Proof that PR Works

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Congrats to the PR person who pitched the story I read in today’s paper, entitled “Rebranding Can Refresh Tired Corporate Image.”

The litany of ill-defined, esoteric, and incomplete terms served-up in the first two paragraphs was enough to make my head spin:

  • "When Xerox lost its message in the marketplace," the story began, as if that were a even a complete thought, let alone a fact. What exactly did the company lose, and where (or what) is the marketplace in which that event occurred?
  • "…the company rebranded itself in an effort to let people know if was more than copiers." Well, actually, the company has successfully extended its business into various services, and did so with its old brand. The "refreshed" brand that supposedly communicates that it’s more than copiers is, well, a different treatment of the "x" in a red ball. The facts must be hidden within it. Perhaps it’s all subliminal.
  • "There are times in a company’s life when rebranding is necessary to refresh the company image," the story continues, failing to explain what, when, or how a company’s "life" is defined or measured. Ditto for "image."
  • "…and better position itself in consumers’ minds.” Yup. Position. Minds. We could be talking about religion here. Maybe we are.

Fortunately, a brand guru gets quoted next, just to clear things up: "The single biggest reason for rebranding is to stay current with how the market perceives you," he says. 

Ok, maybe not so clear. I’m not sure what current means, or whether there’s some sensate thing called the market and that can perceive companies. 

I thought the single biggest reason for doing anything in business was to make more profits. 


The rest of the story overviews the usual nonsense about branding:

  • Survey your friends, or stakeholders, and ask them to contemplate their navels
  • Decide what makes your business different, by no particular criteria other than what your friends discover in their navels (though maybe you should form a committee of navel-gazers)
  • Then, ask your people to sort through all the lint they find and decide what they think it looks like
  • Kick-off a campaign to ultimately rename, re-logo, re-color, and otherwise regurgitate all of the look-and-feel nonsense your company swallowed the last time it rebranded itself

Oh, yes: make sure to hire a branding agency to help you through this difficult, complicated, and all-important task. Pay them lots of money.

Nevermind that there are no respectable metrics to prove whether you get anything out of it. After all, it’s all about image, market, perception, and other attributes of your business that are absolutely so important that there’s absolutely no way to measure them, other than via special divining tools invented to do it. 

Forget that consumers (or customers) don’t really consume brand: they buy products and services. You can ask them how they feel about your branding until you’re blue in the face — or have enough support for funding your branding campaign, more like it — but it doesn’t change the fact that most of what matters to them isn’t contained in a survey about their perceptions; rather, it’s in how, what, where, when, and why the rest of the operations in the business perform. 

And, speaking of those operations, you need to stand up to all of the critical push-back you’re likely to get from everyone else in the organization regarding your latest, utterly beautiful and important ball of lint.

When the executives of your company raise eyebrows and question one aspect or another of your glorious task, remember that it’s because they just don’t understand and need to be educated. Be patient. Share this newspaper story with them.

I know that I’m a dim bulb, but the article could have at least mentioned that rebranding isn’t necessarily as real, or as useful as, say, changing the tires on your car, or actually improving customer service at your company.   

Avoiding all of those reasonable observations and questions was quite a branding coup. Congrats to the PR person behind it.

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