What’s in a name? For Bill Hughes, chief communications officer at CA Technologies, plenty. Hughes led the communications effort behind CA Technologies’ name change from “CA” in 2010. Four years before that, in 2006, the Long Island, N.Y.-based company switched from Computer Associates to CA, to distance itself from controversy surrounding securities fraud by a former CEO.
Few companies have as condensed a history of renaming as CA Technologies, but name changes—whether it be for a company, brand or product—are common in business, and PR professionals are vital in telling the story that lies behind a name change.
It was up to Hughes, his team and agency partners to tell the world the story of CA’s latest change. But a year and a half before that, he was very much involved in the discussions about the name change. It was kind of a perfect storm that led to the new name, says Hughes. First, after four years, people still connected CA with Computer Associates. Second, “CA” wasn’t very conducive to successful Web searches by customers or potential customers. “You type in ‘CA’ and you get the California postal code,” says Hughes. Third and most important, in 2009 the company shifted its focus to cloud computing, since then acquiring nearly a billion dollars’ worth of companies involved in the cloud and spending as much on R&D. “We felt like ‘CA’ wasn’t representative of what we were doing and where we were going,” says Hughes. Why not jettison CA entirely? “For 35 years we’ve been known for managing and securing data centers for customers, and we wanted to maintain that legacy,” he says.
It’s that kind of thoughtful planning—before printing new business cards—that results in a successful name change, says Paula Slotkin, co-founder and principle partner at Boston-based PR agency Topaz Partners. “It all starts with developing solid and sensible messaging,” says Slotkin. “You must be comfortable with that before naming accordingly.”
Then there’s the communications plan. Hughes and his team built one that started three months from the launch. Its components ran the gamut, including marketing, media relations, digital and social media and internal communications. And, to be sure, says Hughes, the internal part is just as critical as letting the media know. The one-day per week internal effort let workers know of the strategy behind the change and what the new look and feel of CA Technologies.From his experience, Hughes offers some advice for PR pros:
• The communications team must inject itself early in the process. “PR people are cynical. We’ve seen it all before,” says Hughes. “We recognize the brilliant things that marketing can do, but there has to be some checks and balances.”
• Learn renaming strategies. Don’t assume that marketing, executives and consultants have the right answer, says Hughes. Read up on case studies and talk to people about renaming strategies.
• Participate in customer focus groups. “Listening to customers became a discussion not just about the name change, it became about us and what we needed to do as a business,” says Hughes.
At the end of the three-month plan, the company went public with its new name in one fell swoop on May 17, 2010, at its own customer event, CA World. Going out all at once with a new name is a strategy that Hughes and Slotkin agree on. “Going out in stages just confuses people,” says Slotkin. “You need to put the stake in the ground.”
USE NEW TECHNOLOGIES
While Hughes deployed a lot of traditional PR tactics in getting the new name out, Ike Richman, VP of public relations at Philadelphia-based Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Wells Fargo Center arena (home of the Sixers and Flyers), says he is sold on using social media platforms in communicating new names.
Last year Wells Fargo’s purchase of Wachovia necessitated a change. On Sept. 1, 2010, when the old sign on the arena façade was coming down, Richman sent a tweet out at 7 a.m. that read, “It’s official, we become Wells Fargo Center today as the signs come down.” As he pulled into the arena parking lot for work, five TV stations were there filming the sign removal. Meanwhile, on Facebook, conversation around the change abounded.
“A press release went out at 9 a.m.,” says Richman. “But media outlets knew about it before that.” Richman’s advice: Don’t be afraid of new technologies in a renaming effort.
In fact, the social media success prompted Davis to do a renaming of his own: “I used to call Facebook ‘waste book’ and now I call it ‘embrace book.’” With that kind of naming skill, who needs a consultant? PRN