Branding, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Rebranding – Usually the Wrong Strategy

“Sometimes you have a PR problem, and sometimes, you just have a problem!”

I can’t count the number of time my mentor, Marcia Silverman, said that to clients.   And it always brought them up short.  After all, they were asking us to sprinkle some magic PR fairy dust on their very real problems in order to make them magically all go away.   Lots of firms would have taken the money and sprinkled vigorously.  Marcia always had us take the harder path, the one with integrity, and tell the client what they didn’t want to hear.

I’ve been reminded of that recently when major brands opted for the fairy dust of rebranding hoping it would cover up the stink of serious problems.

First, Wells Fargo, who’ve recently endured more than two years of devastating scandals, record setting fines from a series of Federal regulators, CEO and top executives fired and stripped of benefits, Congressional hearings………….it just goes on and on.   In April of 2017 they launched a campaign to restore consumer confidence, with the rather tentative slogan: “Building Better Every Day.”  Which translates to: “We don’t suck as much as we used to.”   A real rallying cry.

Then when that didn’t work (go figure!) they decided that what they REALLY needed was an entirely new brand…….. one that looked exactly like the old brand.  What?

Here’s the rebranding spot:

And the tag line is: “Wells Fargo.  Established 1852.  Reestablished 2018.”  Accompanied by promises to stop doing all the bad stuff they got caught doing.

Stay tuned for next year’s rebranding.

Closer to home is the rebranding of the giant Ogilvy & Mather, the company where I got my start and where I was lucky enough to work for Marcia Silverman.   They’re in a world of hurt – digital disruption of the advertising industry itself; an antiquated agency model; stalled growth; and tremendous instability at the parent company, WPP.   The Ad Week headline was unintentionally revealing:

“Ogilvy Rebrands Itself after 70 Years with New Visual Identity, Logo and Organizational Design

Agency also plans to promote more women to partner.”

Nothing fixes serious institutional problems like a new logo and corporate font.  Oh, and by the way, we’ll take some token steps towards a 20th century talent strategy.  Never mind 21st century, we’re content to take tentative steps away from an agency run by old white guys.

If anyone should know better its Ogilvy.   I can’t think of a clearer signal to the marketplace that they’ve lost their way.

Rebranding for the sake of rebranding is always a mistake because it’s using PR flim-flam instead of authentic communication to try to address previous failures.  And that’s true for corporations and non-profits.

Marketing consultants who do branding work should have the integrity to tell that to our clients and guide them to a better solution.  Or we should walk away.

Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Gaffe: When You Accidentally Tell the Truth

Journalist Michael Kinsley famously described a gaffe as “when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

The same thing happens in the non-profit world.

Exhibit A is this video from Mission Health, a large healthcare system in Asheville, North Carolina, where the CEO attempts to make the case for philanthropy.

(scroll to the bottom to see the video)

This is what you hear from the CEO:

  • “Financial analysts consider us too small to survive in the long run.”
  • “Our margin is very thin.”
  • “Philanthropy has a 50 to 1 leveraging ratio compared to additional net revenue.”
  • “We lose money on more than 70% of the patients we serve.”
  • “It costs $4 million per day just to keep the doors open.”
  • “For us to raise $1 million in income, we would have to bill probably north of $100 million, and actually collect $50 million, just to net out that same $1 million.”

This is what you don’t hear: a single example of a patient helped by philanthropy.





The truth that he was inadvertently sharing is this: “Our business model is failing, and we don’t have a clue how to fix it.  The healthcare system is broken and we don’t have the courage to challenge it.  Could you send us a few dollars so that we can postpone our inevitable collapse?”  

My mentor in communications, Marcia Silverman, famously used to say to clients “Sometimes you have a PR problem, and sometimes, you just have a problem.”

Mission Health – you have a problem!

And while we’re at it, Exhibit B, also from Mission Health.   Another video staring the CEO.  And only the CEO.  (Someone enjoys seeing himself on video!)

The first ¾ of the video is a recitation of bricks and mortar projects, followed by his assertion that their new initiative is about “far more than just bricks and mortar.”


Again, we never see, much less meet a patient or caregiver.  We do see construction sites and architects renderings of new facilities, which apparently is the sum of their “vision for the future.”  Another gaffe.

To be clear – I’m not suggesting Mission Health needs to fix its communications.

Mission Health needs to fix itself.

Anyone have any other cringe-worthy videos they want to share, where the truth is accidentally exposed?

Please send them to me and I’ll post.

Branding, Marketing

“And I’d like the line in the shape of a kitten…………….”

I’m sharing a great post today from The Agitator, one of the blogs that I read regularly.

The centerpiece of the post is a painfully funny video skewering the worst of client/agency meetings.

Too often we’re order takers instead of strategic counselors.   Not often enough do we push back on clients and partner with them to get to a better place.

A couple of weeks ago, during a strategic planning session with a room full of senior level folks, my client said to me: “I hate you right now.  I know you’re right, but I really hate you.”   He came up to me at the break to apologize, but I told him I considered it one of the best professional complements I’d received.

Please share your horror stories and success stories.  Oh, and subscribe to The Agitator. It’s good stuff.



Branding, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Its Like You Don’t Even Know Me…………….

There’s no excuse for sloppy marketing.  Yet it abounds.  Join my crusade to stamp it out.

The first fortress we must charge, crusaders, is the direct mail department at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  Until now they’ve resisted my attempts at passively ignoring them.  So I’m resorting to public shaming.

Our story began at Christmas time, 2011, when I gave each of my nieces and nephews a blank $100 check and a stamped envelope.  I wanted them to select a charity that mattered to them, and contribute my check.  I’ve been doing this for several years – it’s a way I convey to them the importance I place on philanthropy, and it’s a way to learn what’s important to them.  One of my nieces sent the check to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Despite my name on that single check, despite the voluminous and easily accessible demographic and psychographic data available on every consumer in this land, and despite the relatively simple technology that allows marketers to append demographic data to their file to get a better profile of their customer, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation made the bold choice to ignore all that, and to assume that all of their donors are exactly alike, and that we’re a certain stereotype of the littlest of little old ladies.

And as a result, for the past two years I’ve been besieged with odd direct mail gifts – note cards with hummingbirds (I don’t send notes), an embroidered pillow case that someone thought would look LOVELY on my sofa, and this weekend two 2014 calendars – one with iconic and trite shots of America, the other with different varieties of roses.  Who uses wall calendars?  Who uses two wall calendars?

They’ve easily spent all of my $100 contribution trying to get another $100 out of me.  And seem to spend all their time talking about their organization and boasting about the mailbox load of crap they’ve sent me.

Not a single picture of a child with the disease and what CFF is doing for that child.  Not a single story or picture from the laboratory or profile of a researcher valiantly pursuing a cure.

Lots of words.

Lots of calendars.

One wretched pillowcase.

And while I understand that direct mail is a game of numbers, all of this leads me to ask:

“Are your efforts to fight the disease as unsophisticated as your marketing program?”

For the kids with CF sake, let’s hope not.