4 Key Insights from Rebranding a 143-Year-Old Organization (During a Pandemic)

Matt Pepper and Tom Varitek, CEO and Communications VP, respectively, of Michigan Humane—formerly Michigan Humane Society—recently sat down with The Association’s Katherine Shenar to discuss what goes into the reinvigoration of a brand that’s been around, since, oh, just the 1800s. Following are some highlights from the convo. You can listen to the complete interview on Facebook.

Stay True to What You Do

Michigan Humane’s new brand takes a human-centered focus—which makes complete sense, as the organization has already been focusing on bringing programs, services and resources beyond brick-and-mortar and to pet owners out in the community. “We’re not leaving behind our former selves,” says Pepper. “The branding is about developing a stronger relationship with the community, about Michigan Humane being more than simply just a great place to adopt a dog.”

Heroes Welcome

One common rebranding exercise involves asking, “Who is the hero in your organization’s story?” At Michigan Humane, “The real heroes in our stories are the people in their homes with their pets, and the stories are driven by the passion they have for their pets,” shares Varitek. “We’re just here to amplify this passion people already have.”

Edit Yourself

Michigan Humane…. Notice something missing? “The philosophy behind our rebranding can be seen in something as simple as removing the word ‘society’ from our name,” says Pepper. “It worked for 100 years or more, but at its core, the word is exclusive. We want to be something that everyone feels a part of.”

Just Jump Right In (not)

While it’s true that Michigan Humane launched a rebranding campaign during a pandemic, the project has been years in the making. And if you’re thinking of a rebrand, Pepper advises that you take your time and “do your due-diligence research.” He recommends rolling out your ideas in stages—and sharing with multiple audiences. Don’t wait—show your board, staff, and high-level donors your logo and materials as they’re being developed and finalized. “This way,” says Pepper, “you’ll make these groups part of the process, and they’ll become your champions.”

Learn More

Podcast: “How do you reinvigorate a 143-year-old brand?”
In the news: “Michigan Humane Society updates name, mission to focus on pets and people”
Website announcement: Welcome to the new Michigan Humane


The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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