from competitors?
Many firms still carry the names of their founders, even generations later, because of their industry recognition. But PR has evolved by design to help clients achieve a wider range of goals — from racking up dozens of run items and media interviews to attracting analyst attention, securing venture capital and driving sales, along with successfully navigating Covid-19 challenges, digital transformation and difficult social issues. As an industry, we’ve built success by finding authentic ways to insert our clients into relevant conversations where they can add value by providing subject matter expertise, rather than with blatant product promotion.
It’s no longer about checking the traditional boxes of PR. If your mission is to partner with clients and deliver ROI, then your brand needs to convey that agility and vision.
3. Does our brand represent the future?
Last year forced many companies, including ours, to quickly and significantly pivot strategies. It forced us to question whether our brand message was aligned with those changes and represented where we’re headed as a company.
While it’s certainly important to honor a legacy, it’s more important for the growth of the business that your brand be forward-looking to accentuate the road map ahead. We needed a brand that reflected not just our history, but also our future vision, mission and our promise to clients.
Our ultimate goal is to help companies prepare for what’s next in their industries — and that starts with being proactive instead of reactive. Whether it’s adding executive social media management, planning ahead with a crisis communications program or even developing internal communications strategies to address business and social issues with internal staff, brands need to start thinking ahead as we move through 2021 and beyond. This kind of agile thinking is not just about sending the right message; it’s about holding yourself accountable.
Initiating a brand update can seem daunting — you may worry that your company will lose the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build. But the reality is that creating a brand that resonates with your team, one they feel connected to and passionate about, will reflect 10 times over in the work and results they deliver for clients. And that makes rebranding a worthwhile investment in the future of your company.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
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Author: Heather Kelly, Forbes Councils Member
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