Starting anew

With the Citigroup deal complete and a new home being built, Legg Mason starts an ambitous campaign to reshape its corporate identity

March 13, 2007|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun Reporter

Independently impressive. together extraordinary

That's what Legg Mason wants people to think of the company the new Legg Mason, as executives say. And they're spending $4 million over the next four months to make it happen.

Today, advertisements highlighting the company's seven subsidiaries will begin appearing in print publications across the country -- including The Sun -- followed by commercials on elevator monitors in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, and later an Internet campaign.

It's the Baltimore-based company's first U.S. branding effort and meant to make sure financial advisers know what Legg Mason does, after corporate studies revealed that many don't. The company's hoping the campaign develops a stronger image for Legg after an identity-shaking deal with Citigroup 15 months ago.

"We are now emerging as a pure asset-management company [rather than a stock brokerage], and what we're really trying to do is get the story out," said Donald Froude, head of the Baltimore firm's U.S. distribution efforts.

Corporate branding is as old as corporations, with reputations built and broken based on a company's image. Lexus leans on luxury for its status. Apple opts for cool, compared with Microsoft's conservative approach. And McDonald's makes its money marketing fun fast food.

Even Baltimore is working on an image upgrade, launching a "Get In On It" slogan last summer meant to draw tourists to a city that -- according to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association -- is "energetic, easily navigated and spontaneously fun."

"Branding is saying `Here I am, and this is what I do' in a compelling, memorable way," said Kara Brook, president and chief executive of Brook Group, an Ellicott City corporate branding firm.

But in the financial services world, branding also has to say "your money's safe with us" by conjuring pictures of stability, trust and security, she said.

Before a scandal in the 1980s, stock brokerage E.F. Hutton & Co. was best known for drawing consumer trust through commercials claiming that when its brokers talked, people listened. And New York Life, an insurance and investment business, hangs its hat on being "the company you keep" -- as in forever, with its long history.

"People are making big financial decisions with them," Brook said. "It is very important, because of that, for them to represent some sort of a cohesive campaign and identity."

Legg Mason's main business had been its stock brokerage until a few years ago, when it went on a buying spree. It acquired several companies that dealt in "asset management," which essentially means handling mutual funds as well as supervising accounts for the wealthy and large institutional investors.

By 2004, about 70 percent of the business was in asset management. The late 2005 deal with Citigroup pushed the percentage up to 100 and transformed Legg from a regional player to the fifth-largest money manager in the world.

The two organizations swapped certain holdings, turning Legg into a full asset manager and Citigroup -- which announced its own brand strategy shift last month -- into a stock brokerage.

The switch created a "learning curve for investors to get familiar with the [new] company," said Robert A. Lee, an analyst who follows Legg Mason for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York

While many Baltimoreans recognize Legg Mason's name from the sign on its headquarters, which juts into the Baltimore skyline, but from which the company is slated to move to Harbor East in 2009, many others are unfamiliar with the business.

According to Legg Mason's research, the firm has a good reputation at home, but often those outside the Mid-Atlantic region don't know the name at all. Others simply associate Legg with its star money manager, Bill Miller, who is best known for beating the S&P 500 returns with his Value Trust mutual fund for 15 years running until he failed to do so last year. Legg used Miller's name often in its previous advertising.

"Now Legg Mason is much greater than that," said Benji Baer, Legg's director of marketing communications. "For the first time, under the Legg Mason banner or brand, you can now access seven of their largest affiliates."

Now included in the Legg portfolio are asset managers Western Asset, Clearbridge Advisors, Legg Mason Capital Management, Brandywine Global, and Batterymarch Financial Management, along with wealth managers Permal Group and mutual funds through Royce & Associates.

Legg is hoping to capitalize on individual company cachet, as well as transfer the prestige to other subsidiaries.

"[They're] trying to generate an image that goes across brands, so that you have the ability to take customers from one brand to another within the corporate family," said Roland Rust, chair of the Department of Marketing at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

"Once they get to know your brands, then they're more comfortable buying [into other subsidiaries]," Rust said.

To encourage that, Legg went with a campaign that takes apart classic pieces -- so far a violin and a pocket watch -- to highlight the innards, as well as the whole.

"In financial services advertising, where there's a lot of predictable messages, if you will, this will truly stand out and command attention," said Steve Gardner, whose New York firm, Gardner Nelson & Partners, created Legg's advertising.

Legg is giving it a four-month trial run to see, but marketing director Baer is confident: "It's people's money, it's people's futures and we take that very seriously and value that.... We wanted there to be certainly a level of seriousness to [the campaign] and I think we've achieved that."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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