Taking Re-Branding Up a Big Notch: Karen Philbrick on the MTI Experience

by | Mar 20, 2018 | Board Savvy Transit CEO Blog Archive, Board-CEO Involvement in Innovation/Change Management

I wasn’t initially blown away by enthusiasm when Karen Philbrick, Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, suggested that we record a podcast for this blog focusing on MIT’s re-branding initiative.  What came immediately to mind were the many re-branding efforts I’d observed over the years that involved essentially cosmetic touch-ups.  I was reminded of the most recent egregious example:  a local economic and community development corporation whose light – the board and chief executive had concluded – was well hidden by the proverbial bushel:  its role unclear and its achievements unrecognized.  Unfortunately, they chose a cheap and easy solution to a valid issue – one that produced the predictably modest results:  merely having a graphic artist come up with a new logo and a tag line that was a model of fuzzy communication:  “Helping Build a Vibrant Economy in our Region.”  Well, Karen and I were only a few minutes into our conversation when I realized that on her watch, MTI had taken a truly thoughtful – indeed, strategic – approach to re-branding that was a far cry from the cosmetic approaches that’d soured me on re-branding – as you’ll learn from the podcast that Karen recorded for this blog.

Two features of MTI’s re-branding initiative stand out in Karen’s podcast:  intensive board member engagement and close attention to MTI’s strategic framework.  A truly board-savvy CEO, Karen worked closely with a working group consisting of MTI Board members who, with Karen’s strong support and active participation, methodically worked through the key steps in the re-branding process over a period of six months.  This was the polar opposite of the superficial approach I described above.  Since a number of working group participants had fairly recently engaged in re-branding initiatives in their own organizations, they had ample real-life experience to share with their working group colleagues.  And I was really impressed by the fact, as Karen recounts, that the MTI re-branding initiative wasn’t carried out in a vacuum.  Indeed, the process was guided by updated vision, values, and mission statements that MTI Board members had been actively involved in shaping.

And Karen’s podcast touches on two interesting spin-offs of MTI’s re-branding effort, in addition to a new logo and systematic communication strategy.  Most importantly MTI’s ties with its preeminent stakeholder, San Jose State University, were strengthened – by clearly communicating that MTI is an integral part of the SJSU family.  Also, MTI staff morale was boosted in the process.  I hadn’t thought much about the internal cultural impact of re-branding until hearing Karen describe the MTI initiative.

I hope our readers will share their own re-branding experience by commenting on this post.

About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building rock-solid partnerships with their transit boards.

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