FIS marketing chief had just 40 days to get the post-$43B merger branding right
While studying marketing at the University of Toledo, Ellyn Raftery might have thought it sadistic if an instructor had given her just 40 days to create a new brand for a company and develop a new sales strategy in the wake of a $43 billion acquisition.
But in the real world, such challenges must be tackled head-on — even as a major global pandemic hastened her timeline.
FIS' purchase of Worldpay in 2019 required Raftery, the company's chief marketing and communication's officer, to reshape its brand to showcase the strengths of both companies, while also assuring the company's independent sales organizations would feel part of the program.
Raftery, with seven years of experience in the lead marketing role at Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS, had less than two months to create a new brand for the company after the acquisition closed in September.
It was to be a new FIS, wielding unprecedented scale in supporting 75 billion transactions annually, 10 billion financial trades every hour and mobile payments from more than 36 million people worldwide.
Raftery spent time through December 2019 traveling globally to get a deeper understanding how FIS and Worldpay operated at all levels — and how the two might best mesh.
"I wanted to learn how they worked, what their culture is, and what their North Star is," Raftery said.
Whether it was dumb luck, or just a really good idea, Raftery had that information in place in less than two months to present to company employees so they could start embracing a common brand and message — just as the COVID-19 outbreak began to ground flights and throw global commerce into chaos.
“When FIS announced our transformative acquisition of Worldpay in March of 2019, we knew we had an immense challenge ahead of us from a brand perspective," said Gary Norcross, FIS' chairman, president and CEO. "We needed to bring together two powerful brands to best convey the unique position of the greatly expanded company — and we had four months to accomplish that challenge."
Norcross acknowledged that Raftery pulled things together in less than four months.
"Not only did Ellyn and her team pull off this feat in record time, but they created a compelling brand vision that positions FIS as the global leader that is advancing the way the world pays, banks and invests," he added.
What's in a name?
Raftery's first major task was to decide how to use the best brand for each of the company's audience, while internally operating as a single, unified organization.
"In February, we launched our main core values and defined our new culture and wrote that out," Raftery added. "We had 300 to 400 company leaders get together, just before COVID, to unveil new guiding principles and values."
FIS followed that leadership conference with a meeting of the company's sales staff the same month.
"We were so lucky, I just keep knocking on wood that we were able to get together and bring in people from across the world to Orlando, many meeting for the first time," Raftery said. At that time, the nearly 2,000 sales executives learned of their job priorities and how FIS and Worldpay would operate as one organization.
The pandemic eventually forced FIS, like most businesses, into a work-at-home schedule and a new way of communicating.
But the "one family" concept was important for FIS at this time, because in adding the Worldpay portfolio to its holdings, FIS had to make sure all of its elements fit together properly.
FIS was a strong brand in delivering payments and security technology to financial institutions, while Worldpay had a client database full of merchant accounts in many verticals.
"We tried to be as least obstructive as possible in working with merchants, because there was very little overlap in our portfolios," Raftery noted. "Also, our acquiring side of the business, the legacy FIS side, was much smaller and more narrowly niche-targeted."
A critical aspect was getting the new brand implanted in employees' minds, so as to carry that same message out to clients and prospects.
"FIS, our letters, don't even match our legal name of Fidelity National Information Systems, so the FIS brand was well known only in the financial institution space," Raftery explained. "The merchants have no idea who we are."
But merchants knew Worldpay as a product brand, so Raftery determined it was best to present "Worldpay from FIS" solutions as the merchant side of the business.
"It allows us to build up some visibility and recognition, but it doesn't disrupt the current relationship we have with that space, so it was important for us to keep it," she said.
An army of ISOs
It's rarely an easy task to develop a new brand and keep merchant clients informed about what, if any changes, might occur.
It becomes even more difficult when a pandemic erupts in the middle of a key transition period.
"It's kind of like, going into these things, I like to quote Mike Tyson, who once said, 'everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,'" said Steve Vickers, director of revenue and growth at The Strawhecker Group. "You have the best intentions going in, then something like coronavirus comes along and punches you in the face."
Marketing teams often face an uphill battle in keeping all employees as well as independent sales organization partners in line with the company message, Vickers said.
It was beneficial to FIS and Worldpay that much of brand messaging work was in place before COVID sidelined employees and strategy building for a period of time. Still, with a pandemic changing communication lines, FIS knew it had to showcase the new brand at other levels — with those ISOs and agents pounding the pavement on its behalf.
As a company adds ISOs, payment facilitators and independent software vendors, some of the relationships can change if those partners struggle to adhere to a new organization. "Some may not feel they are having a seat at the table as much," Vickers said.
A major lift for Worldpay comes in the form of having "another set of eyes and ears in terms of their marketing" from a company that also has been in the trenches of payments technology, Vickers added. "It's not that Worldpay has not been there, too, but it's about being able to have a different lens to look through. These companies have been successful at doing that."
Raftery acknowledges the importance of getting the company's ISO network into the marketing strategy, as FIS will now have close to 1,000 ISOs working for it, most of them coming from Worldpay.
In zeroing in on the "go to market" strategies of both FIS and Worldpay before the merger, Raftery felt it was important to simplify the process for ISOs and staffers as much as possible for clients.
"We want to tell the story of a combined company, and introduce ISOs to FIS to build trust," Raftery said. "But we also looked at that network to make sure our message was simple and relevant, and most importantly, that we were packaging the kind of materials they needed to make them successful."
For the better part of a decade, ISOs have generally worried that ignoring technology advancements would put an end to their livelihoods. Most therefore looked to expand their knowledge and capabilities through partnerships.
"We were really putting a lens on what makes an ISO successful, and how do we package ourselves for them," said Raftery, who put Kimling Lam in charge of the marketing aspects for Worldpay with the title of head of merchant solutions marketing.
Lam was quick to roll out new FIS campaigns for the ISOs and agents to help them "get smarter about how we do this," Raftery said. FIS chose to call its campaign, "Smarter Reach, Smarter Revenue and Smarter Responsiveness."
In addition, FIS delivers weekly communications to ISOs that serve as updates on new product development, new sales approaches and operational changes. More importantly, an educational portal called ISO Payments Online University was created as a place for these partners to get updated materials, updated product pages and other training documents.
"We want our ISOs to stay in sync with us," Raftery said.
It's vital to stay abreast of what FIS and Worldpay make available for clients, considering payments technology and digital financial services are changing quickly and dramatically, even during the global pandemic.
"When COVID first hit, from a marketing perspective, we just stopped to make certain we weren't being tone deaf," Raftery said. "There was a major crisis going on, and marketing and selling for a time seemed inappropriate."
This pause gave FIS some time to see how the pandemic would affect client needs in an increasingly rugged economic landscape.
A three-pronged approach followed the various cycles clients were finding themselves in — relief, recovery and rebuild — as FIS realized it was serving clients in various stages of the pandemic. FIS needed to help some merchants quickly convert from brick-and-mortar to online, or while helping others in recovery mode with cloud-based or API-driven solutions.
Where payments come into play
As a combined entity, FIS-Worldpay is able to deliver on almost any payment type the client wants, with a growing emphasis on real-time payments.
"We are an incredibly strategically run company," Raftery said. "Well before the Worldpay acquisition, we had already been on a five-year journey of focusing on product and development to enhance our infrastructure to move quickly into cloud and convert walled-off solutions into more open architecture platforms. And Worldpay was on a similar journey."
But beyond unifying the distinct client databases of FIS and Worldpay, a considerable effort — and what Raftery calls "the other part of the storytelling of the integration" — was getting the company's clients to understand the value of those databases and what the combined company could bring to each of them.
"That is actually where the revenue center piece comes in, because given the combination of our portfolio now, we have an incredible portfolio of solutions that we can 're-combinate,' which has become one of my favorite words, into new offers that create value for our audiences," she said.
For example, the Premium Payback solution — originally built for the FIS corporate clients as a loyalty program for fuel pumps — is now considered transferable into any merchant category.
"It's an opportunity to expand our conversations with our merchant clients for value-added services to offer to their customers," Raftery said. In that way, FIS is creating a "unique end-to-end ecosystem from FIs all the way to the end consumer," she added.
The place to be
Raftery says she feels fortunate to have kept on the marketing path after her studies at Toledo University.
"I've had a career in marketing and just love it," she said. "I love being in it because you get to be right-brain, left-brain all day long."
After starting in health care marketing and moving into technology marketing with the Ernst and Young professional services network, Raftery realized she loved technology and would likely not turn back to any other type of marketing. Future marketing jobs unfolded at Whitman-Hart, Unisys and CA Technologies.
Her enthusiasm got a significant shot in the arm when she landed the job at FIS, moving into a business category that is rapidly transforming.
"The payments side of the business is just on fire now," she said. "It's the hot place to be."
And it's quite reassuring when your CEO acknowledges that the biggest challenge of her career worked out the way she envisioned.
"This new brand architecture is our rallying cry, and we are living it every day in the work we do supporting our colleagues, clients and our communities,” Norcross said.