Home Archive December 2009 Rapid refreshment
Rapid refreshment
Friday, 11 December 2009 16:32

From initial conception to implementation in five months, accountancy network BDO’s rebrand shows what can be done when client and agency work as a single team: Max Hotopf reports

How rapidly can an international organisation complete a rebrand? BDO, the international network of accountancy firms, has perhaps set a new record going from a standing start to completion including design, messaging, websites, brochures and trickle-down implementation across 110 countries in just over five months.

And all on a very low budget. While Ernst & Young spent several million on its 2008 rebrand with WPP Landor, BDO spent several hundred grand. And it was all overseen by an international marketing team of two and a half people – Julia Henniker-Heaton, BDO’s director of brand and marketing, an assistant and “half a secondee” – working with small London consultancy Fairley & Associates and designer Greentarget.

But let’s step back a bit. The network, the largest accountancy group in the world after the Big Four, had been trading as BDO + local name since 1988.
But the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, among other things, opened up the market and, to compete, it became vital for BDO to be seen as a single entity. Recalls Henniker-Heaton: “The network told us they were not winning business because they were not perceived as a joined up international network.”

By early 2009, and with the appointment of Jeremy Newman as a new global chief executive, the decision had been taken to switch to BDO worldwide and to refresh a tired brand image. Despite its distinctive hockey-stick of red, the image had an overwhelmingly blue background, the traditional colour of choice for professional services companies in American and Britain. It felt very conservative and not well suited to the new markets, such as China.

Henniker-Heaton decided she wanted brand consultant Rachel Fairley, who had worked on the BDO account at Landor before going it alone and setting up Fairley & Associates. Henniker-Heaton says it was not a difficult choice. “At Landor, she was always the bright light. We had done a brand realignment across the world together and I knew I could work with her.”

Both Fairley and Henniker-Heaton believe in client and agency/consultancy working as a single team. Says Fairley: “I want to be bolted on to the in-house team without the traditional ‘us and them’ agency divide. I want to impart and hand over my knowledge and skills. The approach is more efficient and means everyone has more skin in the game.”

“The brief was very well written and asked us how we would tackle the task,” recalls Greentarget’s creative director Simon Case. “Also, it asked us to come up with something beautiful. That was striking, and a useful reference point. The aesthetic is way down the list for many clients.”

Henniker-Heaton says: “Other agencies came up with some creatives and images. With Greentarget it was just words, not even Powerpoint. But words - how you express yourself - are very important. We didn’t want flashy. In fact, she was slightly unsure about the agency’s creative talent. We actually asked them to send round examples of their other work by taxi, we looked at that and then we knew they could do the job.”

Greentarget also proved well-suited to the single-team approach that was favoured by Fairley and Henniker-Heaton.

Case says: “We are greedy for client time. We don’t just go away and produce three designs and ask the client to choose one of them. Julia and Rachel spent a lot of time at Greentarget. We’d sit around, look at rough sketches, brainstorm. They’d do some drawings as well.”

The first piece of work Henniker-Heaton commissioned was to look at market positioning. Fairley says the decision had already been taken to make proximity the primary differentiator, as BDO has an intimate knowledge of the needs and markets of the mittelstand companies it serves internationally. She says this came out very clearly from research – “People inside the business were talking about ‘What matters to you, matters to us.’” This became the platform message and strategic driver – but is not a strap line.

A little trite perhaps? Fairley shrugs: “With service companies it is about delivery and BDO has a lot to say on proximity. It is also emotional - it is about saying that BDO is passionate about understanding how it can best help your business.”

Fairley divides messages into two types: the ‘always proof’, such as “We deliver in 24 hours” or “We have an international network”; and the ‘newsworthy proof’, such as “We have a system which enables us to audit a company internationally and then generate a single report”.

She adds: “Repeat the ‘always proof’ and people get very bored. But if you have really interesting stories to tell, people will listen and come to you. And, as this is a people business, these newsworthy proofs need to be given face-to-face. Yes, you can broadcast these proofs through PR, but really it is also about someone sitting in the room and being able to explain the precise how, what and why to a client.”

The proximity message can also be used to attract high quality recruits, says Henniker-Heaton: “In Big 4 firms, graduates are part of big audit teams. With BDO, they meet the client sooner rather than later.”

The messages are being trickled down within the firm from managers to staff. Says Fairley: “There are no town hall meetings. This is about ensuring that people really get the messages and really use them.”

She adds: “This change to BDO is a culmination of years of work. We want to present it to the world – externally and internally, not as a revolution, but as a coming of age, a clicking into place of existing qualities.”

The new logo and image is lighter, more modern and redder. The distinctive red hockey stick has gone, but the broken red line with its sharp angle has been retained. The BDO team calls it the “locator” and use it to highlight the most important point on the page, the advert, the website or the trade show stand.
Greentarget took the internationalisation mission very seriously. Case says: “We spent a lot of time finding fonts which would also work on Microsoft Word and with all the different alphabets around the world from Cyrillic to Chinese to Hindi.”

The new brochures and websites all come with imagery emphasising proximity - the idea that BDO works in tandem with, and reflects the needs of, its swimming together – that sort of thing. The idea is that after they have seen the website, got the brochure and seen a poster, they will get the subliminal message that BDO reflects and works closely with clients.”

The BDO refresh has worked partly because it is the result of discussions at a series of annual conferences,. At these corporate gatherings, representatives from every member firm was given an opportunity to debate and agree upon the transition to a single trading name that was the catalyst for the visual identity refresh.

This consensus was continued with the refresh, where marketing teams from the biggest national firms were referred to and asked for their opinion. Henniker-Heaton says that meant regular video conferencing and web presentations to the marketing teams, as well as website owners in the bigger firms. Getting genuine buy-in of this sort does lead to conflict, and she confesses to “a few sticky moments”.
She recalls: “The countries argued that letter heading and business cards were not marketing devices and so it was not appropriate to have the red locator on them.” It was an argument that she eventually lost, but she is philosophical: “Ultimately, they are the in-country marketing teams - they have to be comfortable with the material.”

BDO used Comrad.nl, a Dutch brand centre specialist to upload all the brand imagery. This includes 500 images which have been approved. Countries are encouraged to come up with their own images, but there is a tight photographic brief. The brand team can veto images which don’t conform.
The new brand will roll out this autumn – so far approximately 18 firms, including the UK, New Zealand and Brazil, are the pioneers, but we are assured that all 110 countries will have switched by the end of the year. The willingness of over 100 independent firms to lose decades-old heritage names is a mark of the success of the project.

Next up is a project to build thought leadership internationally in certain areas. But Henniker Heaton says the refresh is already paying off: “Just this week at the last conference a partner told me how much easier it was to pitch for international business now that he could present the network as a single entity.”

 

Peer review

Martin Grimes, Blue Marlin

They’ve done a good job of tidying up the identity and giving it a fresher, more modern look, considering the amount of time given to the project, but sometimes when you have less time you do a better job because you have to make decisions quickly. I like the use of the white frame, it looks clean and fresh. There’s a really nice idea behind the red line – it is almost like bandwidth and it is great for adding emphasis to the visual elements. Putting together such a small team can be dangerous – you’ve got to get the chemistry absolutely right, but it obviously worked for them.

Melanie McShane, Wolff Olins
This is a solid corporate identity, rather than a brand. On the upside it’ll give them global consistency visually, and project an image of single network. But right now it’s restricted to the marketing community. I’m also struggling to find the point of view that will positively differentiate them. For too long professional services firms have emphasised their network or style of working rather than what clients are interested in - results.
I can’t help feeling they’ve missed an opportunity to do something that will help them compete in the future, rather than just tidying up today.

David Gilbert, Nucleus
There’s a huge irony here. BDO has rallied round a proposition of ‘proximity’ (in other words, customer intimacy), whilst rolling out a globally consistent brand. Local heritage brands have been sacrificed for efficiency of scale and executive tidiness. It could be a major miscalculation.
The giveaway is that the exercise is a ‘refresh’. I’m trying to find the ‘emotion’, but it escapes me. It could have (should have) been a braver solution, but speed and cost have been the overriding requirements.

Lessons learnt
Time-plan before you promise - Henniker-Heaton says “If I did it again, I’d like more time. After I had agreed to the objective of letting our firms switch to the new image on all their collateral by October we realised that this meant having everything in place by early August to allow for testing, etc. I don’t think the quality would have been better – pressure cookers produce good food. But we were working 14-hour days.”
A single team works well If you want to get a good job done fast, then drop the agency/client divide and work together as one.
Tight briefs, decisive clients - says Rachel Fairley: “It made me realise that heaven is a client who knows their business and is really decisive. BDO took advice, made decisions and then moved on.”

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