By John Hewko*


Every 100 years it benefits an organization to strengthen its brand. I would like to stress that when we talk about the Rotary brand, we are talking about a very powerful idea. Brand is an enduring concept that answers the most fundamental questions at the heart of an organization. It provides a discipline for how an organization thinks, how it acts, and how it communicates.

I’m also talking about the emotional reaction that people have when they see the Rotary wheel. We want them to immediately think of words like service and compassion and leadership, but research has shown that the general public remains woefully unaware of our mission and our many humanitarian achievements.

For all of the great world brands there is a common formula for success: Strength equals clarity. When you see BMW, you think of the ultimate driving machine. Apple implies hip and cutting edge, while we associate Coca-Cola with youth, vigor, and fun.

Based on input from Rotarians worldwide, the RI Board and Foundation Trustees agreed to embark on an initiative to strengthen Rotary’s brand. A rigorous evaluation process led to the selection of international branding agency Siegel+Gale to help strengthen our brand. The aim of this initiative is not to reinvent Rotary. We are an incredible organization already. The aim is to get back to Rotary’s roots — that which makes Rotary great — to clarify and focus our messages.

Research, the first of the initiative’s six phases, began in September. The initial phase consisted of an unprecedented evaluation of Rotary and included responses from 10,000 Rotarians, more than 700 Rotaractors, and 400 staff in 167 countries. It also included more than 150 one-on-one interviews representing dozens of countries plus club visits around the globe. The results of the research findings were presented by Siegel+Gale to a joint meeting of the Directors and Trustees in January.

The initiative then moved into its second phase — strategy. A key deliverable from this work will be a brand strategy containing three main building blocks: (1) our voice (what we say, how we say it, and how we look); (2) our values (what we do and how we act); and (3) our essence (what we stand for, how we’re different, and why it matters). Let me emphasize that Rotary’s values will not change, nor will our essence. They are deeply embedded in Rotary. What will happen is that Siegel+Gale will help us put our values and essence into a new voice and bring them to life. Rotary’s brand strategy platform will be validated through global research designed to make sure the elements speak to Rotarians as well as to the general public in nations and cultures the world over.

Once validation is complete and Rotary’s Boards approve, the brand strategy platform will form the foundation for the remaining four phases of the initiative that, when completed, will considerably strengthen our organization.

Some Rotarians have questioned why we need this initiative, assuming it implies that something is wrong with Rotary. I view our efforts as an opportunity to reframe our great strengths in a way that is more relevant to today’s world and to ensure that others not only know what Rotary is but clearly support all that we do.

The above comments are an excerpt from the General Secretary’s Report to the Convention; Bangkok, Thailand, May 2012

John Hewko is the General Secretary for Rotary International