Find clients and causes you truly believe in. Feeling good about the work you’re doing makes it worth all the time and energy you have to put in to succeed and leads to a true sense of fulfillment. I love what I do, and I’m passionate about the clients my agency and I choose to work with, which makes avoiding burnout significantly easier.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Eric Yaverbaum.
Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, is a communications, media, and public relations expert with over 35-years in the industry, having co-founded Jericho Communications and served as President from 1985 until its successful merger in 2006 with LIME Public Relations & Promotions. Eric has worked with a wide-range of top-of-their-industry clients including Sony, IKEA, Progressive Insurance, Domino’s, Beachbody, H&M, and fitness guru Jack LaLanne. Eric is also a bestselling author who literally wrote the book on public relations — the industry-standard bestseller PR for Dummies — as well as six other titles including Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs (over a million copies sold). His expert commentary has been featured on Forbes, The Washington Post, The New York Times, HuffPost, CNBC, Fox Business, and PR Week, among others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My sophomore year at American University, I was in the business school and looking for opportunities to put my street smarts to work and get paid for it. Matthew Lesko had just finished writing his first book, Getting Yours. I met Lesko in DC by sheer luck at 19 years old. I was, in all honesty, a bit starstruck by an actual author (at the time, that was a big deal to me). I wanted to gain some industry experience, and I didn’t want it to be something from a textbook. So I asked Matthew if he knew anyone who’d be willing to hire me to do PR work. I’m not entirely sure what I did to convince him, but he offered me a job the next day, paying $100 per week to do anything I could to promote his book. He was unconventional, encouraged creativity and hustle, and let me try whatever I wanted. Between my classes and other jobs, I successfully promoted that book against all odds — we prevailed with no industry experience with a book that was a cut and paste of a federal document — and helped make it a New York Times Bestseller. It was through working with Matthew that I learned that I didn’t have to follow the rules, color inside the lines, or reshape myself and my work to fit neatly inside the proverbial “PR professional” box. In fact, not knowing there even was a box was the single greatest asset of my career (and always reminding myself of that still is). I found success precisely because I didn’t yet know what all the rules were — so I wasn’t bound by them — and I had the chance to work with people who encouraged bold thinking, creativity, and unconventionality; seeing that I could make a career out of those traits is what made me know I was on the right path.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While working with Prince Tennis, we developed a campaign around a new tennis racket that was marketed at the time as “long-body” technology. Michael Chang was one of the company’s sponsored athletes, and the longbody racket was his signature racket — his name was even on it — throughout his comeback year (during which he ranked a career-high #2 and made it to the US Open Finals). There had been a lot of speculation around the racket, and the press and tennis fans alike repeatedly questioned whether its longer length was contributing to Michael’s success. During a press conference after one of Michael’s winning matches, with me standing just a few feet away off to the side, a reporter asked him directly, “Did the racket have anything to do with your success?” Without missing a beat, Michael replied, “It had nothing at all to do with it.” My jaw dropped to the floor, and I learned that while celebrity endorsements are great, it’s critical that you ensure that brand ambassadors are completely on board with the messaging. You don’t want to pin your hopes (and entire brand strategy) all on one individual only to have them whiff a perfect setup when the whole world is watching (or in this case, elect not to simply say, “Yes, it helped!”).
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
During the 1985 Major League Baseball strike, I organized a coalition of fans into an organization named Strikeback in order to protest the third Major League Baseball strike within a span of only five years (work stoppages had become a regular occurance every few years since the 1972 strike, and just a few years earlier, a strike saw the cancelation of over 700 games). As it became increasingly clear that salary negotiations were breaking down and a player strike was a possibility, we formed a grassroots organization with a letter writing campaign and a mass fan pledge to strike game-for-game if the owners couldn’t come to an agreement with the players. The players’ strike lasted a mere two days (with no game cancellations), and league commissioner Peter Uberoth cited Strikeback as one of the reasons it ended so quickly. Moreover, Strikeback set a new precedent that would have lasting impact on the league; it was the first time a labor dispute resulted in lower attendance even after it was resolved, a fact that greatly concerned the league. And while I never believed Strikeback was entirely responsible for the speedy resolution, fans felt that their voices were heard, and I was yet again reinvigorated by the power of this job. Strikeback and the exposure it generated changed the trajectory of my entire career; we began to secure big clients and major brands. I was able to move my office from my home on Capitol Hill into an actual office — two actually — one in DC and another on Park Avenue in New York City, which had always been a dream and career goal of mine. That first experience with growth taught me that nothing was impossible, to never rest on my laurels, to constantly push forward, and to continually adapt and adopt new strategies. I think in this industry, you need to have many tipping points, lest you get left behind.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m genuinely excited about every project my team takes on. With my current agency — Ericho Communications — every single client we represent is focused on helping people in some way. Whether it’s with their physical health, their mental well-being, or their career, our overarching drive (beyond helping our clients) is to make a positive impact on the world, and we only work with clients who are trying to do just that in new, innovating, and exciting ways.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find clients and causes you truly believe in. Feeling good about the work you’re doing makes it worth all the time and energy you have to put in to succeed (for any career) and leads to a true sense of fulfillment. I love what I do, and I’m passionate about the clients my agency and I choose to work with, which makes avoiding burnout significantly easier. I’m never tired of waking up and collaborating with my clients, finding new ways to share their messages, and working toward making the positive impact on the world that I can with the unique skill set I have as a leader (surrounded by people far smarter than I who truly act as a team). Success ebbs and flows; there will always be multiple career highs and lows, but what I’ve found even more fulfilling and sustaining than even the biggest of victories is the feeling that my work will leave the world at least a little better than it was before I came into it.
It can’t be all work though; the other key is to find balance (the other parts of your life need to be nurtured as well). I spent a large part of my career trying to balance all my lives — my work life, my family, my personal life, etc. When I finally managed to give everything the right amount of attention (to me, my kids have always come first, and I treasure having made an impression on them that may help them lead more fulfilling lives), I discovered that my “separate” lives could not only coexist but actually lift up one another (e.g., when my personal life is healthy, and I put work into self care and self development, I’m so much happier and better at my job), it all came together, and I felt like I found real and true inner peace. That’s always the goal for me as a life lesson for my staff and personally for my kids.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
The difference between brand marketing and product marketing is fairly straightforward; respectively, one represents the abstract ideas that shape who your company is and the other is focused on your company’s concrete offerings. Brand marketing should answer the following questions: What sentiments does the brand elicit from people? Does the brand make them feel good, and does it offer value beyond the product itself? What kind of experience will you create? And what kind of relationship do you want to establish with your customers? It’s about identity, values, and ethos. On the other hand, product marketing is focused specifically on what you sell and requires working closely with the client’s advertising team. Nonetheless, the two disciplines are not mutually exclusive — in actuality, they go hand in hand — and real integration with one another is key to the success of each. Brand marketing and product marketing must work together — not separately — to create a cohesive picture of who you are, who your customers are, and what you’re offering them.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
The brand is who you are, everything else is what you sell. Building a solid brand with a positive reputation takes years (often decades) and requires a commitment to consistently putting out not only the best products and services, but in creating a unique and rewarding experience and relationship that keeps your customers coming back. It’s all about that very special relationship between your customers and your brand (and it must be based on something greater than just buying what you’re selling). Someone might try a new product once (though branding plays a huge role in this as well), but longevity requires customer loyalty, which comes from getting your customers to embrace what you stand for. Consider Apple or Samsung; brand devotees flock to their stores to purchase their latest products, share their experiences on social media, and even adopt them as part of their identity all because they have a relationship with the brand. In short, people buy brands, not products. If people like and trust a brand, they’ll be more inclined to buy the product, talk about it, and keep coming back.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
There are a number of reasons a brand should consider rebranding; for example, if your company is growing, expanding, pivoting, or evolving in some way, a rebrand might be smart to ensure that your brand and the experience you’re providing remain relevant and match up with what you’re selling, who your customers are, and what your goals are. Or perhaps you find that the ways in which your customers like to interact with your brand are different than you had expected when you initially developed your brand. A rebrand might be wise in this case in order to make that relationship more enjoyable and beneficial to your customers.
By and large though, one of the most common reasons companies consider rebranding is because business is not performing as it should. So they’ll seek to rebrand in order to shed an outdated image, reposition themselves as relevant, or simply speak to different and evolving audiences. It’s important to keep in mind though that rebranding is never a quick fix. Branding (including rebranding) is a process. It’s something you continuously build upon, and if you try to change things up too often, at best you won’t have a coherent brand (or really a brand at all), and at worst you will alienate fans, push away current customers, and lose trust (especially if you are dramatically changing what brought them there in the first place).
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Once you establish your brand, there will always be voices encouraging you to make changes or sometimes recreate it altogether. The key though is to evolve your brand while still keeping it coherent; growth and continual improvement are vital, but not at the complete and total expense of the foundation you’ve already built (the risk there is destroying the goodwill and trust you’ve already established). Change and evolution are constants in any industry, and you absolutely have to be nimble to keep up and stay relevant. So I generally wouldn’t advise anyone against doing a rebrand, but I would remind them that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen overnight. Rebranding takes time, and if done too abruptly or drastically, can result in confusion for your audience and even alienation and backlash (after all, it’s often human nature to be resistant to change). Furthermore, expectations need to be managed. A rebrand is not the quick fix many believe it to be. The overall goal of branding — and rebranding — should be to affirm the positive experience and the trust, belief, and value in what you bring to your customers.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- Make a Tangible Difference — In the 90s, British Knights sneakers and my team developed a campaign working with the NYPD for a Guns for Sneakers Exchange. Owners of unregistered firearms were able to bring their guns to various drop-off locations across New York City and exchange them for new British Knights sneakers. Over 1,000 guns were collected in the first initiative. It worked because BKS was already a fixture in New York and Los Angeles youth culture and tapped into a very specific desire in that community.
- Consider your External and Internal Audiences — Reenergize your brand in a way that excites both your employees and customers. IKEA, another former client, was the first company to feature a same-sex couple in an advertisement in the US. This generated buzz both within and outside of the organization, exciting the company’s employees and customers and generating an incredible amount of press. Your employees are often some of your biggest ambassadors, consumers, stakeholders, and advocates, and by adopting a public stance that aligns with their principles (and a company ethos built on positivity and acceptance), you can create a company culture that keeps your team engaged, energized, and eager to support and represent your brand.
- Upgrade the Brand Experience — The “30 minutes or less” delivery promise was the ethos that Domino’s built its name on, allowing it to dominate the pizza market for years. One of our projects with the brand was publicizing its previously internal annual competition to find the company’s fastest pizza maker. The “World’s Fastest Pizza Maker” contest not only excited employees but showed customers the real people behind the brand, personalizing their relationship with their local Domino’s, and giving them a chance to see just how Domino’s was able to keep its “30 minutes or less” promise, thanks to the talent and speed of its cooks. It gave them insight into how the food was made and the people making it and the competitive element was a natural draw. This campaign built on an already familiar concept of the brand (its 30 minute delivery window) in order to bring new insight, create an experience, foster personal investment, and generate excitement. (I should note that this was later discontinued for safety reasons that I fully supported.)
- Reintroduce Yourself and Set Things Right — Following the collapse of Consumer Financial Services, the consumer debt collection agency that made him a billionaire (and also landed him on trial, though he was found innocent on all counts), Bill Bartman came to me in need of a rebrand and comeback. His experience in the debt collection put him in a unique position, with in-depth knowledge of both sides of the industry (internal and consumer facing). After he was acquitted of all charges, Bartman founded CFS2 and became a consumer debt advocate. Using his position of power (and an understanding that people fell behind not because they didn’t want to pay, but because of other circumstances in their lives, like losing a job, getting sick and having unforeseen medical expenses, and needing to make hard choices between paying bills and putting food on the table), he advocated for debt-burdened consumers and worked to help them eliminate the debt he had previously hounded them to collect. He showed the industry (which was rightfully engulfed by a poor reputation) that coming from a place of compassion and empathy, and seeking not to collect, but to actually help and serve people, ultimately proved more successful (his employees weren’t rewarded based on what they could collect, but instead on the extent of services they could provide debtors). He even harnessed his influence to change policy; curtailing the powers and scope of the debt collection industry. Sometimes accepting that misteps were made, owning up to them, and setting things right is the best way forward.
- Collaborate with the Right Influencers — You don’t want to just work with any influencers. It can not only be a waste of time and money, but it can also undermine your brand. It’s about partnering with people who speak to and often even are your target audience. The success of the British Knight Sneakers brand in the late 80s and early 90s led to the launch of Lugz Shoes in 1993 by the same parent company. BKS had become synonymous with the inner city, its innovative music, and its rising athletes. Collaborating with and sponsoring notable basketball players and featuring them in the brand’s ads, BKS understood its audience — young, cool, urban men — and created an image and experience that spoke to them and the things they cared about. And with the launch of Lugz, the company worked with rising and established hip hop acts as endorsers. The brand’s intimate knowledge of the market combined with the rising mainstream visibility of rap/hip hop culture at the time allowed the company to establish an enduring brand.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Apple is perhaps the best example of a company that has completed a successful, thriving rebrand. Beginning originally as a niche, colorful alternative to the dominant (at the time) Microsoft, Apple has morphed into the primary company driving the course of technological aesthetic and innovation itself. The fact that Apple has cultivated and managed to keep (and continually grow) a dedicated, loyal customer base shows that it doesn’t rest on its laurels (something that often kills technology brands and almost took down Microsoft). The key to growing any business to the point that Apple has is continuously pushing and innovating. It’s fair (and right) to be proud of and celebrate the accomplishments you’ve achieved. However, Apple has managed to remain at the top because it refuses to sit on the successes of its past.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My ideal movement would be one that inspires people to be healthier (physically and mentally) and to have a better quality of life. In my youth, I was sure I was immortal, and I neglected my own health and personal needs. It was only after years of growth (and I mean years), that I took control of my personal, physical, and mental wellness, and I’ve never felt better. It’s so easy to let work dominate our lives and to put ourselves last, especially for young people today who are just beginning their careers at a time when the boundary between work and our personal lives is blurring more than ever (thanks in large part to technology bringing the workplace with us everywhere we go). Changing how we view work and how we balance it with our personal lives is something I’m really passionate about (it’s also something I try to impart on other business owners and managers). When we value the people we work with as people, support them, and give them the space to succeed both at work and outside of it, we are all better for it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Growth is a process, not a light switch.” We’re so wired for quick fixes, culturally and socially, that we often forget that things take time. I’ve found that the joy of life is about the journey, enjoying the things that we have when we have them, and being grateful for the changes they inspire within us.
How can our readers follow you online?
(or just Google me)
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.