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#CommsWeek16 Panel Recap: Communications' Role in Brand Reinvention

Post by Tom Kirkham, International Account Director, Kite Hill PR

One of the extensive discussions of the day at Communications Week was the morning's panel session on brand reinvention. Host Patrick Coffee of Adweek fame asked each panel member – which included Reebok’s Dan Mazei, Wendy Goldberg of IHeartMedia, Serial Marketer Dan Berkowitz and Bruce Kelley at Reader’s Digest – to describe how their brands had been successfully reinvented and the role of creative communications in propelling this reinvention.

As Coffee explained from the outset, “Change is the only constant in life - both actively deciding to change, and responding to the forces around you. We’re hear to talk about that principle as it relates to brands.”

There's no doubt that it’s getting more and more difficult for brands to engage and resonate with consumers on an ongoing basis, and with global competition ever increasing, any suggestion that a brand is out of touch or irrelevant can sound the death-knell for a previously successful company.

Kelley spoke eloquently about the challenge that had faced him when he arrived at age-old brand Reader's Digest. “We had to follow our audience and let them determine what our strategy needed to be - e.g. How to connect with them socially. My mission is to find our audience and feed it what it wants while sticking to the freeway of creating the content we’re good at.”

Coffee questioned how difficult to it is to overcome the fear of change internally. Goldberg cited the need to understand your audience. "From the leadership downwards, you have to know who they are and convey this message internally to make it the mission of the entire company.”

Berkowitz expanded on this: “The younger generation in particular wants to care about the work that it does. Being able to galvanise the internal team is so important, to give people something to rally around.”

The issue of leadership was a recurrent theme throughout the debate, with Kelley noting that “in legacy brands, when it comes to reinvention it’s incredibly important who your first few hires are. These statements alone - e.g. recruiting someone digitally savvy - can create momentum and raise the bar for everyone there.”

Goldberg agreed, noting the requirement for bold and agile leadership to aid brand transformation. “If you don’t make mistakes it means you’re not trying anything new. Similarly, a leadership structure in which one person can kill an idea but which needs all leaders to agree to make an idea happen is not a formula for 21st Century reinvention."

It's clear that having the entire business bought into the new brand is a vital component of success thanks to the authenticity it assures. As Mazei put it, “We’re in the middle of major, seismic change at Reebok right now, moving away from sports and towards fitness. Everything we do is about pushing ourselves to the limits - the premise of fitness, fitness, fitness. This isn’t just a tag line for us - the people internally are living the brand.”

Yet at the same time, the panel agreed that communications can play a vital role in brand reinvention. It's not always about having to fundamentally change the brand's products or services, but it is about changing the ethos and vision, and consistently reflecting this through internal and external comms until it is firmly embedded.

Kelley perhaps summed this up best at the close of the debate, stating that, “Successful reinvention is when it’s no longer a conscious effort. When you’re going into work every day and you’re not thinking about reinvention - you’re just doing it.”