October 17, 2018

How do you get affiliates to speak with one voice?

Stephanie Paul, Vice President of Marketing and Development at the American Parkinson Disease Association shares how the rebranding process helped APDA unite its 19 local chapters and ensure all had the tools to communicate with one clear voice.


Sarah: Hey, I’m Sarah Durham, and this is the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m here today with my buddy Stephanie Paul, who’s the Vice President of Marketing and Development at the American Parkinson Disease Association. Welcome, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Thank you, Sarah. It’s great to be here.

Sarah: It’s great to have you here. We are going to dig in to one of my favorite topics today, which is rebranding. You guys have gone through a very thoughtful rebranding process. So I invited Stephanie to join us today to tell us a little bit about her organization, why they rebranded, what the benefits were and share some tips and advice. Let’s start with a little bit about you and about the organization and why you wanted to rebrand.

Stephanie: Okay, great. The American Parkinson Disease Association, or APDA for short, is the largest grassroots organization in this country serving people with Parkinson Disease. We provide the support, education, and research that will help everyone impacted by Parkinson disease live life to the fullest. I am Vice President of Marketing and Development, and I’ve been with the organization for five years. In 2015, after being at the organization for two years, we embarked upon a strategic plan, the rebranding was a part of that.

Stephanie: We found that our organization has a very long history, we were founded in 1961, yet we’re sort of a very entrepreneurial organization, which is really exciting. We have a lot of opportunity to move fast and really think on our feet and do things that are going to hopefully change what’s happening. We started in 2015, embarking on a strategic plan, we grew up as an organization where if there was a support group or there were a group of people somewhere in the country who were dealing with Parkinson disease, they would want to become affiliated, they would become branded APDA.

Sarah: As an official chapter or just informally?

Stephanie: We sometimes would call it just a support group or would be an official chapter. We found at one point that we had up to 70 chapters, but we really didn’t have 70 chapters, we had support groups and sort of loosely affiliated groups. A new CEO came in in 2012 and there was really an assessment of what was happening at the organization and how were we servicing the country. Many of those chapters dissolved because they weren’t necessarily meeting the criteria. We now have 19 chapters. The next thing we looked at was the fact that with those 19 chapters, many of them had their own websites that didn’t look or feel anything like what we were doing at the national level, at the home office level.

Stephanie: We knew we had a huge opportunity to pull it all together. That was a big element of our strategic plan, was to look at our branding and really assess who we are, what our voice was in the very crowded Parkinson disease advocacy landscape, there are many organizations that all have very worthy missions and purposes, and what we wanted to do is figure out what’s our story, what’s different about us? So we took a break and we said, “All right, let’s look at this branding piece, and let’s see what we can do to really pull it together.” It was a relatively long process. We were very methodical about what we were doing because it was a real opportunity we didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

Sarah: So one of the things that’s interesting about your story to me is that you started with the strategic plan, that this was a piece about the strategic plan. We did a study a few years ago called The Rebrand Effect, where we looked at why nonprofits rebrand, and what they were trying to achieve, and what else was going on in their organization. We saw that there was a huge corollary between strategic planning and new leadership in a successful rebrand. So a rebrand that actually achieves whatever goal it set out to achieve in the first place, whether in your case speaking with one voice, or for other organizations it’s often a fund raising goal, like generating more revenue from individual donors. The organizations that do what you did, that go through strategic planning, have a better likelihood of having a successful outcome. So this is a story that resonates.

Sarah: By the way, that study, The Rebrand Effect, we’ll link to it in the show notes, but we wrote an ebook about it, you can download for free. So tell us a little bit about your process. You said it was a lengthy process. Just briefly tell us a little bit about what did you do? How long did it take?

Stephanie: I think we started it back in the fall of 2015. So we started with a very detailed request for a proposal process. We wanted to make sure we were hiring the right agency to work with us, and what was really important was that from the get go, and this was true of our strategic plan, we had many stakeholders. Staff, volunteers in the field, staff in the field, people with Parkinson disease, it was really important that we engaged all of the appropriate stakeholders from the get go. So in terms of the RFP process, we had those stakeholders involved right at the beginning.

Sarah: So you used the RFP process to really coalesce your thinking and jump start the strategy behind this whole thing.

Stephanie: Yes. It was very important that we had everybody at the table at the right time. So the people who worked on the RFP, some of them continued on once we hired Big Duck to work on the rebranding, and some of them became advisors, they weren’t deeply involved. We actually, in terms of our process, we had five key leaders of this process, which included staff and volunteers and external people. Then we all along the way continuously reached out to test, and ask questions. Does this work? What do you think? It was really important that we did that.
Stephanie: So we started working, we did the brand raising process, which was enormously helpful because it helped us understand our personality.

Sarah: Thanks, Stephanie.

Stephanie: And our personality has come to be a critical piece in all of our communications in the way we present ourselves. I’ll be working on a direct mail piece and one of my staff will say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t reflecting our personality. We need to go back.” And we do.

Sarah: Just for people who aren’t familiar with these terms, we probably covered this in other podcasts, and we’ve blogged a lot about this, but personality is really the five to 10 key attributes that define the tone and style for how you want to communicate.

Stephanie: So we actually launched the rebrand a year ago, in February 2017. It was a huge undertaking to launch the new brand. It included doing a new website. It included redoing all of our materials from our business cards to all of our educational materials. Even, interestingly enough, we had some assets like webinars that we had produced in the old brand, and we continued to have that up, so we have to sort of live with both faces at the same time, which we became very comfortable with.

Stephanie: But the launch was very successful. We, I think, immediately saw really wonderful reaction within our organization and external to our organization. I think our chapters very much embraced the new look and feel, and messaging. So we’re very excited about that.

Sarah: So, from the time you kicked off the process to the time you actually went live with the new site, which is what we often say is kind of really when the brand goes live was about 18 months. You worked with us on brand strategy, on messaging, on visuals, putting all those assets together. You worked with Chicago Style on the new website. Which is live. What’s the URL on the site if people want to check it out?


Sarah: Here we are about a year later, tell us a little bit about what the outcomes of it have been for you. Are you speaking more cohesively with one voice as an organization? Have you grown as an organization from either a revenue point of view, or a visibility point of view? Was this a good idea? How do you [inaudible 00:07:52]?

Stephanie: Yeah, we think it was an excellent idea. It’s done wonderful things for us. It’s interesting because building the new asset, if you will, of the new mission, the new logo, all of the elements that go with a rebrand, then allowed us to embark on adding new assets. For example, we were able to create a video about our research program, something we really weren’t talking a lot about. But because we have this new look, and feel, and messaging, we could then go out to our grantees and say, “Okay, let’s talk about what’s different about the research funding that we provide as compared to some of the other organizations that are out there providing Parkinson disease research funding?”

Stephanie: It’s a huge asset for us to be using. We created a 12-minute video that we can put in front of a donor, we can put in front of a sponsor. We also did a three-minute version of it that lives on our website, is utilized through social media. It allows us to tell our story in a different way. We feel that all the things that have been created as part of the rebrand have allowed us to do that. We definitely have a cohesive look across the country.

Stephanie: In doing the website, we pulled all of our 19 chapters into our web platform. Previously, we had different URLs and they weren’t all linking. Now everything is in one site.

Sarah: That’s so important, because you want people to come and find you, one organization, they need to navigate to the local chapter affiliate at some point, but ideally through the mother brand.

Stephanie: Absolutely. So that’s happening, our website traffic has increased. Our social media presence has increased. Just having assets that we’re proud of and we know represent, again, our personality, who we are, the story that we have to tell is really important.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s one of the number one things we see with our clients and we also found again in that study is that the first lift that you get from rebrand is often just kind of a momentum that now everybody knows how to write, and speak, and design on brand, then you can start to apply that to all these things. Usually then there can be a fundraising lift or maybe attracting and retaining better board members, better staff. Organizationally too you’ve grown a bit, your operating budget now is about $12.5 million, is that right? And you were closer to 10 I think, weren’t you when you started this process?

Stephanie: Yes. That was a literally the benchmark that we had in our strategic plan. We did meet that goal.

Sarah: Yeah, so you’ve hit the revenue goal in the strategic plan.

Stephanie: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to say we’re lucky, we’re very [inaudible 00:10:16], and we have actually met and exceeded just about every single goal in our strategic plan. We’re now developing the new strategic plan.

Sarah: How did you get all of those chapters and affiliates to use all these new assets and get on the bus with this rebrand?

Stephanie: One of the things that was really important at the home office or national level for us was that we want to try and make things as turnkey as possible, because we want the folks in the field out there providing programs and services and raising money, and not worrying about, “Oh, I have to put the new logo on my business cards.” We developed an intranet, which has every single asset that we need to make available to the field. So it’s really one-stop shopping. They go in, they get what they need. We developed APDA Store, where they can go purchase from a fulfillment center all of the materials they need, so they don’t want to have to worry about those types of things and there was a lot of energy being put into, “Oh, I’ve got to find the local printer.” We do all of that for them.

Stephanie: We hope that helps, make life easier, and it helps us from a financial standpoint, you know, an expense standpoint, that we’re consolidating and we’re really keeping track of what are we spending on all of these different things.

Sarah: They love it, because it’s plug and play, right? You just saved them the stress of starting with a blank piece of paper?

Stephanie: Yes, that’s exactly what we were hoping to do. I think we’ve done that. It’s change. It’s growing pains, figuring out, “This isn’t how [inaudible 00:11:36] to doing it.” But our goal is to really provide as much support as we possibly can at the home office level, so it is one-stop shopping for all of our chapters.

Sarah: There’s a separate podcast I recorded recently with Claire Taylor Hansen, who’s one of the Art Directors here, about digital brand guides too. If you already have an intranet with your big network, then this should definitely live on it. If you don’t, but you’ve got a lot of affiliates, or people in the field who need to use it, a digital brand guide tool, one of the ones we’ve used is Frontify, for instance, will do the same thing. You don’t have to necessarily set up intranet, you can use a preexisting digital brand guide template and populate it with all these elements. Then people can download them. That’s a lighter option for an organization that’s kind of less formally affiliated.

Stephanie: One of the things that you helped us too in our rebrand was to develop an actual brand guide. We never had a brand guide. We have the rules of the road of how do you present a newsletter, a letter, whatever it happens to be. That really is tremendously helpful. It’s also helpful as we work with vendors, because I’ll say, “This is our brand guide. This is what we need to look like in whatever we’re doing.” It also helps them understand who we are and helps them work with us whatever service they might be providing.

Sarah: So it saves you a lot of time in the briefing, and prep, and then you get a more consistent product. Before we wrap up, I’m curious if we’ve got people who are listening, who are debating if they should rebrand, or about to embark on a rebrand, what advice would you have for them? What do you know now that you wish you knew then? I often say rebranding is a bit like renovating your home and that it’s super disruptive, and messy, and always takes longer, and costs more than you wanted to, but what are your takeaways on that?

Stephanie: I think luckily we were very smart about what we did and how we did it. We knew why we needed to do what we did, and I think that that’s the key element is to ask that question of why are you doing a rebrand? And understanding that a rebrand is not changing a logo, it’s much bigger than that. And really being thoughtful about what’s your purpose in doing it, and do you hope the outcome is going to be. It does take more time and costs more and there’s always things that you didn’t quite think were going to be a problem, and they were a problem. So you get a lot of surprises along the way, but if you’ve got a good team, you’re being patient, you understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. Those are the things to really think about before you embark on doing something like this.

Sarah: Yeah. So be deliberate, be planning. I think it’s also interesting that you used the RFP process as a way to sort of start to engage different voices and be very mindful about what you’re doing. Stephanie, thank you so much for joining me. This has been great.

Stephanie: Thank you for having me.