Rebranding After a Merger is Harder Than You Think

Rebranding After a Merger is Harder Than You Think

In the freshly redesigned October 2016 issue of Chicago Lawyer, I wrote a Letter to the Editor that I hope management committees can benefit from, and marketers can use as ammunition with their marketing committees as they develop the merger-marketing budget (particularly if you’re the firm getting “bought”).

It discusses one of my pet peeves — a squandered post-merger rebranding.

That is, after a regional or national firm acquires a firm in a new market, they change the local firm’s name.

Unfortunately, the acquiring larger firm typically underestimates how much time and resources it takes to build a strong brand in a new market. The smaller merged firm was promised a powerful national brand, but they later find that they lost their hard-earned local awareness, and now work for a big firm with zero local name recognition.  Years later, they learn that the merger caused a big step backwards in their individual and local-area marketing.

It’s an enormous waste of money… and opportunity.chicago-lawyer-1016-cover-website

The acquiring firm has spent SO much time, money, and resources completing the merger. Why not invest a relatively small additional amount of money to increase the chance that it will be successful?

It’s not that they didn’t mean well, just that the lawyers in The Mothership can’t imagine that the firm isn’t already well known in that new market. They simply can’t imagine a world where everyone doesn’t know them, so they tend to under-budget the amount of marketing effort it will take to accomplish the rebrand in the new market.

Fishman Marketing frequently gets hired directly by frustrated lawyers at the smaller firms, typically five years after the merger, to help them build back what they lost. They complain of inadequate or unsuccessful local brand-building activities after the merger, and finally decided to take matters into their own hands.

Here’s the first part of my “Letter to the Editor”:

“Rebranding After a Merger is Harder Than Firms Imagine

I read with great interest your August 2016 cover story, “Meeting the right match,” regarding all the merger activity in Chicago; I’d estimate that well over 100 (!) regional and national law firms have moved into Chicago since the 1980s. I’d also suggest that of that 100, barely five of them have any measurable name recognition within the Chicago business community and less than 10 are well-known within the local legal community.

That is, if you ask the average lawyer walking down LaSalle Street to name 10 major out- of-town law firms with Chicago offices, they wouldn’t be able to.

Further, if you ask them if they’ve ever heard of terrific firms like Bryan Cave, Perkins Coie, Husch Blackwell, Haynes and Boone or Akerman, I’d suggest that most lawyers will say no — even though each is a dominant leader in its home market.

Or if you asked them what well-known Chicago law firms were acquired by Honigman, Cozen O’Connor, King & Spalding, or Brown Smith Wallace, I’ll bet you a dollar they wouldn’t know.

The issue is, regional or national firms come to town with a grandiose goal of building a 100-lawyer, full-service local office in a vibrant legal market. They buy a well-known, 25- or 50-year-old Chicago-based, full-service or boutique firm (whoever’s left, basically), promising cross-selling opportunities with big-name clients, a regional or national platform to sell to their existing clients and significant marketing support.

The typical rebranding plan seems to be that they’ll (1) have a 2.5-hour after-work launch party for clients and contacts, (2) do some weak and forgettable print advertising for a couple months and (3) for a two year-period, let the small firm use a combined logo variation structured as “BIG FIRM Small Firm,” after which “Small Firm” disappears forever.

But because the acquiring firm fumbles the local rebrand, the smaller Chicago firm invariably loses the name recognition they’d earned over decades, without replacing it with the powerful, new national brand they had been promised.”

Read the rest of the Letter to the Editor HERE.

Firms can do better. It just requires (1) real commitment, (2) stronger creative work that really stands out, and (3) a few more marketing dollars in the merger budget.

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Want some help with your firm’s branding or re-branding? Contact me at ross@fishmanmarketing.com or +1.847.432.3546.

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