March 16, 2023

Rebranding a 57-Year-Old Company with Sāgo CMO

The CMO role is the most bespoke in the C-Suite, the range of responsibilities and challenges changing from company to company, growth stage to growth stage. In Ellie Ahmadi’s case, the challenge when she joined Schlesinger Group in the end of 2021 was to give the 57-year-old a brand a fresh face, one that matched the acquisitive company. 

Enter Sāgo, officially launched March 1st, 2023. In this episode, Ellie shares the work behind finding and launching the new brand name (in 11 months, no less), with a ton of great tips in how to activate a new brand for employees and customers without losing 57 years of brand equity. And all of this while building a better than ever demand gen engine. 

Tune in for a fascinating episode!  

What You’ll Learn  

  • How to balance brand and demand in you first 90 days 
  • What it means to change your brand name 
  • How to roll out a new brand to employees and prospects 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 336 on YouTube 

Resources Mentioned 


  • [3:01] Ellie’s lessons learned from Enron
  • [4:34] Ellie’s first 90 days
  • [8:22] Ramping up demand gen
  • [12:41] The history of Schlesinger Group
  • [14:11] You know you need to rebrand when…
    • [15:47] Break: About CMO Huddles
  • [16:38] Reshuffling the budget
  • [18:01] From Schlesinger Group to Sāgo
  • [21:15] New name = new positioning?
  • [23:00] Get them excited: Internal rebranding programs
  • [28:22] Why the rebrand? Why Sāgo?
    • [30:30] Break: B2B market research
  • [31:32] The communication plan for customers
  • [34:21] Retaining brand equity
  • [36:59] Building awareness for the new brand
  • [41:12] Rebranding lessons learned
  • [42:32] Working with agencies
  • [44:35] Two dos and a don’t: Rebranding

Highlighted Quotes 

“We ran a lot of internal programs to excite people: contests, polling, video… Although we didn't give it a lot of runway, we did a lot of exciting things and the feedback has been tremendously positive.” —@elliebaba @sagomrx Share on X 

“Everybody gets a link and can choose the swag that they want. We're not sending people something that they’re not interested in. It's: “Here's the dollar amount, and you can choose.” —@elliebaba @sagomrx Share on X

“Take time to plan, to understand all the moving pieces, to understand who the players are: How many vendors that you have to invest in, how many people you need to support you in a rebrand.” —@elliebaba @sagomrx Share on X 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Ellie Ahmadi


Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew. And I’m guessing that as a podcast listener, you will also enjoy audiobooks. Well in that case, did you know the audio version of Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, was recently ranked the number one new B2B audio book by Book Authority. Kind of cool, right? Anyway, you can find my book on Audible or your favorite audio book platform.

And speaking of audio before we get into today’s show, I do want to do a shout out to the professionals that Share Your Genius. We started working with them several months ago to make this show even better, and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at and tell her Drew sent you.

Okay, let’s get on with today’s episode.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers! Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite the top rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals.

Hello, Renegade Marketers. It’s worth repeating that the CMO role is the most bespoke in the C-Suite. The range of responsibilities and challenges vary almost infinitely compared with say the CFO or CIO. Which is pretty consistent from company to company. And this is just one of the reasons that turnover is so high in year one is such a pressure cooker. In today’s episode, what’s amazing is we’re gonna go for a full rebrand. A renaming of a company in just over a year, and we’re gonna break it down step by step. I think you’re gonna really enjoy this episode. So have a listen. And with that, I’m going to welcome our guest, Ellie Ahmadi, the CMO of Schlesinger Group. Hello, Ellie, how are you? And where are you?

Ellie Ahmadi: Thanks for having me. I’m doing great. I’m in New York City. And as of March 1st, we’re no longer Schlesinger group we are now Sāgo.

Drew Neisser: Wait a second! Wait! And how do you spell Sāgo? Not like the watch?

Ellie Ahmadi: No, it’s S ā g o with a bar line above the A to help pronounciation being Sāgo.

Drew Neisser: Okay. Now, you started at the company November 2021, right? So we’re now, gosh, 14/15 months into this thing, but let’s go back to the very beginning. You’re at the end of the story with a new brand and we’re gonna get there.

In fact, let’s go back before that, because people don’t necessarily know you. Before you got to your current challenge I noticed that you don’t hide the fact that you started your career—or spent some time early in your career—at Enron, the company that notoriously lost shareholders $74 billion in 4 years leading to its bankruptcy in 2001. That must have been an insane experience, perhaps with some painful lessons learned, is there anything you’d like to share from that experience?

Ellie Ahmadi: It was my second job being at Enron and it was very eye opening. I learned a lot from the brief period of time I was there. But I also got exposed to a lot. Obviously, that kind of guided me through my career. But it also gave me some indications of what to look for in red flags sometimes when I joined organizations and what are some of those things to look out for.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I can imagine. It was just such an interesting thing from my outside perspective, and what I read about it, because it’s one of those that you study that what you measure matters. And in this case, there was only one measure, which was top line growth, and there was sort of lack of orientation looking at, “How we get any of those numbers?” And I do think that a single metric focus can lead an organization in a way that you may not want it to. So anyway, that was my big lesson from Enron. Obviously, ethics matter at some point, too.

So let’s now dive into the story at hand. You joined, what was, Schlesinger Group in November 2021. And I’m curious, did you have a mandate, “We’re hiring you to do something when you got there.”

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, it was to rebrand and build. A lot of organizations where I have joined a lot of times at that building stage, you know, within companys like Schlesinger Group has 57 year old company, it was time to rebrand because it’s not the company it was that long ago. It’s not the company it was 10 years ago. So the decision was already made. And I was brought on not just to manage and build a team, MarTech stack, and so on. But it was also my biggest mandate was what we’re doing with this rebranding. And I could have paused and said, “Maybe it’s not a good idea. But I agree that it was time.”

Drew Neisser: I think it’s so interesting, because one of the things you and I talked about in the in the pre-interview is that even though that’s the big goal, in those first 90 days, you still focused on building a demand gen engine, right? And I want to talk about that and then maybe the quick wins. And talk about your 30-60-90 days, and what kinds of challenges you tackled at that moment.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, having to come in and I had to look at the organization, the team structure, the team skills, where we were trying to go, the MarTech stack, what data they were providing to us, what were we measuring, what we’re reporting on, how we’re supporting sales. So I had to look at everything, because the demand gen requires all of those pieces, process, technology, and talent. So I had to keep that in mind with, “Hey, there’s a rebranding, you need huge design work, you need a lot of focus, you need strong brand partners, you need agencies that you have to manage, because we don’t have things in house.”

But I had to build the foundation. And a lot of that required just cleaning house, cleaning out what didn’t work, cleaning out the stack, the martech stack that didn’t provide us with direction where we wanted to go to start to build that data that we could talk about.

Drew Neisser: So I’m sort of imagining parallel paths here. There’s the sort of underlying path, the foundation of demand generation and then there’s the brand and the rebrand. And in many ways, both of those require sort of different assessments on your part. And it’s a lot to do in the first 90 days. So when we go back to the people and the technology, because again, you’re looking at two different things, right? You’re looking at the people to implement demand gen and then there’s the people to implement rebrand.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Different people! And so did you find yourself sort of looking at what you had and redrawing your organization? And how long did you give yourself to assess the talent first of all?

Ellie Ahmadi: I didn’t have long, but because I’ve managed larger teams than this in other roles. You know, I came from a role that I managed 40 people and I had to do some of the same exercise. I was able to assess skill set and knowledge very quickly and put people in those roles. And a lot of the talent that was missing, for example, for rebranding, I had to go out and outsource. We had to find agency partners, because this was not a small task. You’re taking a huge company, with the owners, the CEOs name on the brand, and you’re changing it. And with that, it was just a lot of work. There’s the agency that does a rebranding of the name, and then there’s an activation piece. So outsource a lot of that, focus on what we could do internally, which was a lot of the demand gen.

Drew Neisser: Okay, as we think about the demand gen. I mean, relative to your past job, where were you from a sophistication standpoint when you started?

Ellie Ahmadi: Not very far. So we were using some of the—you know, there’s a lot of legacy technology and systems when you walk into organizations like this. Because the business is just operated differently. A lot of relationship based when you come to the such huge organizations that have been around for so long. And now all of a sudden, 21st century and they’re competing with a lot of small, very sophisticated companies that are coming on and like, “Oh, wait, what do we got to do? How do we change? How do we pivot? How do we shift?” So there was a lot of this outdated technology that we had to clean and there wasn’t a lot of data. So, you know, I can give you an example of what my mandates were when I had to walk into my first board presentation and consequently the rest of the board presentation, I had one mandate, which was, “What’s going on with the rebranding?!”

Drew Neisser: So, you know, they all want to talk about the rebranding, because that’s why you were brought in. But, you know, you have more to do than that. So what do you talk to them about?

Ellie Ahmadi: And yet I knew at some point the rebranding will end, right? And there’s still a lot of, I mean, we’re just kicking off so we still have another year of measuring, how did it go? What are we finding? How successful was it? But I knew that at some point that will end and they’re looking for the impact of marketing on the bottom line. Which is where a lot of organizations are starting to think about marketing is no longer this cost center they’re bringing to the front and they’re a partner, right?

So I piecemeal whatever data I could find. It was literally band aiding things together and taping them together wherever we could go to find some data and metrics about how marketing was performing. I took that to the meetings, and I said, before we talk about rebranding, let me show you what we’ve done in the past few months that I have been here. And that sets the stage for peeking their interest and, “Oh, what else can you do?”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and I think this is so important. And I’ve had this conversation on the show, and with a lot of CMOs in CMO Huddles, where those quick wins—and here’s this sort of fundamental problem with the mandate that you had from the beginning, which is, that’s what boards who don’t know what marketing can do often think of marketing companies. And so, “Oh, it’s about the logo and the name and the colors and that stuff.” And that’s marketing. And that’s part of marketing and it’s an important part of marketing, but it’s not going to turn into revenue tomorrow.

Ellie Ahmadi: Absolutely.

Drew Neisser: And so what’s interesting to me is you could have just said, “Oh, well, here’s where we are with the rebranding.” But you didn’t. And then in fact, you were sort of looking for some quick wins, right, to show not only are we building up a tech stack and re-consolidating data. But talk a little bit about how you’re explaining this to them in a way that they say, “Well, so what’s this have to do with your mandate?”

Ellie Ahmadi: Right, exactly. And if you don’t show those things and how you’re making those changes that bring impact, and you’re partnering with cells and other teams to show what marketing can do to support. It very quickly turns into—when it comes time for recession, like now, “Oh, well, we’re done with the rebranding now cut your budget.” Or, you know, “You don’t need that many people.” But you have to show that you know, how you can drive business. So being able to bring that data and then explaining to them. “If we had a better, cleaner CRM system, for example, if we had a system that integrated with our CRM that was able to report on the campaigns and the tactics that we were running, look at how much more we could do,” right? “And here’s how much we spend that delivered this result with very outdated systems. But imagine what we could do with a bigger budget.” And that starts to help them think about, “Oh, there’s a real value here in what marketing can do.” And also the CFO is very pleased when they can see those numbers, right?

Drew Neisser: So I want to make sure, I’m guessing that the Schlesinger group—which has over 1000 employees—which kind of blows me away to begin with that there’s this company out there in the research space that is that large that I was not really familiar with—how did it grow? Without broad based awareness and without any kind of really sophisticated marketing?

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, the Schlesinger group, historically, was known for a lot of facilities work, focus groups. And a lot of times we worked with partners. So as a brand, you may not have worked directly with us, hence why you have not heard of the name. Hopefully with Sāgo, it changes. But that was kind of the model. And over the past, I want to say, 6/7 years, and mostly in the last 2 years, we’ve made a lot of acquisitions. We invest in a lot of different companies to add to the solutions and the products that we offer. So we have also inherited a lot of talent from those acquisitions. And that’s how we’ve grown even more.

Drew Neisser: Got it, but definitely not a marketing driven organization.

Ellie Ahmadi: Definitely not I think for most of its history it was a two man team.

Drew Neisser: Two man team for 1000 person company. I mean, there are two men teams on 30 person companies that have very sophisticated marketing engines. Clearly, they had other ways to spend the money that was working to grow the business because the business has grown.

If we were going to summarize this part of the story for a moment and we said even though this decision was made before you got there, for the listeners, you know you need to rebrand when… What’s on that list?

Ellie Ahmadi: A lot of times people fear the rebranding because of the brand equity. Which Schlesinger group had, again, 57 years old, Steve Schlesinger, is very well known in the industry and in the market. But again, when you look at the perception, what is the perception of the Schlesinger group? And that was a huge thing for us.

When you walk around even within our trade shows that are industry based and you go, “Oh Schlesinger Group!” And a lot of people think focus groups. “Oh, you guys have great facilities and focus groups.” That perception is no longer true. We have a suite of solutions and products probably the most comprehensive on the market that people aren’t aware of. And when that doesn’t resonate with folks, and when that is not top of mind, that’s one of the big reasons that you think it’s time for a rebrand. And Steve Schlesinger stepped back as the CEO, and he’s the executive board chairman right now. So we also have a new CEO. Not that the two were dependent on each other, it was going to happen anyway. But it’s also just signaling that the new fresh, direct forward-thinking path that we are on, and that starts with this new fresh name—I think it’s fresh—It’s Sāgo.

Drew Neisser: Okay, we’re gonna take a break. Stay with us, listeners, because we’ll be right back. I want to talk a little bit about both the risks of rebranding and the opportunity, so stay with us.

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Drew Neisser: Okay, we’re back. So we get started. And we talked a little bit about the quick wins and setting up the demand generation engine. Before we go too much more into the process for positioning. Was there anything else that you did on the demand gen side that we should talk about?

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes, reshuffling and shifting a lot of the budget. We were, again, we were very conference heavy. And again, it’s worked for us. But again, shifting a lot of the budget toward more of a demand gen program is huge. Otherwise, you could put all the systems in place that you want, and you can hire the talent. But if you don’t have the money to spend, what’s the outcome? So it all had to work together, so that was another huge piece of the puzzle for us.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it makes sense that it would have been all trade shows, because it’s like a bunch of sales guys, or whatever, or the people going there and saying hello to the current customers. And I know that current customers are a big part of that. Because in the days when I used to do a lot of focus groups, we went to the same moderator who would use the same facility every time. And so there’s a lot of that. And there’s nothing wrong with trade shows except for the fact that it was really hard during the pandemic to do it. And that is so interesting, because your timing in November 2021, we’re still thinking about the pandemic and events were less secure.

All right. So you shifted dollars a little bit out of events. So let’s get into the repositioning. And then the decision to rename. Had the decision to rename been part of this from the beginning? Or was that an outcome of the process?

Ellie Ahmadi: It was part of it from the beginning. Again, I was given the option to come in with my expertise and said, “Don’t do it, because there’s brand equity.” But it was very clear to me that it was the right direction to move into.

Drew Neisser: Okay, and so talk a little bit about the process of discovering and finding the new name—cause that is so hard!

Ellie Ahmadi: Very hard. I believe we went through 3 rounds of trying to find the right name. And believe it or not, we have called this project internally, “Project Squid,” for some time. That became our pseudo name. Because it just wasn’t launched yet. And we didn’t want people asking, “Well, what is the Sāgo thing?” Because it’s Project Squid. Because that was actually one of the earlier names that we sat with for a minute. We looked at it, we go, “Oh, it’s different.” And then we all went home and came back and said, “Oh, I don’t know,” right. And it is very difficult to find it. Schlesinger Group is very long to shorten it and find a 4 letter word that is not used, and no one has bought the domain—you know, this one domain, we did have to purchase it—but to find one that you can use, and there’s not a lot of people in your space using it is very difficult. So in the 3rd round when we landed at this, and when you know, everyone just sits back and says, “Ah, that’s the one!” You really know when you know.

Drew Neisser: First of all, this name came up. And then of course, everybody immediately goes searching to see if it’s been trademarked and they go and search for the URL. And the URL was for sale because all 4 letter URLs are for sale. And they’re not cheap. And you have to sort of rationalize that investment. At any point in time, is there any research done to make sure that this name is a good name for you?

Ellie Ahmadi: We’re a market research firm. We did. We didn’t do an extensive search, again, because we didn’t want to put the name out to a broader market. But we did have some focus groups internally, because we had to get a representation from each part of the group, members of the different teams and to be used to make sure that everyone was aligned, or if we heard different perspectives. But we also went to a very small external audience to kind of test a name and just get feedback and get reaction from it. And along with that, this is not so much on the name. But we also ran a brand perception survey to understand what people, what clients, what prospects think of us. Do the prospects even know the name Schlesinger group? And when they hear of it what do they think we are, what do they think we do? And the same thing with the clients, what is the perception when it comes to the Schlesinger Group. So we ran that survey twice, to get a benchmark. And now that the rebranding is launched, we’re going to run it a couple of times more to see if we have moved the needle on that perception.

Drew Neisser: This is really interesting. So when you put a new name out there, you have an opportunity to put a new personality on it as well, right? And I’m curious how you figured out what are the good things about Schlesinger from a brand perception standpoint and personality that we want to bring forward? And then what are the new things that we want to add to or hope that that Sāgo embodies?

Ellie Ahmadi: When we ran our research, followed by the interviews that the Agency conducted during the positioning exercise on our behalf with some of our clients, we learned that the number one reasons our clients choose us is our legacy expertise. And hence, the trust they put in us as a partner. We couldn’t ignore what the customers were telling us. However, for those who are more familiar with us, and the breadth of offerings that we offer across audiences, solution, and products. This was also mentioned as a differentiator. And we know that if more of our audience was aware of our comprehensive suite of products and solutions, it would be raised more. We’re not a company that offers one or two products. So it’s difficult for us to say, “Our products does x better than others.” Because, again, we offer so much. And the fact that we offer this comprehensive suite and so many products, it is what sets us apart in the market. Hence our tagline, “Adaptive solutions, confident decisions.” And we lean more into this. Yes, the trust and the expertise is important, because that’s what the customers are telling us. But we know that it’s our adaptive solution and confident decision. that is our true differentiator in the market right now.

Drew Neisser: Okay, adaptive solution, confident decisions.

Okay, we’ve got the URL, we got the name, you’ve now shared a tagline, if you will, or positioning statement. Before you went live with this, talk a little bit about the internal marketing activity that you did to prepare employees for this new change.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, so we began with a core group of representation from each one of our teams. And they came along the journey with us from the beginning. Providing feedback on every decision and every turning point that we had in this process, providing feedback, guidance, and taking it back to some of the trusted team members and without revealing what was happening and coming back to us with that feedback. As we moved along the journey, we pulled people in as they were needed. You know, there’s a lot of moving pieces when you do a rebranding. This was the first time I had to do a rebranding and I’m a brand new CMO with this huge task of rebranding. We talked about demand gen stuff, I know that space well. But this was, you know… So all the pieces and tasks that have to be managed and make sure that we meet the deadline for launch was just a lot.

So we pulled people in to make sure that they had they were aware of, you know, we’re putting all the pieces in place. And then we didn’t do a huge internal launch. By huge I mean, we didn’t do it that far in advance as where, yes, their recommendation may be pull people in 3 to 6 months ahead. We didn’t. There was several reasons for that. But we pulled people in a couple of, I think, 3 weeks ahead of the launch. And we ran a lot of internal programs to excite people, right? We ran a lot of contest, a lot of polling, a lot opportunity for people to record a video and tell us why they’re excited about this new name and what Sāgo means to them. We have brand ambassadors that are leading a lot of discussion groups, we show them a lot of the new swag and the new assets and the new videos that we’ve created. We created a lot of other internal videos to excite people. Although we didn’t give it a lot of runway, we did a lot of exciting things that the feedback has been tremendously positive.

Drew Neisser: I want to unpack a few of those things because swag is really important. Was there  like a desk drop kind of thing, where everybody got their new hats and T shirts and things?

Ellie Ahmadi: Whereas we are providing people with with an option. So everybody gets a link and they can choose the swag that they want to get. So we’re not sending people something that they weren’t interested. Like everybody gets a water bottle. No, it’s here’s the dollar amount and you can choose. But also we have an internal system program bonusly, where you can give your peers and your colleagues bonusly points which can turn into some kind of incentive like a gift card. And we’re tying the swag to this program so that people can even get even more of the branded swag from it.

Drew Neisser: And I love the pick your own swag. I’ve had a couple of folks on this show in the past that have done that. It is such a smart thing to do, whether it’s employees or customers in that so much of swag just gets thrown out. Like tradeshow swag, half of it gets thrown away. They just didn’t want it and it’s bad for the environment. And it’s also a nice thing to be able to do to be able to let someone pick their own. And applies again, customers or prospects.

Okay, I don’t know, bonusly, it’s the first time I’ve heard of that. Talk a little bit about that.

Ellie Ahmadi: It is an internal HR system where every employee is given a number of points to dole out on any given month. So I can go in and recognize you, Drew, for this podcast, or somebody who helped me with a project and you can give them a certain number of points. They can in turn use those points to purchase a Starbucks giftcard or an Amazon giftcard. Very similar to some of these e-gifting platforms that we talk about. But it’s very internal focus.

Drew Neisser: I see. So you created all this content? And how did you have a sense, you know, with 1000 employees, I mean, were you trying to make sure that every single employee would not only know the new name, but knew and could answer a question as to why.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes, we are creating a lot. We’re creating FAQs, we’re dropping an email in their inbox from the CEO, from HR, from marketing. We have brand ambassadors who have all collectively recorded videos to talk about the story of the why, why are we doing this? Were setting up workshops to bring employees in so they can get more comfortable with the story of why. Because that’s the biggest fear if they go out and a customer says, “Well, why?” We’ve been Schlesinger Group for 57 years. So the story that we’re not who we were back in the day that kind of create some angst for him. So we’re creating emails for the BDs for how they can talk to their customer to tell the story. So we’re creating a lot of these assets for them that they can just pick and use, but also workshops to educate them on getting comfortable with the positioning statement. What do we offer and why we rebranded?

Drew Neisser: Just curious, what is the short ‘why?’

Ellie Ahmadi: We are no longer the company we bore under Schlesinger Group. We are a combination of all the new acquisitions and investments and the talent that has been brought in. We offer a comprehensive suite of products and solutions and DIY that did not exist under the Schlesinger brand. So it is more of a cohesive, comprehensive offering that we provide. Which is different from who people think we were.

Drew Neisser: So several things. One, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of when rebranding does go wrong, they go wrong early because it was insufficiently marketed to employees. And we covered a lot of things you can do. And you notice when Ellie was going through it, it wasn’t just email. I mean it was the in person workshops with brand ambassadors—it’s a multi dimensional campaign. It has to be because if they can’t answer the ‘why?’ it’s in trouble. Now, you answered the ‘why?’ about why you needed to change. Is there a ‘why?’ for why Sāgo?

Ellie Ahmadi: I think Sāgo provides that forward looking fresh, cool, innovative name that really stands out. If you look at the market research we looked at a lot of names that are very on the nose with using the words “qual” and “data.” And we really wanted to stay away from using any of that because we’re not just about one thing and one offering. And we wanted something that could last and we feel that a name like Sāgo has longevity. And we’ve done a lot of cool designs around it. And we think that can really stand out. If you were to walk into a trade show or a conference, you really, I think, Sāgo stands out. The active voice behind Sāgo, Say Go. So you as a customer say we go. And that’s where the act of peace came up and why we decided on the Sāgo name. And if you see our campaigns moving very shortly, our campaign tagline is, “Just say go.”

Drew Neisser: There you go. Just say go.

Okay, we’re gonna take a break. And when we come back, we’re going to talk about how this got communicated to customers and what’s going to happen in the months and days ahead. Okay, so stay with us.

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Drew Neisser: Okay, we’re back. So we’ve been talking about this rebrand. And it’s really exciting because this is just fresh off the press, if you will. First, before we talk about where you’re going, talk about how you communicated this to customers. Because I am imagining that customers not only drive existing business, but your growth is going to come from them. Because you’ve been in business so long anybody’s going to do, the kind of work you do is probably you’ve reached out to. So talk about the communication plan for customers.

Ellie Ahmadi: Multiple angles here. We did this when we transitioned the CEO, and we added our new CEO. But Steve Schlesinger and Reed Cundiff, our new CEO and old CEO, they’re going to do an outreach to the clients that they have relationships with. So that happens a day or two before the actual launch. Day before the launch, we also send an email notification to our key clients, again, giving him a heads up ahead of time before it actually goes live. And then on the day of it was the big email to everyone in the database, there was a press release, there is an external video drop using social media, on our website. Our website has changed, we have a new fresh looking website. We have a page on the website dedicated to the rebrand story. So again, that can be used for BDs, for example, that maybe are still a little uncomfortable talking about the why. They can include that link in the email and send it to their clients. There’s a BD outreach that, “Hey, I wanted to give you a heads up that my email is going to change within a couple of days. Please add me to your safe list. And also, here’s a story, maybe a video.” So there’s a lot of that happens just to communicate the information out externally.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and, again, I just want to emphasize, there’s a lot of things that go into this. So many different pieces that you’ve talked about here. There’s one that I’ve noticed, which is when you change your email address, it’s incredibly disruptive. Because think about all the customers that have Schlesinger Group in their email. And I’m curious if you have a special plan for the email conversion process and how you’re thinking about that?

Ellie Ahmadi: Well, part of it is, again, gives the BDs that opportunity to actively have that conversation with clients. Even clients that they haven’t been in touch with for a long time. It’s, “Hey, my email is changing.” Or, “Watch out for it or add it to your save lists.” But the actual email changed, I have to say no. Beyond that I hadn’t thought about it. But I’d love to learn more.

Drew Neisser: Well, I can just tell you that one of the companies that I had on the show, one of the brands was still using in some correspondence. And this was true for when they were reaching out to me as press. They would say, in your case it would be Sāgo formerly Schlesinger group, and it was included in the header a year later.

Ellie Ahmadi: Right! Yes, we do have some plans for that, especially with existing clients and some of the events that we’re attending where we’re known, again, you know, the industry events that we present, it’s going to be like, we’re running a cocktail hour and the damn napkin says, “Formerly Schlesinger Group,” to make that connection with folks.

Now, in some of our segments when were going to some of the director brand where they’ve never heard of this LeSage group doesn’t make sense. But if you look at some of our email signatures right now, we have been a combination of all these acquired companies that are kind of all over the place. So this gave us an opportunity to clean that and say, “We’re no longer to listing the old company that was acquired a year ago, everybody’s gonna have the same email signature,.” And for a while we would say, “Formerly Schlesinger Group,” but not for a year.

Drew Neisser: Okay. And what about the website? Because there’s a lot of equity, what’s your plan for managing that?

Ellie Ahmadi: So that domain will still redirect to the new website, probably, for almost a year. We’ll kind of have to see why it drops off. But everything that was Schlesinger Group, it’s going to redirect to the new website, and it’s going to remain. And on there, we’re going to call it “Formerly known as…” Just again, so people are aware they’ve reached the right website.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I did a whole episode with Jennifer Renaud, the CMO who had been at 2 companies that made the decision to just turn off acquired brands, and the business tanked. They went down 30-40% in a matter of days. So yeah, managing the website and the email is a lot more important than I think people realize. And it’s not sexy at all. And it takes a long time. Typically you see it in acquisitions, but I actually been tracking how Adobe handled both the Marketo and the Magento. acquisitions. And interestingly, the Marketo name is almost gone. It’s still searchable. The Magento name is still sort of there. And it’s interesting, but they had this long transition. And I know this is different, because this is a name change. But it takes time for people to get into this.

And then that sort of speaks to you had awareness in the industry. Now you have no awareness. How did you sort of figure out how much you needed to spend against your community, your targets? And how are you approaching building awareness from zero for the new brand?

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, so we’re going to continue to be at events and conferences. We didn’t scale back, because it’s a new name, old company, but we still have to be there so that the folks that—and for it’s a lot of the same folks that goes through these conferences. So they can connect the dots very quickly. We put a lot of our advertising budget towards the rebrand it is going to be huge focus for us for 2023. Because again, we have to build that awareness. We are also going to be present at conferences where we never been before. Because again, we’re building this awareness from scratch for some of these and we need to be in this space. And a lot of our demand gen, because we can talk about our capabilities on what we offer, but still within your brand. So everything is really focused around this branding. And that’s where most of the budget is going for 2023.

Drew Neisser: Is it safe to assume that the budget is significantly larger than what you might have spent in previous years?

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. That would have to be.

Ellie Ahmadi: Running budget. It’s a whole new big, big budget itself that can’t cannibalize the rest of it.

Drew Neisser: Right. It also, by the way, just as we were thinking, you’re going to need to, from a search standpoint, you may be already way ahead of me on this, but you’re gonna have to now pay for the name Schlesinger, to make sure that whenever anybody ever searches for that…

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Yes. Right, is that part of your plan?

Ellie Ahmadi: That is part of the plan. All search, all advertising, all the demand gen is going to be dual. We have to run it on Schlesinger group and Sāgo at the same time. And eventually you kind of start to shift the budget.

Drew Neisser: So there’s a moment in time. And how do you think you will assess when that time is?

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, so for search, when we start to see the search on that brand name drop a little bit, I think that’s when we can turn down the dial a little bit. I think with the industry that we’re in, and a lot of that publications where we are present where we have memberships and associations, that will be a faster turnaround for us. Because I think those people will come on board a lot a lot faster, because there’s a relationship there. And I think in the newer markets, again, when we’re going after expanding into the new segments and regions, they didn’t know Schlesinger to begin with.

Drew Neisser: I would think audio of some kind is going to be important to this because if you’re a romance language person, this is Sāgo and that’s where we’re going to start. Particularly with someone like me who can mispronounce anything. And obviously the tagline, “Just say go,” is designed to get people to do that. But how are you making sure they hear it?

Ellie Ahmadi: A lot more investment in video this year. We haven’t done a lot of video in the past. But you know, for example, we’ll be running ads on YouTube. It’s a channel we’ve never explored before, again, to kind of give people that opportunity to see a very short snippet of our video, but also hear the name repeated multiple times. So we are running some podcasts, we’re asking some partners, some clients come and do interviews with us—kind of similar to this—again, just to get that name and put those audios out there so that people start to hear the name.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I have to say, I think there’s a fun opportunity at some point, because I think it’s 3 months, when you’re still hearing this pronunciation. You can have fun with it, it becomes a meme. And it’s the kind of thing that people could have fun with on Tik Tok, you know, challenge folks to figure out a way to remind people that it’s Sāgo, not Sago.

Ellie Ahmadi: And we picked up Sāgo because it gives us that creative opportunity to be a little bit more playful. It’s got a lot of potential to play around with us, you know, it’s just say go. But it’s also when you think about our comprehensive and everything that we offer is just say go! So it’s got that dual meaning that we can kind of play around with.

Drew Neisser: Well, it sounds all very exciting. I’m wondering now that you’ve been through this for more than a year and you’re at launch point, what do you wish you knew at the beginning of this that you know now?

Ellie Ahmadi: I wish I knew how much longer time you need to allow for positioning. I think that that is a piece that we really rushed at the end. And even though because all the feedback was resonating the same theme, we felt a little bit more comfortable and we’re still hearing that. But if I had known I would have started that process much further ahead of even thinking about the name. And I think the positioning has to come first because that can guide the name search that that journey that you’re on.

Drew Neisser: And I’m imagining that part of the delay was building consensus with the executive team and getting people to think about positioning who probably never think about that.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes.

Drew Neisser: So there’s a lot of education and handholding. And it’s awkward, because it’s not necessarily execution yet.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, education. But it was also a new process for me. So for me not knowing what is the timeline of the pieces have to fall? And what is the gap? Like, do we really need to do a positioning exercise.

But it’s also when you’re looking out for vendors, a lot of there’s a lot of agencies that don’t do it all. So now you got to go find different agencies to run the different pieces of the project. And one may be ahead of the other.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. And so talk a little bit about the agencies that you worked with and what things they did.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, so with the agency that we work with to pick the name, again, great agency, but they you know, when we talked about the activation, like we don’t do activation. So now we’re running around and searching for another agency to help us with the activation, which they happen to do positioning. So we were able to kind of bundle that one up. And then you’re looking for a PR agency. Does the agency do the same PR? Oh, do we have to find another PR agency? So all of these is a lesson learned from me. And I guess for any CMO to think about every one of those pieces before you start on this path of rebranding.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and there’s a lot of dependencies here. 18 months. I mean, you did it in 11 months. And that’s a very, very condensed time table and something gives.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Right, something has to give in that process. Whether it’s not quite enough time for the internals sort of a process or the customer engagement plan. Something gives. Something of this scale, 18 months is not an unreasonable timeframe.

Ellie Ahmadi: Absolutely, I think initially, when we started the idea was 9 months. We were like, “Oh, the 6 to 9 months.” And I thought, “Oh God, no.” But it really is a long process. And planning is everything.

Yeah. And by the way, 6 to 9 months if you’re not changing your name, but it’s a repositioning may be a rebranding, but most branding agency will like roll their eyes and say, Wait, what? Six to nine months for a name change? Yeah. Wow.

And that’s if you don’t hit a recession.

Drew Neisser: If you don’t hit a recession. All right. So now what I’d love for you to do in it’s summary for CMOs who are coming to a new company and their mandate is to rebrand and probably to change the company name, give us two do’s and one don’t for them to maximize their chance of success.

Ellie Ahmadi: Plan



Take time to plan, to understand all the moving pieces. To understand who the players are, how many vendors that you have to invest in, how many people you need to support you on this.

But also, I think the don’t is everybody wants to be a part of this. This is a fun project, everybody wants to have a say so and there needs to be a line drawn on the number of people you include in the process of providing feedback and having a say so in the name and the color scheme in the pictures that are going to be used. Understand where you need feedback, and just put a limit on the number of people who are involved in that process.

Drew Neisser: I so agree with all of that. I do think and I’m just going to sort of put a little but you have to have the executive team on board from start to finish. You cannot do it without them. Because they can undermine its success at any point in time. So they have to be done. But you’re right, you don’t get too great with a committee and if they’re the more on it, the harder it is. So the more people that add, just add another month to the legs.

Ellie Ahmadi: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t mention the executive because I came in with from the executive mandate.

Drew Neisser: But you had a lot of folks involved. All right. Well, Ellie, thank you so much. And thank you it’s really been a great conversation and quite instructive. Thank you listeners. If you found this episode of value, please thank Ellie Ahmadi on LinkedIn. And do me a favor and rate us on your favorite podcast app.

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Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!