Reprint from The List’s DailyVista
AGENCY SPOTLIGHT: re:group
CEO discusses agency’s evolution, expertise, 2012 growth goals
Feb 24, 2012
For full-service branding and communications agency re:group, what didn’t kill it made it stronger.
As the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based firm’s name implies, re:group did just that in 2001. After years of buyouts, mergers and sales, the agency bought itself out, regrouped and now uses the strength and experience it acquired during these transitions to help clients across the healthcare, franchise, insurance, retail, early childhood education, pet care and hospitality industries.
DailyVista caught up with Chief Executive Officer Janet Muhleman, who discussed re:group’s evolution and how the agency still draws insight from the almost 20 years it spent shaping Domino’s Pizza’s brand experience as it grew from 85 to 5,500 units.
Janet also touched on re:group’s recent account wins, including DTE Energy, and the firm’s plans to add digital, media, account and creative team members in the coming months. Jeremy Sell already joined re:group’s creative team as associate creative director Feb. 20.
DailyVista: re:group’s name is fitting considering what it went through as Group 243 before going out on its own in 2001. While it sounds like the agency went through some difficult times, how has overcoming these challenges helped re:group during the last decade and in the long run?
Janet Muhleman: There is an old saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” While some of our transitions were challenging at the time, they strengthened our team and our ability to thrive on change and to survive challenging economic times.
We sold Group 243 to Ross Roy in 1989, then folded in and became Ross Roy Franchise in 1991. We created a niche group within the larger agency and leveraged their exceptional relationship marketing resources on behalf of our clients. After Ross Roy sold to Omnicom in 1995 and folded into BBDO in 1997, our team exited, retaining a number of key clients and forming a relationship with Fitch, an international design consultancy.
Again, we were able to bring their branding and retail design expertise to our franchise and multi-unit retail clients while remaining fairly independent. When Fitch went through their own ownership transition, ultimately becoming part of WPP, we took the opportunity to become re:group, an integrated marketing communications and branding agency.
Our journey has made us stronger in a number of ways: First, our core team is still together after the transition. We all have big agency experience; we know how to run a buttoned-up agency, but we like having the ability to focus on our clients’ business not that of our parent holding company. Second, our founding philosophy at Group 243 was to help brands seamlessly manage every point of interface between a brand and their customers. Our affiliation with both Ross Roy and Fitch expanded our ability to deliver on that promise through relationship and experience marketing. We have integrated that knowledge into our holistic approach to our clients’ business today.
DailyVista: What major milestones did re:group achieve in 2011?
Janet Muhleman: Our hard work in 2011 is paying off in 2012. We pitched and won several significant accounts in 2011 that are coming on board this year. This has caused us to add additional staff. This year will be our best since forming re:group.
DailyVista: What are re:group’s growth goals for this year after adding staff, including Nick Conflitti, Taylor Hulyk and Karry Oleszkiewicz last year? Does the agency expect to add more staff or expand its scope in other ways?
Janet Muhleman: Yes, we will be adding to our digital, media, account and creative teams over the next few months. Right now it looks like four new additions.
DailyVista: How would you describe re:group’s philosophy and culture compared to other agencies? How does this help set re:group apart from other full-service firms?
Janet Muhleman: Our mission is to help transform brands and grow business. The marketing communications industry has gone through a ton of change over the past few years and will continue to do so. We help businesses navigate that change and develop the content, context and channels through which to connect with key constituents and build better businesses.
Our core values are that we are open and collaborative, insightful and strategic, creative and fresh and accountable. We take a strategic, holistic approach to a client’s business problems with no bias as to the solution. But, most full service agencies say they are strategic and integrated. While we cannot discredit their claims, we can share that our clients tell us that not only do we take a more thorough approach to strategy, we also execute creative that directly reflects that strategy. We also get kudos for our client service.
DailyVista: Can you highlight re:group’s overall expertise and the services that it provides? What expertise and capabilities is the agency particularly known for?
Janet Muhleman: We are known for taking a very strategic approach to a client’s brand and translating that strategy to a creative execution that will align their key constituents and grow their business.
We have a long history working with franchise organizations that encompass many different categories, extensive experience working in the healthcare sector as well as financial services. This experience prepares us to work with most any complex organization.
DailyVista: When re:group was known as Group 243 it worked with Domino’s Pizza for almost 20 years and played a major role in growing the company’s presence in the delivered pizza industry. Although that relationship ended some time ago, does re:group still draw experience and insight from that relationship when it works with franchise clients today?
Janet Muhleman: Absolutely! We had a wonderful, unique opportunity to help shape every aspect of the Domino’s Pizza experience, from the marketing to the make-lines. We designed their identity, stores, training systems, advertising programs, co-op management systems, store development strategy – we were effectively their marketing and development team. We also learned the importance of having a participative management approach that included the franchisees – and even customers – in the marketing process. We were really good at finding common ground and gaining consensus in an often fractious environment.
It is one of our key strengths today. We understand that engaging and motivating your internal audience is critical for marketing success, particularly if you have a decentralized distribution channel. That is the case whether your business is a franchise, an insurance provider that sells through independent agents, or a health system whose docs and CSRs are responsible for the customer experience. That same approach translates well today to engaging your customers with your brand as well!
DailyVista: In addition to franchise companies, what are other industries/client sectors does re:group typically work with?
Janet Muhleman: We have leveraged our ability to help market companies with decentralized, complex distribution systems to expand into the healthcare, professional services and financial services markets.
DailyVista: What types of clients are the best fit for re:group? What criteria does the agency consider when it decides whether to work with a client or not?
Janet Muhleman: In addition to service companies with complex, decentralized distribution systems as described above, we like working with clients who want help managing an integrated marketing program.
We have observed that many clients today feel they need to hire specialists for different parts of their marketing program. The result is often a lack of brand consistency and a fragmented customer experience. We are happy to partner with existing suppliers if needed to ensure continuity of message and brand experience across all channels. Alternatively, we can manage the entire customer journey on their behalf.
The best clients are those who understand the value of marketing in moving a business forward. They have defined performance objectives, consider the agency a critical partner in the process, provide the agency access to key decision makers and information and hold us accountable for those things that we can control or influence. They are willing to invest in marketing their brand for the results they will achieve.
DailyVista: Who are some of re:group’s most well-known clients?
Janet Muhleman: Current notable clients include HealthPlus of Michigan, DTE Energy, Chevron, Children’s Orchard, Pall Life Science and Citizens Bank. Former notable clients include: Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops, University of Michigan Health System, Trinity Health, Domino’s Pizza, A&W Restaurants, and Two Men and a Truck.
DailyVista: Can you provide examples of how re:group has been able to help clients overcome marketing and communications challenges that they were facing? I like the work re:group did for FaVe juice late last year. It looks like a brand poised for big things, as so many people are now looking for healthy and tasty options.
Janet Muhleman: Thanks for the compliment on FaVe. We often work with emerging brands that trigger our passion. FaVe falls in that category. The product is just now entering grocery aisles.
Almost every client comes to us with a marketing challenge. Chevron needed our help in launching the ExtraMile Convenience franchise, Children’s Orchard needed to refresh its aging brand. To learn more you can view the cases posted on our website.
DailyVista: Has re:group had any recent client wins, awards, and other successes that you would like to highlight?
Janet Muhleman: Our most recent win is DTE Energy, the Michigan-based gas and electric utility. Earlier this month we won an Addy Award for our creative on Presbyterian Villages. We have also won a national AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) award for our work on the March of Dimes, and national Rebrand awards for Tutor Time and La Petite Academy.
DailyVista: Who can DailyVista readers contact if they’re interested in learning more about how re:group can help their business?
Janet Muhleman: They can contact Carey Jernigan, our vice president of business development, at (734) 327-6630 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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