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Brand Makeovers: Roy Sexton Of Clark Hill On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Brand Makeovers: Roy Sexton Of Clark Hill On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Create a focus group together of people inside your organization, both people who’ve been there a long time and people who are relatively new arrivals and then a group of clients, ones who’ve been with you a long time and ones who are relatively new. If you can afford to, hire an outside firm to conduct your brand research. If you cannot afford that, proceed internally.

As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” we had the pleasure to interview Roy Sexton.

Roy Sexton leads Clark Hill’s marketing, branding, and communications efforts and is the President, International Legal Marketing Association. He has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, business development, and strategic planning.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My entry into marketing was serendipitous. It started while working in turnaround planning, management consulting and doing similar work for a healthcare system. When I completed my MBA, my boss at the time asked me to take over the hospital system’s marketing efforts. I protested mentioning that I’d taken only one marketing class during my MBA studies. The boss insisted. “You’re service oriented. You think about the needs of the organization and what our overall goals are,” she said.

Thus began a path to marketing. I’d studied English and Theater as an undergraduate and was interested in storytelling and delivering the narrative. I moved on from the healthcare sector taking a job at a law firm, and that’s when it really clicked, and I hit my marketing stride. I enjoy working with attorneys, helping them find their respective voices as part of larger message positioning for leaders in particular legal sectors.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what you learned from that?

As the sole marketing practitioner at a law firm resources were slim. At that time, it wasn’t readily apparent what photos in Google images were public domain … and which weren’t! Foolishly, I decided to jazz up a post for the firm’s website with a stop sign image I’d found. Bad idea! Alas, the firm received a cease-and-desist order with a demand for minimal financial restitution. The firm assigned one of its attorneys to resolve this situation, one who had heard of Google images but didn’t know how to find it. It was a delicate process that took a lot more time and care to resolve because the attorney kept typing “Google images” into Google and wondering why the stop sign didn’t appear. And snapped, “I’ll ask the questions,” when I kept trying to explain. I learned a lot that day. Nothing teaches you like a stupid mistake!

Are you able to identify, here it is, the tipping point in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway lesson that others can learn from that?

I’m evolving as my career unfolds. About 15 years ago, I worked with an executive coach on the personal and professional challenges (I) was facing. At that time, I was over eager, trying to do all the work and was convinced that people didn’t want to work with a gay man. I assumed doing everything perfectly would be my ticket to acceptance.

My coach told me, “Everybody knows your orientation. Everybody likes you. Why are you still trying so hard? Why don’t you slow down?” It took another couple of years, but I realized it was OK to pick the moments where I was going to focus my energy. I am going through another phase now. At 50, I’m president of the International Legal Marketing Association and working for a large law firm. I’m being more reflective and letting things evolve before jumping in with solutions. I’m letting colleagues come to their own resolutions around things in the team. Unlike the Oscar awarded movie, I don’t need to be, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, anymore. I’m learning to step back, be a coach, be a consigliere, and not drive myself into the ground trying to be all things to all people.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My group is currently working on our data capture, flow, and pipeline. This is crucial in our digital age. Normally you would want to address what the marketing data looks like and how it is being used first, but we knew five years ago when I joined the firm that we needed to work on branding and developing a cohesive message, given the growth and maturation of the firm. We need to invest in proper CRM, but not just CRM for CRMs sake. I want to define a pipeline experience for our attorneys geared toward clients and prospects. I believe it will be transformational and provide a good line of sight on our client experience. It’s about converting the experience of how people engage with marketing. We’ll be able to measure more effectively the impact of marketing and business development. We’re prioritizing the time attorneys are spending, by creating a formulary with the goal of eliminating occasional random acts of marketing that may or may not actually impact things.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

You don’t need to put your life on hold, so exercise and take care of your health. Know when to turn things off and be done for the day. Step away and enjoy your family. This is important for your mental health. You’ll be a better professional with your organization if you walk away from it sometimes and rest. I learned this recently from executive coach Axelle Flemming and it resonates with me, “If you live in the past, that’s where your depression is going to come in. If you live too far into the future, it’s just going to be anxiety all the time.” You have to live in the moment you’re in.

There are times when I don’t need to respond to everything immediately. Usually others will respond, and they’ll figure out the issue. Then I can either affirm or offer a solution. Don’t try to be the hero every time. Nobody wants that anyway. Just be a colleague and help people through things.

In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing and product marketing or advertising? Can you explain?

I specialize in marketing legal firms, first and foremost focusing on brand awareness and industry sector presence. Unlike, say, steel or oil businesses, law firms do not think of themselves as commodities. They provide a service. Before I can get to product marketing, which, in our case, would be an individual attorney or a particular service being offered, people need to know who we are and why we matter. Brand awareness. And that’s not just achieved by slapping your logo on anything standing. Law firms won’t admit that they are a commodity. They are. Everyone’s well-educated and proud of their work. They don’t want to think about themselves like a commodity. Who would? You need to stand out — your value proposition clearly, repeatedly articulated. It’s a service, especially on the corporate side. If you jump too quickly to the individual, you lose the lift of the entire organization because many companies are like, “Let me partner with a law firm that can satiate a lot of my different needs and I can work with a team of people that can understand holistically my challenges. I don’t just want one individual.” Media relations and social media are very useful tools for labeling your brand and identifying values that you live up to.

Can you explain why it’s important to invest resources and energy into building a brand in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Because I don’t think you know what you’re advertising until you work on the brand. I think that’s what too many people do. They’re dealing with internal pressure to be viable in the marketplace. You have to have your story straight, what are we telling people? If you do not take a strict approach your messages can be fragmented and difficult for the external world to understand. And the world is not breathlessly waiting on what your company has to say, so you must make it matter to them.

Start with a clear brand identity, message, and it isn’t just logo and look and feel, although that’s part of it. Some people are visually oriented, some are linguistically oriented, some are sonically oriented. Consistency is key. Disney does a good job of this. You always know something’s Disney related because it’s got a common look and feel. It’s in the DNA. But then there are divergences within that that can satisfy different needs and interests. Start with who you are before you start advertising. Otherwise, you might as well light your money on fire in the parking lot.

What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

I think you need to evaluate your brand every three or four years. You don’t need to redo it all, but much like the decor in your home, you have got to ask, “Does this still speak to us? Is it limiting us? Has the market environment changed?”

You might not need to rebrand, but you might need to tweak the brand you have. That’s going to keep your brand going a lot longer too. If you get regular oil changes in your car, it’s going to last longer than if you just wait until the engine blows up. But then I think at that five, six-year mark, you have to take a more distanced look and say, “Is this brand still us?”

Chances are it is, especially in a law firm; it’s not going to change that dramatically. But if you’ve grown considerably, if you’ve dropped off some services you used to do and don’t do anymore, if there’s been a dramatic change in the composition of your attorney complement, those might be triggering points for a rebrand.

For my firm, the branding we had when I arrived needed a refresh. The firm has grown significantly into other geographic markets through multiple combinations. So, it was the right and necessary time to refresh the brand and make it coherent across our growing firm. We also needed to raise a new flag that everyone saw as their own, so they’d leave behind brand identities from the past that still felt like a comfortable old shoe. Sometimes, it’s the psychology of the people especially in a law firm. If they like the brand, they’re going to fly the flag on your behalf. If they don’t, they’re going to use their old names and their old pens.

I think if your culture’s fragmented, if it’s been around too long, or if you’re getting feedback also from your customers that they feel like things are stale, listen to that and fix it, but take the time to do it right. This cannot be done on a whim or instantaneously. Take your time, consider the marketplace and your position in it before making any decisions. You’ve got to work behind the scenes with all the different stakeholders and get them excited about the new brand and have them feel like they’re part of it and then unveil what it looks like. The fact of the matter is, 70% of the people who make the biggest decisions inside your organization will have already seen the brand before it’s broadly unveiled. But you’ve built that consensus so they’re all excited to have it go into the world.

Are there any downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a brand makeover? If so, why?

Yes, there can be downsides to rebranding. Here’s an example, not legal: two well-known entities in the same line industry merged. They tossed their names and came up with a new name that means nothing to anyone. That says to me, they did it for internal political reasons without considering their external market at all. You might have needed to rebrand, but first take stock of the things that still have resonance and if that causes political turmoil inside your organization, so what? Deal with that. Don’t go to market with something because you’re keeping the internal important people happy.

You might end up damaging relationships with clients and the customers you are pursuing. I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to consider and look at your brand. If your brand has cultural cache and it means something to people, and its shorthand now, don’t change it to please internal stakeholders. But if you feel like it’s holding people back in your organization and creating market confusion because you’ve let your brand just, by the game of telephone, evolve, take a moment of intentionality and say, what is this and why are we doing it? Also, don’t change things just because you feel bored with them. This is a principle of communication, especially internal communications. Don’t just change things willy-nilly because you’re getting tired of it. That’s not a reason to change a brand. Maybe it’s a reason to buy a new pair of shoes or repaint a room in your home. It’s not a reason to change your brand.

Can you share five strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image? Please tell us a story or an example of each.

First, create a focus group together of people inside your organization, both people who’ve been there a long time and people who are relatively new arrivals and then a group of clients, ones who’ve been with you a long time and ones who are relatively new. If you can afford to, hire an outside firm to conduct your brand research. If you cannot afford that, proceed internally.

Show them the brand as it currently exists and have them react. Let it be fresh and you might be surprised by what people tell you, so I’d start there. You can ask what is working for you and what you would change. For the internal audience, ask if this is reflective of who you are in your identity and the work? For example, part of a brand needs to be the retention of talent and the acquisition of new talent. The brand plays both sides of client acquisition and talent acquisition. Before you start playing with fonts and colors and go to the fun stuff, do the planning exercise. Listen and learn. Find out what the observations are and try to go in there without any predispositions. Have an intentional engaged process of internal stakeholders and clients to find out what words they associate with you. “What is the value? Why hire us? Why work here?” This creates engagement and will inform on assumptions. You may be surprised by the feedback. Once you get alignment you can go forward, but I still wouldn’t jump to font, color and look and feel.

Second, informed by this focus group feedback, look at the language you are currently using: is there a disconnect between what people are viewing, thinking and believing and how you are writing about yourselves? If you have somebody that’s a strong writer on your team, let them take the lead. Chances are people have been feeling and thinking already about the language being used. Do an inventory of the language you’re using and say, we don’t have enough of this, or it isn’t accurate or reflective now. Once you’ve done your external view, looked at the language and the voice of who you are, then you can turn to brand look and feel.

The third step, which is where everyone wants to go first, is do we need to change the way we look and feel?

Is it time for a new logo or is your logo still a viable reflection of who you are now? It’s a great opportunity to freshen things up and get people excited. It’s also incredibly difficult to get it right. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. If your logo hasn’t been touched for 20 years and your company has grown with a lot of new colleagues, clients, and/or customers who don’t identify with the present look and feel, you have an opportunity to get people excited, create community, and refresh the logo to give people a sense of inclusion.

People never get excited about the words, but they do get excited about a new website and a new color scheme and a new logo and whatever. So, there’s a bit of theater to that. But think strategically. It’s expensive. You have to change all of your collateral and every sign across the land. It’s easier to change the words than the marks. It takes an investment to adjust everything, and it all must be 100% accurate. And you must have buy-in from the powers that be. You don’t want to get stuck with a logo everybody hates and wants changed again in two years. This would create even more market confusion.

Fourth, communicating the planned changes is essential to having internal buy-in and the way it’s rolled out into the marketplace is key. I’m a firm believer in the power of video, particularly in professional services. I don’t think people are using it enough, and I think they’re afraid of it, and I think they cheap out on it. For us, we needed a sexy, interesting way to provide vibrancy to the brand. We had developed a sophisticated, sleek European looking brand. This was a great pivot for us. It’s very different. It was going to get people’s attention, but we didn’t have any way of really communicating that to anybody, and we didn’t have any way of making it feel alive. Especially coming out of the pandemic, people were craving human connection.

We orchestrated the brand video and subsequent videos where the voices of all those people we talked to about our branding were included on camera. No one wants to hear the marketing guy talking about why our firm is important. Clients don’t want to hear from a third party. They’re hiring lawyers. They want to be comfortable with those people and know they’re part of a larger team that’s smart and approachable. And that’s why we landed on visual storytelling. Is anyone going to pick up a phone and hire a lawyer because they saw a great video? No, but are they going to then explore your website and read your articles and pay a little closer attention to you because they watched that video. Yes, that worked for us. I would offer that as a step and it’s an investment, but you can do a pretty decent video in the Midwest for $16,000 to $20,000.

You don’t need to do hundreds of them, do one good one and cut it a lot of different ways. Create smaller segments for social media and think like a campaign. We all have short attention spans, which brings me to the fifth point. Don’t treat social media as some extra. It’s all part of a multi-pronged strategy. We still have this generational divide in organizations, but don’t just dump content on your website. You need a good syndication strategy with your content because we’ve gotten to the point, we can almost eliminate some of the intermediaries and I can make sure people see my content without having to depend on anybody else to get it in front of them. But then the crucial part of that is social media and people are always like, “Oh, that’s for the kids, or that’s people looking for jobs, or why are we putting any time and energy into that?” Because it’s low cost. It’s where people consume content. It has shaped the outcome of presidential elections now repeatedly. It has a power to it that for some reason those in the starched white shirts are like, “Oh, just social media. Can I take you for a round of golf?” People have gotten less business/social. They don’t want to take time away from their families anymore. They want to consume content when they want to and how they want to. You create the video, you create the media, you create the alerts, you can then make sure they get out on those channels and grow your audience because a lot of the old ways of marketing might not be available to you anymore. Additionally, you need a good media relations strategy.

We don’t yet have Customer Relations Management technology, so we have to find other ways to continue to expand our presence and awareness. But it also allows us to get very targeted very quickly in the larger guise of that brand launch. My point is you can’t just build it and they will come. It’s important to create the spokes that bring people back to that new brand and make it alive for them. The video content can humanize your firm, and then you’re still selling your new brand year two, year three, year four. Just because you launched it once doesn’t mean that’s the end of it. You should keep putting that in front of people and social media is a great way to do that.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that does a fantastic job doing a brand makeover? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I’m an entertainment junkie and remember reading, Disney felt they had a gap in the boys’ category in the early 2000s. Most of us don’t have the budgets that a Disney has, but it fascinates me the way they can acquire something that has had its own identity for decades and minutes later, with the wave of Mickey’s magic wand “Oh yeah, Marvel’s Disney.” Marvel was Marvel. Disney found ways to integrate Marvel’s superheroes into their existing machinery without losing any prior identity. Disney assimilates beautifully and mass markets licensed products to capitalize on their merchandise streams. People who love Marvel for what Marvel was, are not left in the cold because they left a comic company alone but expanded its visibility a billion fold.

They did the same thing with Star Wars. That fascinates me. I think any industry or company can take their cue from that. We’re seeing a lot of companies grow through acquisition. Oftentimes a holistic group is now part of a larger organization. An announcement is made, and then no one takes the time to onboard or assimilate the acquired staff. The work actually begins when the deal is closed, and you need to spend a year or two acknowledging and enforcing what makes these new people special, enhancing your overall brand.

And when you combine or acquire, make sure you find ways to retain and integrate. Work hard to make sure new additions are not pulling against the new management arrangement with their old organizational ways. Emphasize that they’re getting the benefits now of a larger distribution network and gaining visibility that they didn’t have before, but don’t lose what made them unique. Why did you want them? There must have been a reason you acquired those people that came with the deal.

When you’re doing that onboarding and acquiring, it can’t just be marketing’s role to say, “Hey, are we onboarding these folks well? Are we integrating them into the organization? Do they understand the value they now have? Are we mining what they do well and not tying their hands and making them frustrated so they leave that?” It has to be a coordinated function. That’s where the replication comes in. Be transparent with the people who are now part of that and say, here’s our timeline. Here’s what we’re going to do. It’ll work well when you monitor the process, debrief, document it and then repeat that process with each new part of your organization. Then get your larger operational administrative team on board to say, “You guys all have pieces.” Getting buy in from all of the internal constituents is key to success. Put a timeline together and meet regularly as a collective, IT, finance, office operations and HR and lay out the pieces of the brand work. Everybody has some skin in the game and a vested interest in the new organizational structure and the outward facing marks and language being employed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I could wave a wand and get everybody to stop a certain activity, it would be this and I think everyone would benefit from it. Stop managing people for style. It can be politicians, it can be corporate entities, it can be your religious institution, it can be your family. How somebody dresses, who they love, what they eat, how they spend their free time is irrelevant to the work at hand. Limiting people only makes them uncomfortable.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to your life?

I’m grateful that my late Mom told me this when I was five years old and I will keep that in my mind until I die, “You don’t have to play with people if they don’t play with your toys in the way you’d like them to.. You can always say no if people aren’t playing well with you.” This was in the context of a neighbor kid breaking a hand-me-down Barbie Jeep I’d received from my cousin! But I think the life lesson applies still. The other thing my mom always said was, “Tell people what they mean to you in the moment when it will mean something to them.” That continues to serve me well and how I honor her memory every day.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Brand Makeovers: Roy Sexton Of Clark Hill On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.