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What does it take to refresh a 64-year-old heritage brand? #BehindTheBrand

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IMG is a global company heralded with founding sports marketing as we know it – founded by pioneering marketer and agent Mark McCormack, it all began with a handshake in 1960 and the world of sports changed forever.

Last month, the company unveiled its new brand identity, image and mission – the first re-imagining of the brand in 20 years. So, how do you take on 64 years of history and industry prestige to refresh a brand for the modern sports and entertainment landscape? We caught up with Olivia Gillibrand, VP Marketing, Media at IMG and creative director Chris Luzmoor to find out.

What was the brief for the rebrand?

Olivia Gillibrand: “IMG is such an iconic brand and established name in the sport and entertainment industries, and as a business it’s continued to expand, grow and succeed over the decades since Mark McCormack first founded the company in the 1960s. The rebrand project started with an assumption that there was now a certain level of disconnect between how the wider business was operating and market perception.

“The IMG brand hadn’t been reviewed since the early 1990’s both in terms of the visual identity and the core components that made up the vision, mission, values and personality. And the company has certainly evolved in the past 20+ years. So we set about exploring what the market perception was and how we could bridge the gap between the brand to help grow brand relevance for all our audiences across events, rights, digital, production, global partnerships, and data and betting.”

Describe the purpose of the brand and its target audience?

Olivia: “IMG’s roots are in sport and our vision reflects this – Power the world’s passion for sport. This vision and guiding sense of purpose is at the heart of everything we do. It’s our North Star.

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“For us, that means - power and our unique set of capabilities; our ability to think globally to reach and engage fans everywhere; the passion that unites us, our industry and fans around the globe; and IMG’s legacy in sport.

“The IMG target audience is large and recognising that we’ve expanded across arts & entertainment events, brand partnerships, representation and licensing now too, our brand needs to speak to many different industries and professionals. At heart, we are primarily a B2B business and our focus is on helping our partners unlock the value in their assets, brands and fandom.”

What was your thinking behind the rebranding solution?

Olivia: “Branding is such a complex craft and discipline. So often the focus is just on the logo development but, in the same way you can’t build a house without foundations, the development of a brand needs a solid base. It is what creates a true brand versus a new logo design.

“As such we were lucky enough to have full support from the business to really invest in the brand discovery, which enabled us to really focus on bringing all the expertise and talent across IMG together to make it our IMG.”

Did you learn anything new during the project?

Olivia: “The project really reinforced the importance of bringing everyone on the journey with you, especially when working across such a large organisation and when working with a legacy brand like IMG.

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“I think another key learning is to never underestimate the importance of the brand discovery side of the project. Branding can very subjective and ensuring that you ground every decision in fact and research helps solve this and ensure your brand has solid foundations.”

What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?

Olivia: “What we might have considered as challenges were also incredible opportunities. For example, managing the breadth and depth of the IMG business, working to a fairly tight timeline and ensuring we connected with everyone across the entire company.

“I think there is also a challenge in ensuring that everyone in the business understands the scale of implementation of a new brand from updating assets to trademark searches. There are lots of areas that people don’t see!”

What would you do differently if you could do it over again?

Olivia: “I think I’d give a renewed focus to really building out the Comms plan as far in advance as possible and over communicating every element to ensure everyone is engaged. A brand will really start to embed itself when every person within the business is a brand ambassador.

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“I would also take another look at the asset creation schedule as I the scale of what we were delivering was so large!”

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

Chris Luzmoor: “Firstly, it was important to define what we wanted to achieve during our first few brainstorming sessions. A good period of time had passed since the last identity was updated, so there were lots of considerations on where the brand should be taken next. Nothing was off the table in terms of exploration and how we want to position ourselves for the future.

“However with IMG, there is so much brand equity. The organisation has been a pioneer of sports marketing since the 1960s, so it would make no sense to throw that all away and start again. It became more of an evolution, rather than an overhaul.

“Lots of our meetings were structured to help get people to align their thinking. We collated feedback on the designs, gauging the reactions to the concepts and measuring what appealed and resonated with the group. Having broad engagement and participation in these sessions was so important as it was vital the ‘new IMG’ was right and would deliver the impact it needed.”

What kit/tools/software were used to create it?

Chris: “ I always like to start with just a sketch pad and pencil. Sketching and scribbling very initial thoughts on shape and form. From there, transferring those rough ideas into Adobe Illustrator, to play with Pantone colour themes, polish and refine those edges and shapes, making the ideas more defined to present to the team.”

What details are you most proud of and why?

Chris: “I think what I’m most proud of is how the rebrand, from conception right through to launch, has been completely handled by myself and the in-house Creative Team at IMG.

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“While there’s a valid belief that external agencies or creative resources offer a fresher perspective on branding projects, or more diverse conceptual thinking and ‘well rounded’ execution, leading the IMG rebrand and developing it in-house has been hugely beneficial. I feel there’s more of an intimate relationship with the brand, with a better understanding of the company, its values, and its culture, which helped with making more informed decisions on the design.

“It’s also important with any rebrand that it not only resonates with people outside the building, but inside too. If internal stakeholders and employees are supportive, they become ambassadors or envoys of the brand, more inclined to tweet/share/promote offering organic and authentic exposure.”

Olivia: “Echoing Chris, the fact that project was delivered in house from start to finish is a huge accomplishment and knowing there is a story behind every piece of design, every word chosen is incredible. It brings a new depth to the brand.”

What visual influences fueled your solution?

Chris: “Geometry and geometric shapes were a key visual influence and inspiration for the rebrand. Using squares and rectangular shapes to convey IMG as a solid and unified identity. It is a visual representation of the company’s constant forward motion, matching the fast–paced and ever-changing nature of the global sports and entertainment industries. And it signifies our updated mission to work as one to deliver more for our clients and partners.

“These shapes feature strongly from the identity to the visual language too. Focusing on the simplistic beauty of mixing interchanging shapes, lines, and curves together to build layouts or structures for text or imagery.”

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

Chris: “Since our story began, IMG has been a pioneer and innovator in the world of global sports and entertainment industries. That perception has changed over time and what I’m hoping is that we re-educate people in who we are and what we can do as a business. We focus on creating deep connections between sport, fans, brands and partners to help effectively market their assets and maximise their reach.”

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Olivia: “The rebrand and update to the visual identity is only the start of the journey as we look to increase brand relevance, engagement and ultimately build brand advocates. We have built a foundation but how we activate in this next phase will be absolutely key.

“We wanted to stay true to our brand positioning and highlight our expertise. We are a team of experts, authentic and human who are united in our pursuit of excellence in going the extra mile for our clients and partners.”

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