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October 27, 2022 // Paul Sears  //       //  Opinion

Time to rebrand? Why tapping the PR agency is a better bet.

Call me a late bloomer.  It may have taken me a little longer than other folks, to find my passion.  Over the past 20 years I’ve played many marketing roles, some as job titles and others on-demand…media planner, community manager, digital experience designer, copywriter, account planner and account director. But it wasn’t until around seven years ago I realized how much I love doing strategy. Spending my days nose-in-book, staring down a big hard problem, and scouring the zeitgeist for insights to spark an inventive solution. It’s the perfect mix of left-brain rigor and right-brain creativity.

As managing director of the Brand & Engagement Strategy team at Allison+Partners, I feel lucky to make a living doing something I deeply enjoy, while helping amazing clients achieve their mission.

Yet, I’m often asked: “Why did you choose to build a brand strategy team within the environment of a PR agency?” It’s a fair question… Most marketers and brand leaders assume it would belong in a consultancy, a pure-play branding firm, or an ad agency. But I’ve come to realize there are some interesting dynamics in the PR world that complement brand strategy very well. Chief among them, a belief that hearts and minds can’t be bought - attention and action can only be earned.

Flashing back seven years ago, Allison+Partners’ recruiter called me to help build a 360-degree, in-house marketing capability - bringing together teams doing research, design, writing, influencer, web development and more. Having gone “full 360” for several large clients over the years, I jumped in. Today, that global integrated marketing team is now more than 100 individuals and growing.

At first, we thought content marketing would be our play, but our first wave of clients wanted to reposition their brand. That first wave became a second and a third, and eventually wave after wave of brand strategy clients. In just a few years, we did brand positioning, naming, architecture and product marketing work for more than 120 clients - from startups and nonprofits to Fortune 100s, and all points in between.  

My strategy hat quickly overtook my campaign orchestration hat. We doubled-down, launching Brand & Engagement Strategy - a team of T-shaped strategists serving clients throughout the agency and around the world. Brand strategy and product marketing are core, but we also do customer experience, 360-degree go-to-market planning and creative strategy/account planning.  

Yet in every RFP, we do feel the need to answer that fundamental question: “Why should a PR agency be in your consideration set?” Our response: brand is a team sport, and it only works if all the players believe. That belief is something that simply can’t be bought - it can only be earned. And what does a PR agency do better than aligning and engaging stakeholders, earning attention and creating belief.

Brand strategy requires massive rigor - deep research on all sides, using a mountain of data to define a differentiated, value-creating path forward for the business, then implementing a unified strategy throughout all touch points in the brand system. All brand agencies worth their salt go deep on rigor, and the good ones find innovative ways to balance that rigor with speed. Striking the right balance has been a key emphasis for us since day one. I believe we can go toe to toe with anyone in this regard.

Yet, we’ve also focused heavily on people. Anyone who has rebranded a large enterprise knows in practice it’s only about 20% research and strategy… the other 80% is people management.  Brands are systems of words and images, but those written and visual elements are just ingredients. Brands are shared thoughts and feelings that galvanize the hearts and minds of large groups of people. It starts with leaders and employees and flows outward to customers, partners and the world. Everyone must be bought-in, and that takes an ongoing commitment to continuous communication. Something that’s deeply ingrained in a PR agency’s culture.

That in mind, I believe we’ve been able to achieve some distinct advantages for our clients.  Unlike a creative-led ad agency, we don’t focus solely on the big-idea concept and audacious acts - we develop the whole brand system top to bottom, as well as the creative campaign.  Unlike pure-play brand shops that often stop at design - we also do the entire 360-degree go-to-market. And we bring the same business acumen and change management chops that a management consultancy would offer, at a lower total cost of ownership.  

It’s been a long and winding road to uncover my deep passion for strategy. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to help build this team, and cultivate a uniquely powerful strategy capability here at Allison+Partners. And it’s been incredibly fun solving difficult challenges for all kinds of clients. I’m biased of course, but I know our clients agree with the idea that brand is a team sport. We get to meet so many great people, uncover game-changing insights, collaborate and create new beliefs that drive businesses forward, while helping make the world a better place.  

Learn more about our Brand + Engagement Strategy: https://allisonbrand.agency

Paul Sears is Managing Director, Brand & Engagement Strategy. With 20 years in advertising, brand and marketing strategy, Paul spends his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns. 

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