Rebranding is hard. Part 2.

How a 45-year-old ad agency refocused its brand.

Mintz + Hoke has been successfully meeting the needs of clients since I was nine years old. One reason for our success is that we have not remained the same agency over the years; we’ve changed and adapted and improved. Yet, our heritage has always been something of a double-edged sword.

You might think that the natural competition of an ad agency would be other ad agencies. But I have long believed that our fiercest competition is us. We often compare ourselves, consciously or not, to the Mintz + Hoke of 1982. Or the Mintz + Hoke of 1994. Or the Mintz + Hoke of 2000. We have a long history, and some of us have been part of the agency for decades. As a result, there are a lot of preconceptions of what Mintz + Hoke is. And, interestingly enough, they can sometimes get in the way of what the agency could be.

In short, like any 45-year-old company, we have plenty of institutional baggage. And the first thing I wanted to do when I took over as CD two years ago was unpack it.

How Mintz + Hoke has changed over time.

During the 23 years I have been involved with the agency, Mintz + Hoke has had a few different brand identities:

A small selection of the differnt logos the agency has had in 45 years.

For a while in the 70s and 80s, Mintz + Hoke did not really have much in the way of a logo. A lot of our old house ads featured logos set in the same type face as the headline. Pictured here are a few examples of “logos” we have had in the past. When I first began working for the agency as a freelancer back in 1992, the de facto logo was the third example from the top— tight set Goudy Old Style, which is not really much of a logo (whose idea was it to add the “Inc?”), but at least it was consistent.

The look is not the only thing that has changed. So has the focus of the agency. Over 20 years ago, Mintz + Hoke was, known as “The Street Smart Agency.” It meant that we worked very hard to get out of the office, understand the client’s business and do our homework on the audience. And over the past two decades, with Street Smarts as our DNA, the focus of the agency moved from retail to products to business to business and to consumer services.

At the same time, the idea of “brand” and what it means was changing as well. It has become a far more emotional proposition. Seeing this, it was clear that our existing tagline, “Make every contact with your brand worth more,” was missing the mark on a couple of levels. Most importantly, it was disconnected from the agency itself emotionally. We just weren’t feeling it (and we suspected that clients weren’t either). So we decided to make a potent attitude adjustment.

The process.

We began in the Spring of 2014 by exploring the idea of specialization. Mintz + Hoke had been calling itself an “Integrated Marketing Communications Firm” which is shorthand for “doing a lot of stuff.” Advertising, PR, Digital, Design, Media, Strategy and a bunch of other things. But as Blair Enns, and other agency marketing gurus will tell you, you can’t be all things to all people. If you try, you are nothing to anyone. We needed a specialty. A focus. Something for which clients would seek us out. Something that would make us stand out. Something we could own.

Around the same time, an email appeared in several of our emailboxes asking the following four questions: 1. During those times we feel we were at our best, what made us feel that way? 2. Who is our competition (for my answer see above)? 3. List five benefits of working with us. 4. What are our clients really buying from us? That email got the ball rolling and made us take a hard look at what we offer. Here’s where we eventually netted out:

Finding our groove.

If you look at the list of differences above, there are a few things that we capitalize upon (good people, a client-centric approach). But one point continually surfaced as we discussed it as a group: the fact that we can execute really challenging projects with a high level of creativity, strategy, media expertise and technology chops. We’ve talked to a lot of clients who worked with other agencies who couldn’t understand their products or grasp their complex marketing funnel or deliver the difficult projects clients wanted from them. But that kind of stuff just comes naturally to us. Good work is easy. Great work — the work that the best clients want and need—is hard. (In much the same way as being a “Street Smart” agency was also hard.)

When we wrote the line, “We don’t do easy.” It all clicked.

Bringing “We don’t do easy” to life

So we had a line and a positioning statement. At this point some might just lock up the line with the logo and slap it on everything and call the job done. But would an agency that doesn’t do easy do that? Heck, no.

I didn’t want “We don’t do easy” to be a tagline, I wanted it to be a rallying cry. And I was all too aware how negative our image could be if we made it all about what we don’t do, so the execution of the idea had to be fun, light, and unexpected. Finally, I wanted to harken back to the M+H I knew as a young writer just out of school, with smart lines and powerful art direction.

It was important to express the brand not just in what we say, but also in how we say it, so we tried, whenever possible, to never execute in an easy way. Our new business cards are a great example. Most agencies give their people one card. We gave ours a dozen different cards.

Ultimately, the clearest expression of the brand was the elevator speech we wrote for the brand guidelines. It looks like this:

The brand unveiled:

Here are a few of the tactics we created for the launch.

Posters:

Web page:

Business cards:

Signage:

Manifesto:

A hit, internally and externally.

The best thing about the launch of the re-branded Mintz + Hoke is that it just fits. People all around the agency adopted it eagerly. It was met with cheers and applause and people in every detartment started reminding their clients their friends and each other that “we don’t do easy,” whenever the opportunity came up.

In new business situations, it strongly resonates with clients who want to work with a team that’s accomplished, highly competent and thoroughly experienced. See for yourself. If you’ve got a marketing challenge that’s not easy, we’re more than happy to meet somewhere and talk about it. There’s a great spot at the top of Mt. Everest that’s perfect.


Grant Sanders is the Creative Director at Mintz + Hoke, Avon, CT. When he’s not working on cool branding engagements and shepherding creative through the agency, he’s usually with his wife and dog at his home on Nantucket Island— one of his favorite brands of all time. This post originally appeared on the M+H website.

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