The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and The Brand Leader began working together in 2015, when The Brand Leader was invited to recommend solutions for a publication revitalization project the Chamber was exploring.
After winning that bid and redesigning and restructuring the publication in the first year, the relationship continued to grow, and the SC Chamber gave The Brand Leader management of their entire list of publications. Since then, the Chamber and The Brand Leader have deepened their partnership, working together on creating new projects like SC Branded, an awards program that recognizes the top brands in the state of South Carolina with Brandies. Ted Pitts, President and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, explains.
Listening and Learning
The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and The Brand Leader first came together when a member of the Chamber’s executive board contacted The Brand Leader with an offer to bid on an outgoing RFP. At that time, the State Chamber had managed its own publication for years, but were reevaluating both its value to their membership and how it was presented. They realized that their publications were not simply communication tools—they were large brands under their own corporate brand, and needed to be treated as such.
Part of the challenge at the beginning was not just proving the value of a member publication, but reevaluating how the Chamber’s publications could be positioned as part of the Chamber’s brand, serving as branded extensions of its value proposition to the business communities it serves. Having produced a bi-monthly magazine—SC Business—for years prior, the Chamber was well-versed in how to go to print but wanted to give their publication an identity, a brand that fit well within the Chamber’s overall brand. It also would need an updated look and feel while trying to scale back on the cost of producing in print.
“We were looking at the value proposition of an internal print publication for membership to help share the Chamber message and share the news of what the business community was doing. At that time, we weren’t sure if having an in-house publication was working; we did believe there was some sort of value to it and were looking for some kind of partner that could deliver a high-quality product while actually costing the Chamber less to produce,” said Ted Pitts.
More importantly, the Chamber wanted a partner that understood the business community, spoke their language, and had a proven track record in that type of work. It was a perfect project for The Brand Leader, who had, through its sister company, run a business publication for the Upstate of South Carolina for almost ten years at that point, as well as having produced multiple publications over the years for other clients, not as stand-alone magazines but as tactical brand positioning content pieces within their clients’ overall customer communications, acquisition and retention strategies. That knowledge and experience base was important since the Chamber wanted to work with a firm who understood the need for the brand to both stand on its own and work within the other offerings from the Chamber. Understanding how a publication flows, how a reader responds to it, and how to trim costs was also second nature to The Brand Leader team.
“In listening to the Chamber and what they were looking to do, we understood their desire to reposition their magazine brands to their state membership and within the market,” said The Brand Leader CEO Geoff Wasserman. “Once that became clear, our work as a branding agency with extensive experience in branding and positioning print publications as extensions of a client’s brand helped us approach the projects very differently than simply designing and producing magazines.”
Understanding the Vision
“SC Business the magazine was a good quality production that needed to be updated,” said Pitts. “When we looked at updating the Chamber brand, this publication was another piece of our outward facing perception for our members and investors. We wanted to be seen as a forward-leaning organization, and we saw the magazine as a way to do that.”
Together, the Chamber and The Brand Leader began to evaluate all the pieces of the publication: frequency, quantity, size, print stock, design, editorial content, and more. Once that was done, The Brand Leader team went back and began a redesign, updating the look and feel of both the graphic design and the content that was presented through the magazine. At the end of 2016, the first issue of ASCEND, an annual showpiece magazine, hit the mailboxes of Chamber members across the state. The feedback was encouraging.
“The Brand Leader has a very high standard, and as a business leader, you’re always concerned about a partner or vendor having a standard less than you expect,” said Pitts. “In the end, the attention to detail put into this publication closely aligned with the vision held here at the State Chamber. They took a lot of time to understand what we wanted and how we wanted to present our publications as an extension of our brand promise. They really became a partner, rather than simply a vendor.”
A Final Transition:
From Vendor to Partner
Happy with the result, the next year the Chamber expanded their contract with The Brand Leader, and asked that the agency manage all of their annual print publications—from their Legislative Scorecard that reviews state legislators and their actions, to the Workforce & Jobs report, that covers workforce issues across South Carolina.
The following year, after much discussion, the two organizations took the relationship a step further, and together created SC Branded, a co-owned event designed to celebrate and acknowledge some of the most prominent brands across the state. ”
“Through the print publications, we began to have conversations that led to the idea to have an event to recognize our South Carolina-based businesses; it was a natural transition,” said Pitts. “Here in South Carolina, we have the best quality of life and some of the best companies in the world, and we see this ongoing partnership with The Brand Leader as an opportunity to highlight the companies and brands that are uniquely authentic to SC and personify what South Carolina means to the rest of the world.”
After building upon their relationship for three years, and now with a successful event under their belt, the SC Chamber and The Brand Leader intend to continue their work together—expanding upon the SC Branded event and continuing to look for opportunities to reach the Chamber membership, both on and off the printed page.