Five lessons from RSM's global rebrand

Five lessons from RSM's global rebrand

RSM International’s long history began in 1964, when three firms of accountants in America, France and the UK decided to set up a collaborative network to improve business for all parties. The new organisation would represent all its member firms, but each was independent and would continue to operate under its own brand. It grew to become the seventh-largest global audit, tax and consulting network.

However, in October 2015, all of these proud firms turned their backs on their own identities to unite under a single global brand, RSM.

We recently spoke with Jean Stephens – CEO of RSM, and Rebecca Richards - Marketing Director of RSM, who provided us with the five lessons on how RSM’s impressive brand realignment was achieved:

1. Identifying the need for change

As globalisation became increasingly entrenched in the world’s business economy and the expectations and demands from clients became a seamless experience across territories. The growing concern that the network might not be delivering to its full potential has become ever-more prominent. Richards explains, this first became apparent whilst on a mission to secure new business.

She says “The number of international tenders we are pitching for has been rapidly increasing. Clients weren't convinced we were as global as our competitors.” Stephens, meanwhile, recalls: “The network wasn't presenting itself in a consistent and unified way like other similarly structured accounting networks, and to some prospect audiences it was a barrier.” Within the upper reaches of the networks, people began to talk about whether the traditional system of member firms operating under two brands – their own, plus the RSM brand – should be abandoned.

As Richards puts it, there was a growing realisation that prospective clients weren't convinced that the network could deliver a cohesive approach: “Having a single global brand is of critical importance, helping [clients] feel confident that they will benefit from a consistent global service, and better enabling them to secure buy-in from their key stakeholders, who might be familiar with us in one territory, but not another.”

2. Researching the brand proposition

Three years ago, the network began to research the effectiveness of its brand with member firms, existing clients and prospects. It looked at what it was known for, what it was associated with, and how it rated against competitor brands.

Analysing its core target audiences, a ‘perception map’ was built to highlight where the gaps were. Further research and competitor analysis was undertaken to examine what rival firms and networks were doing, as well as industry trends. All member firms across the network were surveyed to better understand what was important to them and how to proceed going forward.

Some of the feedback was surprising. “Firms had much higher recognition for the RSM brand than we had appreciated,” says Stephens. “The results told us that many were surprised we hadn't already made the decision to become a single global brand,” Richards notes. However, recognition for a new brand strategy was just the beginning. The leadership team now had to convince member firms operating across 110 countries that a brand realignment was required if the network was to be properly recognised as a world-class provider of professional services in a globalised business economy.

3. Building the strategic case for change

Resistance to change is inevitable. Richards describes the dilemma, and how the leadership team made the case. “How do you get someone to change their legacy name? They need to see there is something in it for them,” she says. “The research helped to show our internal audience that RSM was a significant global brand, so any argument over local versus global became easier to take forward. Their feedback was very clear.

If potential clients were looking for a service provider to support them in several territories, they would look much more favourably on an organisation that presented itself in a joined-up way. “To achieve this, we engaged in a major internal communications process, mapping out the communications lines across the global network to ensure we could answer questions at every level – from board and managing partners to wider partner groups and all employees – providing the information they needed, and helping them to understand the rationale for the decision – to buy into the future vision and their role as part of that.”

4. Communicating the change

In October, the brand launched, combining worldwide and local initiatives. “There was a large central budget and, in addition, every member firm was expected to invest in launching the brand in their own market,” says Richards. “From a central perspective, we advertised on, Bloomberg and in the Wall Street Journal. We sponsored editorial content as well, targeting a readership of CFOs and CEOs of middle-market businesses around the world.

A social media campaign and LinkedIn advertising also contributed to the launch. In Asia-Pacific territories, another channel was added to the mix; firms involved themselves in charity and community exercises which according to Richards is a very strong way to build the brand there.

5. Changing behaviours

RSM cannot work as a global brand unless its members continue to stand firmly behind the unified network. “Our values of collaboration, ideas and insight are underpinned by quality and stewardship in terms of leadership,” Richards says. “We’re making sure it’s embedded in our global strategy, and that all the systems and processes we have are consistent across our global members. “In the lead-up to the launch, we went live with a closed website called, which included resources for all employees of all member firms to access.”

This closed site shared vital information, which included a publication called The RSM Way, which detailed how people could and should apply the RSM brand promise to everything they do, demonstrating the behaviours and approach which is to be conveyed internally and to their clients.

Richards explains that each firm had to nominate a Brand Transition Champion to work with the central Global Executive Office to coordinate everything, and there were brand sessions held at all the regional conferences over the May to July period. An internal microsite was launched, which allowed all Managing Partners and Brand Transition Champions to log on to a central resource to download updates, fact sheets, help sheets, guidelines, materials, and other resources – as well as being able to raise concerns and ask questions. Delivering change of this scale, in a B2B market in which member firms and clients need to be won over, brings its own challenges, according to Richards: “In some ways, because it’s a targeted, niche audience, it’s easier to communicate than B2C. But the challenge for us is that we’re a network.

We don’t own that network outright as a single organisation, so it has to be a ‘hearts and minds’ exercise. We have to concentrate on the way people deliver things on the ground. That’s definitely the challenge.”


Catalyst issue two: brand experience

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