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Agency Off Record

No Small Feat: Shoeing the Cobbler’s Children

It’s been the age-old lament of almost every agency, ever. When it comes to examining their own brand, it’s always “the cobbler’s children never have shoes.” Besides being really outdated (after all, how many cobblers still exist in today’s world?), the saying happens to be totally true.

As a branding agency, we’ve found it to be nearly impossible to find time to put our own team through our proven process in order to freshen our brand. At some point, however, you finally have to decide enough is enough. Either you take the leap, or you die of trench foot. (I can only assume that would be the end result of never wearing shoes.) And that’s just what we did. (Took the leap—not succumb to trench foot.) So, even though the end results of our efforts have yet to be revealed, we thought it would be worth sharing some of the steps we went through to get there.


The first step in our brand refresh process involves a discovery session. These seven steps will explore the mind-set required to make such a session as productive as possible.

1. Be Open and Honest

When examining who you are and what you do, hiding behind facades doesn’t do anyone any good. When participants are asked to give an answer, they have to be willing to talk about the title of Clint Eastwood’s most famous spaghetti western. (Kudos to the one reader who got that reference. For the rest of you, I’m referring to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.) Don’t forget—the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so don’t be afraid to address your company’s shortcomings.

2. Be Positive

Now, don’t misinterpret point #1 above. This isn’t a soapbox session. There’s a huge difference between objectively mentioning areas for improvement and poo-pooing every idea you hear. A positive attitude from each participant can go a long way in determining the success of a session.

3. Focus Your Passion

No doubt you’ll have key stakeholders in your session. By the very nature of their stature in the company, they’re going to have very strong, heartfelt takes on items being discussed. Use this to your advantage. By channeling that natural passion into the topic at hand, you’ll keep the energy level high and help produce quality output throughout the session.

4. Leave Your Assumptions Behind

This is a common pitfall. It’s very easy to enter this kind of session thinking, “I already know what’s going to happen.” However, it’s been my experience in doing more of these than I can count that the opposite tends to holds true. When assumptions are squashed, real insights can take their place. That’s when positive change and true growth happen.

5. No Sacred Cows

This is another tough one to conquer. A lot of times, executives will say that everything’s on the table. However, when it comes down to it, there are some invisible “do not touch” signs hanging on key issues. By agreeing to honestly examine every pain point—and not limiting possible outcomes in doing so—you’re empowering your company to unlock the success you sought in having the session in the first place.

6. Trust the Process

In short, this process works. Of course, I don’t want you to just take my word for it. You can view any of the successful rebranding projects we’ve produced over the years and see the results speak for themselves. Keeping that in mind at the outset of the session should give you confidence. Heck, it might even lead you to #7.

7. Get Excited

You’re about to fix your brand! Surely that warrants an exclamation point. If you’re anything like our AOR crew, your team will be champing at the bit to see what the new brand looks and sounds like when it’s rolled out. Keeping your eye on that bigger prize is a great way to ensure the excitement level stays high from start to finish.


With that, we conclude our first look at (finally) giving the cobbler’s children some shoes. Come back later for a deeper dive into our branding process. And to see our big brand reveal, of course!

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