In a Rebrand, Rethink Everything, Get Outside Help and Reconnect Boldly


As an industry, PR tends to stand in the shadows—behind its clients, promoting them and making them the heroes. Within many agencies, including the one I’ve been employed at for 16 years, often there’s been an allergic reaction to the notion of self-promotion versus viewing it as a necessary business imperative. In truth, we’re all about keeping our heads down and doing killer work—work that should speak for itself.

So here we found ourselves, like many agencies, faced with the reality that what we were telling our clients every single day about what THEY needed to do for their business was not something we did in our own business.

We knew we had to step back and examine who we are at our core. In addition, we knew we couldn’t do this alone. So roughly one year ago we brought in an outside partner, Salt Branding, to work with a group of cross-agency leaders to help us nail our story. Salt talked to employees, clients and industry influencers to understand how we were viewed in the world. It dove into our work to better understand our capabilities and strengths.

What that deep examination brought to the forefront was our strength in transformative storytelling. Sitting at the intersection of people, brands and technology, we determined we do our best work in this impact zone where disruption is happening and the pace of change is high.

When you figure out that you are all about change—suddenly you have to put everything on the table and open it up for debate—nothing is sacred. That included our name, our logo and our voice.

Ironically, we didn’t set out to change the name of the company, or the logo or even the brand voice and personality. But once we had gone through the work with Salt we saw very quickly that the comfortable shoes that had gotten us this far were going to need some major updating.

That’s when Waggener Edstrom Communications became simply WE. Why? We realized it better reflects what we do together—fusing different ideas, skill sets and diverse thinking to tackle a problem. It showcases the power that comes in the collective WE—our clients, our people, our partners, our influencers. Best of all—it’s aligned to who we always have been.

We needed a way of expressing this idea visually, which led to the concept of fusion and juxtaposition of ideas—colliding to show those impact zones where the best thinking happens and the greatest ideas are born. The introduction of green to the color palette to contrast with the orange played this out further, as did the new logo that is the literal interpretation of the blending of seemingly different things.

Our next step was reintroducing ourselves to our most important audiences. We did this internally with our employees and externally with our clients in what we felt were non-traditional ways; more on that below. As communicators we felt strongly that the way WE introduced itself would be critical. When done effectively, communications can play a critical role in successfully moving brands through transformation—helping change minds, shift behaviors and ultimately meet business goals.

What did we learn on this journey, besides how fun it is to unleash creativity and great thinking on your own organization after so many years of doing it for others? Here are three lessons that stand out from this adventure:

1. Find a Trusted BFF: We had been discussing the need to rethink our story for a long time, and found ourselves with differing points of view on where we needed to focus. Salt Branding cut through the clutter, held the mirror up for us on our strengths and helped us be reductive when and where we needed to.

2. Create a Groundswell: Instead of starting at the top and communicating from the executive level down internally, we brought a group of 50 employees—from every region, nearly every office and almost every level—to a mystery event in San Francisco. We anointed them as our brand ambassadors. We gave them deep training on the brand and a BIG job: make the brand their own—and then share it with their peers in their own offices. They responded to the challenge—creating customized teaser events, trainings and celebrations. The result was an engaged employee base that bought into the change.

3. Do the Unexpected: We turned absolutely everything inside out. Instead of a traditional press release we let social media and our other owned channels take the lead in announcing our news. We created events in key markets to spark interesting conversations and brought together unlikely brand pairings. Instead of sending email to our clients, we sent them beautifully crafted boxes full of unexpected chocolate pairings with a clever note. We trashed the old game plan and purposely showed up differently.

We know that transformation is a continuous loop. There is no beginning, middle or end. We are excited to take another big step in an evolution that has been underway for quite some time. And while we’re still fighting against the temptation to stand in the shadows, we’re finding more and more opportunities to purposefully shout from the rooftops. That’s pretty liberating.

CONTACT: @jengranston

This article originally appeared in the October 26, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.