Re-branding a global business three times
in under thirteen years

By Graham Jerome-Ball,
Director of Global Branding, Informa

Is different from re-branding a small owner, founder-led business.

Key points
  • Changing the corporate brand architecture has strengthened the Informa name and given the portfolio of sub-brands a more robust and scaleable structure.

  • Having a simplified brand identity has made it easier to create visually exciting and integrated marketing communications.
  • Agility is one of the brand personality traits and is brought to life through a flat management structure and empowering people to make decisions.
  • Strong guiding principles are essential for a FTSE 100 company for all stakeholders including institutional investors. 

graham jerome ball informa

“I wonder how many people get to rebrand the same business three times in a relatively short space of time?” muses Graham Jerome-Ball the global branding director of international events, intelligence and scholarly research group Informa.

Re-branding three times

His first followed shortly after the merger with the Taylor & Francis publishing group in 2005, which led to a name change from T&F Informa to Informa. “That was a fairly simple change of visual identity,” he recalls.

The second was a bigger and more strategic project aimed at consolidating various acquisitions and the third was the result of the latest acquisition, of pure-play events organisation UBM. And as the business has grown, Jerome-Ball explains, it has needed to adapt its positioning to its changing personality and culture. 

As he researched into how that should be done, he identified a problem: communicating the main group offer with how the individual business units related to it and incorporating the group company endorsement. The solution was a matrix clearly showing how it all sat within a visual brand family tree and how they related to each other. 

Today, Informa is an international knowledge, information, networking and scholarly researching powerhouse with a large portfolio of valuable brands, 12,000 colleagues in forty three countries'. Bringing two large publicly quoted companies together necessitated a large research project looking into the culture of both businesses.

The history, working practices, people, attitudes and aspirations were all carefully collected through interviews, workshops and questionnaires and fed into the writing of the new Purpose Statement and Guiding Principles, the bedrock of the brand platform.

Informa

“Having a simple to access and implement brand identity has been welcomed across the group’s businesses,” says Jerome-Ball. That in turn has enabled us to more readily produce visually exciting and integrated marketing communications.

"What we decided to do is to create a fully agile identity system with online guidelines and templates placed on the company intranet.

A series of identity workshops were run to support the implementation across the various businesses sectors and regions".

Guiding principles

While other businesses have brand values, Informa calls them Guiding Principles. ‘Think Big, Act Small, Trust must be Earned, Success is a Partnership and More Freedom, Fewer Barriers’. These, in some shape or form, have been in place at least as long as Jerome-Ball has been with the company - over a decade - and are clearly stated on all job descriptions, so candidates are aware of them from the outset.

Staff are asked in their annual performance reviews how they support and live the Guiding Principles, and adherence to them is a given. “Values or principles should be in a company’s DNA,” explains Jerome-Ball.

“They should be second nature; you should be able to see examples in action everyday just by looking around the company. Part of staff engagement is to build stories and narratives around examples of where we see the Principles being implemented.” 

“Our Personality Traits are important too – “let’s take agility then as an example. We are a very large business, but we have a flat structure and everyone is empowered to make decisions, so we can move forward very quickly,” he replies.

“When customers ask other suppliers to do something it can take months and lots of committee meetings, but we can give an answer overnight if necessary. That difference means we are able to make ourselves relevant for the customer very quickly.”

Overcoming challenges

“If you are true to your principles, they will always be relevant to every generation,”

Jerome-Ball

"If you are true to your Purpose, Personality and Principles, they will always be relevant to every generation,” Jerome-Ball suggests. “Our Guiding Principles have got us to where we are now and have not really changed much in twenty years, though we flex and re-articulate them sometimes to make sure they are still understood and relevant.

I think the communication of Personality Traits and Principles has to be agile and able to fit different needs. We constantly work at making sure they are relevant; for example, younger users of our services get so much more of their information from social media.”

Building relationships

A strong brand

As a FTSE100 company, having strong brand values which it lives by helps to meet the criteria of an increasing number of institutional investors, says Jerome-Ball. “Investor relations, shareholders and analysts are a hugely important part of our ‘customer’ base.”

Jerome-Ball observes that there’s a fundamental difference between rebranding a corporate and an SME. “In a small business, the brand values will reflect the personality and the style adopted by the founders, the owners.

In a big business it’s not about any individuals; it’s about where it sits in its world and the part it plays in that world. You have different audiences, different cultures, different needs and requirements, and that requires more research and testing of the branding and how it is communicated.”

"If you look back over a company’s history you will find chief executives come and go, as do different business strategies and management teams which is why it is so important that the company's Guiding Principles are rooted in the culture of the business, they must ring true and mean something to everyone who has an interest in the business.

Having a purpose is vital not only as a company but as individuals too, this helps us to identify potential partners, job candidates and business opportunities when they arrive.

Much is spoken about disrupters in certain markets taking business away from perhaps the more established, legacy companies but I think this is just a symptom of change and, perhaps, speed of change.

Every successful business has great relationships with its customers, we are trusted by them to provide the service they need to make better decisions and compete with other companies and part of this is to anticipate trends and what might happen in the future.

Disruptive is probably the wrong word, It's about staying relevant, I worked for British Airways in the era of the low-cost airlines when it started Go Fly. British Airways sold that airline, which was a shame, because it was a really good business, with one of the best chief executives in Barbara Cassani. 

Adjusting strategy

Staying relevant

She understood that to survive it’s really important to have a differentiator and she achieved that. But that’s not disruptive, it’s adapting to whatever the market or the culture looks like at the time. You have to flex with the times, innovate and keep your offer relevant to the stakeholder audience.”

Being an international business, Informa has had to be careful how it articulates its Guiding Principles especially with a large Asian footprint and taking into account cultural differences.

“The sort of idiomatic phrases that we in the west come up with, such as ‘the devil is in the detail’, ‘sweat the small stuff’ and ‘rolling our sleeves up’, don’t translate,”

says Jerome-Ball.

"And while the phrase ‘light on our feet’, to express the idea of agility, means to us that we can change direction quickly, in Asia it means you are a shirker! 

“So we have to be very careful about making sure, regardless of region, that our brand has the right tone of voice and meaning.”

 

Difficult to articulate

Researched and written by Decision Magazine as part of a special report commissioned by Greenfisher, called ‘Business As Unusual - Secure the Future of your Brand’.

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