Repositioning For A New Reality

Doctors are famously poor at taking their own medicine. Ad agencies too, it seems. But a respected agency did just that when it turned to FUEL for help in taking an intensive look at its identity and setting a visual course for its future.

HRB, formerly known as Henry Russell Bruce, has provided advertising and public relations services to hundreds of companies in Eastern Iowa over the last 40 years. At a crossroads as it recovered from the effects of a devastating flood and pondered changing client expectations in the era of electronic communications, the firm had the foresight – and fortitude – to seek outside expertise.

“We tell our clients, ‘You need to step outside yourself and get a professional to tell you the best direction,’ and that’s what we did,” says Steve Erickson, HRB President and Creative Director. “We had arisen from the flood and from the old ways of doing business, and we needed to prove we’re not the same old HRB and represent that change visually to our clients.”

FUEL, a longtime collaborative partner, was the obvious place to turn. “I have always admired what FUEL does in terms of how they approach things from a design point of view,” he explains. “What I love about working with those guys is that they don’t compromise. They are extremely serious about what they do and they really value their process.”

That process entailed multiple meetings between FUEL and HRB staff members as FUEL dug into the firm’s DNA in order to learn what the HRB brand stands for. “They didn’t assume that they knew us,” says Erickson. “They really did their due diligence in planning the visual platform, and I found it extremely refreshing.”

As FUEL presented its ideas and recommendations, Erickson says, he especially appreciated being able to see the evolving thought process documented through dozens of pencil sketches. There were no canned solutions or typefaces plucked from the Internet, he emphasizes.“We had been vacillating for years on being HRB or Henry Russell Bruce, with the idea that we would eventually become just HRB,” Erickson says. FUEL strongly encouraged the firm to make that leap and abandon an outdated, somewhat whimsical logo “that I was probably hanging onto like a life preserver,” Erickson jokes.

The new HRB look is simplified, bolder and more confident, he says, providing a more professional representation of the firm as a creative problem-solver that builds long-term relationships with its clients. “

They really validated our positioning as being a brand-building business as measured by the synergistic effect of everything we do in building our clients’ business.”

“I found working with them so rewarding because they really take your input and make it into something better. They’re true believers in what they do, and that’s rare in this business.”

— Steve Erickson

hrb icons

As in any rebranding process, Erickson adds, “it’s most valuable internally. This was visual proof that we believed what we said we would do, and it led to a real change in expectations. The new look got noticed, and it got a great response. Everybody liked it visually, and when they dug deeper, it made sense and validated what we did.”

He credits FUEL with making an accurate diagnosis and giving HRB the precise tonic it needed to position itself for the future. “I found working with them so rewarding because they really take your input and make it into something better,” he says. “They’re true believers in what they do, and that’s rare in this business.”

Bill Bollman
Creative Director

Bill Bollman is FUEL’s Creative Director. Before co-founding FUEL in 2001, he worked for Horizon Communications, JW Morton and Basler Design Group. Bill studied Illustration at Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo, Iowa. An expert in the “old ways” of hands-on print production, these skills influence his work in the digital world to this day. His work throughout his career has been featured in international publications including Graphis, How International Design, Communication Arts, and The One Book as well as numerous design annuals and reference books.

Hometown: West Union, Iowa
Involved in Design and Marketing since 1988
Interests: Fitness, Travel, Movies