“I started out working for the public relations division of Ogilvy & Mather (then called Adams & Rinehart), mostly in the financial industry or the financial side of public companies. I worked on investor relations or shareholder communications, or with companies that were going through some sort of financial transaction: bankruptcy, merger, spin-off, whatever it was.
O&M gave me a survey course in corporate communications where we did everything from investor relations to employee communications, media relations, promotional, marketing and PR for financial products. After a couple years, it was a good time to take that survey course and apply it to something a little bit more specific. So I considered a move to OppenheimerFunds. It was like declaring your major in PR financial services.
The client side has been exciting because it provides me with the opportunity to do different things but also to be a little bit more strategic. I think on the agency side, especially at a junior level. You’re given a 'do this' type of assignments. Or your responsibility is to execute a piece of the puzzle, and it’s often at the direction of the client or as part of a larger piece of the puzzle, which you may not be involved in or may not know the whole background on. I like being able to set the strategy, figure out the issue, and then do it, rather than just do it.
OppenheimerFunds has had a series of goals. Different CEOs along the way have set a benchmark of where they want to get to. In 1996, ‘96, we started toward one of those goals. And we looked at what steps we could take from a marketing standpoint to get to the next level of the business. I was assigned to look at what value we could create from the OppenheimerFunds brand – which I think is pretty strong but unmanaged and unpromoted for a long time. We had a great history, solid reputation but not a lot of depth to it.
So we looked at what we thought would be the trends in the industry for the next several years: How investors were behaving; how distribution was behaving; whether there might be some value in strengthening our reputation around some specific attributes and trying to drive the business around those.
In the end we thought the trends in the industry would lead to a strong brand being a big competitive advantage -- a new thought in our segment of the industry. From that came the assignment for me to put the program and resource together. It’s sort of a surreal experience. The company says ‘let’s make a major marketing commitment to building our brand, and then let’s take someone who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with branding do it for us.’ Not typical of what you’d see on Wall Street. But it was a good opportunity.
Our management and employees were enthusiastic about the idea of brand, and I think understood the potential value of it from the start. They were less enthusiastic about the cost of branding, which is probably often the case. We were fortunate to be making our case when there was enough money to go around. We were able to make the case based on a longer-term view. We were also able to demonstrate some results after a year or two that helped people stick to it.
I always say the brand is a journey not a destination. We’ve always got to be thinking, as people who manage our brand: Where’s the company going to be three to five years from now and how can we start getting there today? So when the company gets there everybody knows what to expect. They are satisfied by what they are getting but not surprised.
In terms of actual measurable results, we’ve seen the awareness of the brand go from middle of the pack to top two to three in our industry. We’ve seen respect and reputation of the brand climb among all our key audiences – we’ve gone from third- to second-tier in terms of our business, and I’d argue to first-tier in terms of our reputation.
In fact there was a study done by American Banker and Harris Interactive, where they went out and asked consumers, 'What financial services company is the most respected by you.' And we finished in the top ten on that list. That was probably the most exciting result we’ve seen so far – especially since we are on that list with companies that are ten times our size.
Looking back on it I think we would even be in a better position today if we had put as much resource and energy internally as we did externally. The hardest thing to do, but also the thing that has the biggest kickback, is not just telling people what we are doing but explaining it to them in a way that would help them live it. I don’t think we accomplished that as quickly as we could. It’s taken the whole four or five years to continue to hammer away at that and if we’d made a substantial investment of time – not even financial – to drive that into the organization faster than it would have even been more effective.”