Robyn Williams of Portland'5 Centers for the Arts in Portland, Ore., Shelly Kleppsattel from Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Brandon Lucas of carbonhouse, and Jeff Hartzog of Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Fla., speak about rebranding at PAMC. (VT Photo)
REPORTING FROM KANSAS CITY, MO. — There are many reasons a venue can go through rebranding. Maybe a naming rights partner comes on board, or the facility decides to launch a new website. Other times, the old logos are stale or inconsistent. However, rebranding is an undertaking with significant cost and time investments. Panelists at this year’s Performing Arts Managers Conference here, Feb. 22-25, discussed their experiences with rebranding.
“A few years ago if you had asked me what rebranding was, I would have said a new logo, some new stationary and that’s that — not so anymore,” said Shelly Kleppsattel of Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The venue rebranded without changing its name. Instead, the focus stayed on creating a consistent design and introducing a new website. “Before we started our rebranding project, we discovered that we were being represented in a variety of ways, none of which were consistent,” she added.
The organization met with several groups in the community to see how the 4,678-seat theater registered visually and emotionally with them.
“We saw that it was the image of the marquee that really stuck with people, so we started with that,” said Kleppsattel. The Fox also adopted a focus on ‘where memories are made,’ because from discussions, the organization learned that people saw the theater as a place to create memories.
Currently, advertising for the theatre has consistent imaging, with the logo featured on the bottom left side and imaging featuring the marquee.
Another facility that rebranded without changing its name is Ruth Eckerd Hall: Richard B. Baumgardner Center for the Arts in Clearwater, Fla., more commonly referred to as Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Jeff Hartzog, the venue’s director of Operations, called their rebranding experience an example of what not to do. The organization decided there was too much going on under one umbrella, because the organization wasn’t just Ruth Eckerd Hall, but also Capitol Theatre, Murray Studio Theater, and Ruth Eckerd Hall on the Road. There had also been many logos throughout the years without consistency. Hartzog said when he was gathering business cards to bring to PAMC, he received cards from staff members with six different logos.
“We decided that along with strategic planning, we needed to rebrand,” said Hartzog. Ruth Eckerd Hall staff had meetings for several weeks, which ended with a unanimous decision that everyone liked a design for logos that involved the names as signatures.
“While we all agreed, apparently we didn’t all agree,” he said. It started with a new marketing employee who didn’t like the logo — then others started speaking up. “You need to have a buy-in, not asking every employee if they like the logo, but you do need to have a general buy-in and most certainly with the marketing team and development department,” Hartzog added.
With more meetings, the staff came together with strategic planning, a new mission statement, and a plan to roll it out in the community.
Now, Ruth Eckerd Hall and Murray Studio Theater’s logos have consistency with capital lettering and the full name continuing below the theater name. Ruth Eckerd Hall on the Road also complements the design with capital lettering, and Capitol Theatre uses a marquee design.
“There’s a bit more synergy to our branding and logo development with a similar look,” said Hartzog. Also, events presented by the organization are now called a ‘Ruth Eckerd Hall, Inc., experience’ in advertising, so the community recognizes that the organization, as opposed to the development board, is presenting events like Last Fridays concert series.
Robyn Williams of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts in Portland, Ore., came to the realization that the facilities needed rebranding out of necessity.
“It didn’t start out as a branding exercise,” she said. “The problem was that our website got compromised and, as people were looking at it, they thought it could crash and burn at any minute, so it started with the need to design a new website.”
At first, the organization was adamant about not changing its name from Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The organization spoke with groups of stakeholders, including people in governance, business leaders, people from the arts and nonprofits, as well as staff and volunteers.
“Every single group came out and said we needed to change the name,” Williams added.
The organization vacillated between using the five individual venue names and having an umbrella name for the group, but eventually decided that an overall name would be useful when speaking to stakeholders about the organization.
“We wanted people to know that these buildings belong to them, so if we need something financially or need some advocacy, we want the community to know that these are their venues to fight for,” said Williams. “We also wanted something a little evocative and a lot of fun.”
The result was Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. Williams said when the media asked her if the new name was pronounced “Portland five” or “Portland’s,” she would just reply that it was both.
“The name has really caught on,” she said, adding that “the only people who had an issue were the grammar police on Facebook.” The organization included ‘Centers for the Arts’ within the name to create a bridge from the previous name to the new one. Along with the new overall name and logo, a logo was designed for each of the five venues that evoked the ray of lights from stage lighting instruments.
The facility is owned by the city and managed by a commission that is appointed by regional government. Williams said that the city liked the new brand because it has the city’s name in it, the commission liked that it was inclusive of the city and all the venues, “and the regional government doesn’t pay much attention to us anyway.”
Because the name began from groups of stakeholder discussions, people embraced the name quickly. Within a year, the facility decided to change its name, discussed a new name, rolled out a new website with a mobile component, and completely rebranded.
Brandon Lucas from carbonhouse, a web, mobile and social design firm that focuses on venues, said there are a few keys to branding success, including doing an inventory of assets, being firm but flexible, creating a sense of continuity, budgeting and being bold.
When it comes to the things that need to change as a result of rebranding, Kleppsattel said that it “can be evolutionary, or like opening Pandora’s Box.”
In addition to the logo and website, the new brand needs to extend to business cards, websites, traditional advertising, letterheads and uniforms, among others things.
“There are so many different places and points where that name and logo is included,” said Lucas, who recommended creating an inventory of things that need to change in a spreadsheet just to understand the scope of a rebranding.
Williams said that the Portland’5 name is still in the process of becoming fully integrated.
“One thing we didn’t do was run out and dump all of our stationary, and if you get a business card from me today it will still say Portland Center for the Arts,” she said, adding that the new logos are important as a public image, but that the predominantly internal things like business cards and letterhead could wait until more funds are available.
“I’m sure it’s a major branding no-no, but sometimes you have to make the decision based on the resources you have,” Williams added.
For a rebranding to really take hold, Kleppsattel said that the staff and organization really needs to become the brand, living it, breathing it and walking it every single day.
“We have a saying now of ‘does it speak Fox?’” she said. If something doesn’t fit with the brand, it’s not introduced at the venue.
Vicki Hawarden, president and CEO at the long-ago rebranded International Association of Venue Managers, said conference attendance was down this year, with 155 paid attendees versus last year’s 184 attendees. IAVM grossed $170,300 from PAMC registrations, and earned $86,090 from conference sponsors. Overall membership for IAVM is up to 4,240 members, whereas in 2011 there were 3,315 members.
In July, the organization will launch a venue membership category that will include up to 20 members for a total of $3,000, which breaks down to the cost of about six memberships at current rates. There will also be a digital-only membership available for $150, and a new website launching this summer.
Interviewed for this story: Jeff Hartzog, (727) 712-2710; Vicki Hawarden, (972) 906-7441; Shelly Kleppsattel, (404) 881-2054; Brandon Lucas, (704) 333-5800; Robyn Williams, (503) 274-6565