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How do you solve a problem like... rebranding your agency?

What's the best way of navigating an agency rebranding excercise?

Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

Rebrands are a tricky business. They can make your outfit look like the coolest place to work in the world, or they can squander hard-earned goodwill towards your existing brand. Consider, for example, the recent renaming of Standard Life Aberdeen to Abrdn, which united both grammarians and the Financial Times’ wry Alphaville column in distaste.

While agencies don’t have to worry about consumer perceptions, they do need to market themselves to their next (and current) clients. The latest to do so is S4 Capital, which last week announced its own rebrand, putting its 24 companies under the Media.Monks umbrella.

So, how do you approach an agency rebrand? What measures do you take to ensure you don’t shock clients and staff, or that you’re not forsaking valuable brand heritage?

Misty Locke, global chief marketing officer, media, Dentsu International

An agency brand isn’t just about its name on the door or the way it looks. In order to get it right, it’s critical the brand goes much deeper than just a fancy logo, décor or color palette. The essence of an iconic and lasting brand is what it stands for, what it means to its people – its clients and to the wider industry.

Of course, your brand needs to look good and be polished, but the first and most significant thing to do is understand ’who you are’, while equally as important ’who and what you aren’t’. Also, when doing this you need to be honest – and I mean scarily honest – or else you’ll end up as a hollow brand with no true heart or purpose.

Tom White, chief strategist officer, AMV BBDO

When Kanye West decided to switch from making rap music to making gospel music, he changed his name to Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West. He said he did it so that his fans could understand him better.

This seems to me a useful lesson for agencies when considering the whys and wherefores of rebranding.

Now, when clients have more options than ever (agencies that offer an even longer list of capabilities and tech platforms built around brilliantly single-minded propositions) we can help ourselves out by making it easier for people to ‘get’ us.

If, like Kanye, you feel you’re in danger of being misunderstood, a rebrand might make more sense for everyone. If not, you’re probably only going to add to the confusion.

Simon Labbett, co-founder and executive creative director, Truant

Nothing has the ability to divide a management team quite like an agency rebrand. A name can mean everything and nothing in the same breath. Too literal is corporate. Too punchy is niche. Too leftfield is try-hard. It has to come from within; be that a belief, history or ambition. But most importantly, it has to be inclusive. A cultural beacon. Agencies are their people, so they have to feel a sense of belonging. There will always be haters. But fuck ‘em. If you alienate some, at least you know you stand for something.

Kara Dugan, president, Razorfish Health

At RFH, our purpose is fueling the practice of modern medicine, setting the bar high for how we define ourselves and what we aim to achieve. We needed to evolve our brand identity to live up to this future-focused purpose, while also reigniting our employees.

Our new brand identity, Electric, embodies the energy and drive that our clients, partners and team bring to the table. Building on the momentum of the brand reveal, we gave the entire RFH team immediate access to new assets so that they could fully immerse themselves in the Electric look, feel and voice. The response has been very positively charged!

Stephen Page, brand, creative and strategy director, Page & Page and Partners

Page & Page is on its third rebrand and fifth office space in seven years. In fact, it is no longer Page & Page – it is Page & Page and Partners. Like Doctor Who regenerating, each time we’ve reappeared looking dizzyingly different. Yet we can proudly say that each time, unlike the Doctor, we’ve kept our audience (and our clients to boot).

We have a philosophy with a clear goal: more inspiring briefs resulting in more inspiring campaigns. We do great work, have a small senior team and a central idea: active consideration – using imagination to see the world through other people’s eyes. In 2020, Page & Page regenerated to embrace growth and recognize the progress of the senior team and the multiplying pirate crews they now each presided over. The company name changed to Page & Page and Partners and visually ‘seeing the world through other people’s eyes’ became a graphic theme. The brand asserts the Partners’ expertise and now, with a fair few awards for creativity, the power of imagination is placed front and center.

Sharon Cahill Browne, managing partner, marketing, What's Possible Group

Most clients couldn’t give a toss about how your agency is branded. What they care about is getting the best people on their business. This is why it’s essential to get your agency brand right. We want to attract and grow talent who delight clients, always ask ’what's possible?’ and make us better. It’s why we chose to create What’s Possible Group, organizing our unique assets into four distinct businesses serving the different needs of one client type and operating under one cultural code. We collaborated with employees, clients, and partners on every major step to ensure our essence was never lost.

Max Ottignon, co-founder, Ragged Edge

The biggest challenge is the assumption that the normal rules don’t apply. We all tell our clients that being ‘for everyone’ results in an undifferentiated product and an apathetic audience. But how many agencies are bold enough to make those decisions? Our industry is incredibly crowded, hugely price sensitive and driven by whoever’s delivered the latest hot project. A strong brand can overcome that. But building a strong brand means making choices that rule you out of some briefs (probably lots of briefs), in favor of finding the ones you can do better than anyone else. That takes rare conviction.

Melanie Welsh, founding partner, Strat House

Rebrands worry me at the best of times. As custodians of a brand, all we’re ever trying to do is build up branded memorability in the minds of our consumers, and dramatic change damages that.

We can see that brand is not the primary consideration with S4C, which has rebranded for financial purposes.

If your agency really does have major issues with relevance, then the surest route remains the same as it does for all marketers – constant and gradual evolution. It won’t get you in the trade press, but gradual tweaking and refining (and testing, testing, testing) is still the approach... because it works.

Ian Farnfield, founder, Tonic Creative Business Partners

When it comes to branding, and indeed many other areas, agencies find it difficult to apply the same discipline to their own businesses as they insist on for clients. Agency owners should be sure that any change isn’t about their own vanity and is vital to their future success. That judgement should be based on a deep understanding of what will attract and retain clients, talent and partners. And in this post-Covid era, all those people are now focused on genuine expertise, principles and commitment. So, agencies should focus more on addressing these aspects, rather than on cosmetic rebranding exercises.

Sedge Beswick, managing director, Seen Connects

As new projects kick off, it’s always tricky to know how they’re going to fare at driving value, ie bringing in revenue. As an agency grows and changes, it’s always important to ensure the look and feel matches the maturity of the business.

To elevate a new look and feel, use social channels to showcase the amazing work done, and to visualize how the business has grown, proving that the time and cash invested really does pay off. It’s important to remember that the foundations of the agency have not changed – primarily, we still hold the same guiding principles to create award-winning campaigns and deliver proven results.

Ultimately, we are a content agency, so the content we generate must reflect our brand, the same way it does when we’re delivering for our clients.

Paul Taylor, chief creative officer and founding partner, BrandOpus

Over time your business naturally evolves and in some cases significantly. Your brand identity can be a critical tool that can signal a change in who you are and what you want to stand for. There doesn’t need to be a choice between evolution and revolution. In reality we should always aim to achieve both. An evolution in people’s ability to recognize your brand, with a revolution in how they perceive it. Retaining, rediscovering or reimagining brand assets can empower new associations that strengthen an agency’s relationship with its current clients and employees, while opening the eyes of a new audience. How to get it right? Ensure it’s disruptive yet familiar, meaningful and memorable.

Resh Sidhu, executive creative director, Barbarian

Staying true to our fearless and rebellious heritage was paramount when we rebranded Barbarian. As a mature but nimble startup, this is a new era of sophistication for the agency and our work, and our brand needed to reflect that. We incorporated our mission, ’Create the Future, Faster’, into our identity, typography, color, animation and more so Barbarian would be recognized as inspirational, bold, progressive and optimistic. Recognizing its importance in our industry and the world at large, it was also essential we convey our transparency. Since launching, we’ve received great client feedback, and there’s still more to come!

Arturo Mendiola, vice-president, global CX and platform strategy, Horizontal Digital

Rebranding your own agency is just as important as any client assignment, so they have to be handled in the same way. Research, understanding the brand’s evolution and finding a unique positioning are key. And don’t forget, a rebrand can only take you so far. Credibility and reputation will ultimately drive business success.

Sander Volten, global chief executive officer, 180

180’s rebrand at the start of this year simply cemented the attitude that we already lived and worked by, building on our heritage rather than forsaking it. To ensure the agency remains a place where the world’s most creatively ambitious people, organizations and brands gather together to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. Our legacy provides a foundation that only strengthens our belief that there is nothing more powerful than a fresh perspective, exemplified by the hiring of 40 new faces across every department since the start of the year.

If you’re an agency expert and would like to join in with future debates, just email me at sam.bradley[@]thedrum.com.

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