When Multiple Brands Combine Their Identities, PR Mediates

It's an issue ripe for the picking: increased globalization, overseas expansions, mergers and acquisitions - all of these trends have brought the corporate re-branding conversation to a head, as effectively aligning and integrating multiple brands and corporate cultures is a business imperative. Communications is the secret (or, hopefully, not-so-secret) weapon for executing a strategy in a timely manner, as experts say that six to 12 months is the recommended timeframe for full integration after a merger or acquisition. Some organizations are pushing communications to the forefront, in order to intercept re-branding challenges: PricewaterhouseCoopers was formerly Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand, but the two entities merged in 1998 and re-branded; Dow Jones began the process of acquiring Factiva in late 2006 from venture-partner Reuters; and umbrella organization Observer Group changed its name to Cision just last week in order to streamline the 10 names across the company. "Communications is paramount when you are trying to bring together two organizations, or when you are trying to communicate worldwide," says Mike Davies, director of global communications at PwC. "Communications has to be very high up on the agenda." Even if your organization or client isn't a multi-billion-dollar corporate behemoth, the same (or, at least, similar) rules of engagement apply. Following is a roadmap for communications executives who are journeying into the great re-branding unknown, inspired by the strategies and best practices used by those who have been there and back, and who survived to tell the tale. Know what you are getting into, and create an executive committee to deal with it. Obviously, mergers and acquisitions aren't done in an off-the-cuff manner. Market research, studies and bureaucratic nightmares will exist for perhaps years before action is taken. But communicators at all levels of the organization need to join forces at the earliest stages of action. Cision handled this by creating a re-branding executive committee, which was composed of marketing/communications heads from all the involved companies, to drive the project. When you gather, think about where your current brands have been - and where they're going. That will help define the culture and mission that in turn drive a more tangible brand identity. Be involved in the process of choosing the name/visual identity. If the name is going to change, communicators can spot key snags that may slip under other executives' radars. Usually an outside organization will be brought on to create hundreds of options, and then the company will narrow them down until a decision is reached and tested with focus groups. Names can fit into one of three categories: descriptive, suggestive or abstract. Abstract names, or "non-words" (think Accenture, which was born in 2001 out of Anderson Consulting) are increasingly common, as "real words" (Target, anyone?) are extremely difficult to trademark, and their connotations often won't translate to other cultures. Thus, an "empty vessel" is often the most desirable choice. "'Cision' is an empty vessel, so we can fill it with meaning," says Steve Newman, CEO of Cision North America. Once you have settled on a name that suits the desired corporate identity, the legal team will make sure it's not trademarked in the U.S., in any country you already do business in, and in countries where you hope to do business in the future. The communications team should work with overseas counterparts to make sure that the name doesn't have any negative connotations or associations in other languages that aren't necessarily formal or on paper. Anticipate resistance with an airtight plan for handling it. Ever heard of the book Who Moved My Cheese? It's about dealing with change, both in life and in work, and people's natural resistance to it. When they are presented with an impending change, different stakeholders will have different emotions. Employees will want to know what this change means for them and the roles they play. Consumers will be anxious that the company/brand they have gotten to know is suddenly transforming into something else. Investors will want to know what impact the change will have on the bottom-line. Develop a communications plan specifically aimed at each group and its unique set of concerns. Approaching stakeholders with the news without being prepared when they bombard you with questions will only inflame their unease and resistance. "There is always resistance to change," says Stephen Debruyn, VP of marketing for Cision. "You have to tell the re-branding message - the 'why' of the story - and relate it to them with the values that the brand stands for. The brand is a promise to clients." Communicate the change to each stakeholder group individually. Each stakeholder group has specific interests and concerns when it comes to a corporate re-branding. There are legal considerations in terms of whom you can tell, and when you can tell them. Pay especially focused attention to communicating the change to employees, because they will become the new brand's stewards - or slayers. "The first step is communicating the name and visual identity to employees, and addressing their questions," says Debruyn. "Just as important is allowing employees to internalize the brand and to understand what it means on a day-to-day basis. Identify brand values and associated messages, and sit down with employees to translate them. Address thought leadership and orientation." Diane Thieke, director of global PR for the Enterprise Media Group of Dow Jones, says her company's strategy for communicating the corporate culture to employees had to address the unique situation they faced: Factiva was owned as a joint venture between Dow Jones and Reuters but acted independently, so many Factiva employees weren't familiar with the Dow culture. "Our head of internal communications and I work closely, and our philosophy is to be completely transparent with all stakeholders, and particularly with employees. You must keep employees up-to- date and informed before external messages go out." Thieke cites the company's internal Web site and "breakfast briefings" as key elements of the corporate culture-building initatives. Thieke also emphasizes the importance of technology during re-branding efforts. The breakfast briefings are taped and put online for global employees. "Making good use of technology enables you to build a corporate culture worldwide," she says. When it's time to communicate externally, "own" the brand. "Put together a policy that allows the organization to be seen and act as a thought leader," says Alan Scott, EVP and CMO of Dow Jones. "Whether it's through bylined articles, white papers or blogging, allowing employees to be thought leaders lets us live the brand attributes that we want to convey to the marketplace. It's all about thought leadership that dovetails with the brand philosophy." In addition to approaching external audiences as an authoritative new (or newly refurbished) brand, Scott underscores the importance of understanding the markets that all the brands related to prior to the merger or acquisition; once the process is under way, those markets must still be targeted individually. "Corporate communications, PR and marketing executives all got together to decide where we had the most brand equity overall, and then what the best way to move forward would be in terms of leveraging that equity and creating a go-to-market strategy," Scott says. "In B2B marketing, it's about the identity of the marketplaces you are going after and making sure that you are still relevant to them [under your new brand image]." For organizations of any size, going through a re-branding, communications is, as Newman puts it, "the glue that holds it all together." CONTACTS: Mike Davies, +44.20.7804.2378; Steve Newman, steve.newman@cision.com; Stephen Debruyn, stephen.debruyn@cision.com; Alan Scott, alan.scott@dowjones.com; Diane Thieke, diane.thieke@dowjones.com

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