6 secrets on how to build a corporate identity from scratch

The company that owns such iconic brands as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger didn’t have an identity of its own until recently. Here’s how that changed.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

When Tiffin Jernstedt joined PVH Corp. in 2013, the apparel company didn’t have much of a communication footprint.

The company had a logo, an investor-related website and an annual report—and little more for a communicator to work with, says Jernstedt, senior vice president of global communications.

“Coming from a mega-brand, I underestimated the power of having collateral, images and assets to work with,” she says.

Much has changed over the years. In 2003 PVH had 3,500 employees and was limited to the United States. Now the company employees 36,000 people globally with 2017 revenues of nearly $9 billion.

And as PVH’s global footprint has grown—it boasts brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Heritage—Jernstedt has built a 30-person communications team.

In her Ragan Training session, “Partner with your organization’s stakeholders to get corporate communications done,” Jernstedt offers lessons on building internal and external communication from scratch.

She draws tips from her leadership of the team responsible for corporate branding, executive communication, PR, internal communication, employee engagement, crisis management, social media and archive management across multiple brands.

Here are some lessons she has learned:

1. Reach out internally and externally.

When Jernstedt started, PVH had no brand reputation and had never gone to its associates to really explain its story. To figure out what to do, she benchmarked against other companies.

“I reached out to all of my contacts in design and PR and marketing,” Jernstedt says. “I reached out to anyone who touched the archive team. I reached out to finance people to figure out how do I make this pitch, because clearly this is going to be an investment.”

Although there was no archive of photos and other assets, PVH had major brands at its disposal from which Jernstedt could create a joint archive. Four years later, the company has a global database of over a million assets, including photos.

PVH communication now has an entire floor of a facility, and each brand has its own area. Given all the expense, the department now had to prove a return. Communicators went to departments that could use the archive, such as HR, and worked with them.

2. Connect internally through social media.

PVH had a neglected Facebook page that Jernstedt’s team decided to take over, and eventually the team built out presences on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

None of the bosses were telling the communicators to do that. “It was literally us and our small team saying, ‘We have to have a presence,’” Jernstedt says.

Associates noticed. People in the hallways would stop Jernstedt and say, “Oh, I saw that Facebook,” or, “Hey, I saw you posted something on LinkedIn.”

3. Highlight your brands.

Calvin Klein underwear was one of the biggest sections of the brand, and it launched an underwear business unit. Recently, at Jernstedt’s urging, the company dropped the industry term “intimate” and called its skivvies line The Underwear Group, or TUG.

It was a huge success, and communication helped the head of the group with a town hall and an installation on the history of the underwear brand. “Which is really significant, because it literally went from the late 1800s to the Calvin Klein that you know,” Jernstedt says.

4. Don’t let naysayers bog you down.

One team at PVH was busily firing off more than 150 emails a month. (Really.) Worse yet, despite the new motherlode of an archive, they used silly clip art, Jernstedt says.

Jernstedt’s team worked with them, and despite initial successes, the other department started shutting them out.

Eventually she said, “Guys, we got to let it go. We have other fish to fry.”

Later, a mini-communications team was formed for that department, and collaboration began rolling along.

“We just had to wait,” Jernstedt says, “and we just had to be patient.”

5. Meet and take charge.

As the company grew, Jernstedt made a point of meeting with individuals across departments. She liked to hand out short information sheets that others could take to their staff.

Carve out the time and get to know others, Jernstedt says. Ask, “What is your business? What is your function? What is your objective?” This is also your opportunity to explain your own objectives.

When you schedule a meeting with several participants, take charge and steer the discussion, she advises.

“You own the meeting,” Jernstedt tells her team. “You own who is invited. You own the agenda. Naturally, when everyone comes into the meeting, then they look at you. So now, you can drive the meeting. And then you can be the one to recap the meeting.”

That puts you in the driver’s seat.

6. Remind your executives.

Give executives a quick update in the hallway, or drop by their office. Tell them about your interdepartmental collaboration. Don’t forget to share a little story about your successes.

“They love hearing how you merged budgets together, how you partnered with another department to get something done,” Jernstedt says.

There’s more to this session. Subscribe to Ragan Training.

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