PR Insider: Namedropping in the Context of Branding

Kathleen Gratehouse
Kathleen Gratehouse

The year 2012 was a turning point for Borders + Gratehouse. In four years our agency experienced rapid growth and new opportunities including the addition of another partner and office expansions. The agency’s talent pool had grown beyond the principals of the firm with expanded service offerings and new industry expertise. The time seemed right to consider a new name that reflected our broadened portfolio and unique PR style.

We broached the rebranding topic with clients, trusted advisers and branding experts, and the overwhelming response was, “Don’t do it.” We were cautioned about the high cost and time commitment, not to mention the loss of the existing brand equity built over the years. Despite this, we felt our reasons were compelling and the timing right so we moved forward and found that, well, everyone was right (and wrong).

It’s true rebranding takes money and preparation, but if done well, the rewards are paid back in dividends. Surely our success goes beyond our new name, but in 2013 we experienced 47 percent growth and were once again included in O’Dwyer’s annual report on the fastest growing PR firms. We also had the opportunity to introduce new capabilities and tell a compelling story around our firm’s vision for the future. Along the way we also learned some important lessons—here are a few of them if you are considering embarking on a similar path.

Go Early

The longer you hold onto your brand, the more brand equity you build, which makes it harder to change. ConsultingMD was created in 2011 amidst the rapidly-changing healthcare industry. In just two years, the market fluctuated and ConsultingMD kept pace, rebranding to Grand Rounds to illustrate the company’s new value and services. The name fit as Grand Rounds (in the healthcare world) consists of doctors, residents and medical students that meet to review medical problems and treatments. Because the company was only in existence for two years, the name change only made ripples among its stakeholders. Compare this to Datsun when it changed to Nissan—a change that required three years and reportedly $30 million to complete.

Hire Experts

If you’re devoted to spending money on rebranding, you need to also devote money to the experts who can help you do it right. There are so many considerations you may not realize like finding an available domain name and IP address; trademarks; legalities and more. Additionally, when you have multiple partners, securing a consensus can be challenging and an unbiased party can help you get there faster.  Microsoft experienced a legal mess when it launched SkyDrive: The name was changed to OneDrive after Microsoft lost a trademark infringement suit to BSkyB along with the millions of marketing dollars spent to promote a name they couldn’t keep.

Think Small

Select “rebrand light,” if you can. If you can simply adjust an aspect of your name to achieve your goals, do it. Adaptive Planning recently rebranded as Adaptive Insights to mirror its expanding product line and value proposition. The new name proved an opportunity to talk about the company in a new way, but the change was not so dramatic as to rock the faith of the company’s investors, employees, customers and partners.

What’s in a Name?

Why Highwire? We embraced Highwire as our new name because it takes a unique talent to walk a tightrope and Highwire delivers talent in an uncommon and daring manner while taking clients from point A to point B. The industry has largely embraced our new name, but it’s important to understand that branding is a process, not a one-and-done activity. We still field calls (albeit rarely) about our new name. 

Prepare Yourself

Once we decided upon the name, we needed to plan. We’re the ones usually conducting the media training, and this was no different. As a general rule, people do not like change: Consumers were up in arms when Burger King, Gap and Pepsi changed their logos—and that was just their logos, not their names. Additionally, people tend to think that rebranding means something negative (think of Blackwater, which has changed its name three times since its inception). In our case, we were changing for good reasons, but we fielded unexpected questions (Is someone leaving the agency? Are you still in PR?), and determined how best to address them. Prepare for any and all questions and thoroughly explain your reasoning to all relevant constituencies.

Build Support

Bring in trusted and important stakeholders as early and often as possible. Our client YouSendIt prepared to rebrand as Hightail, and it had substantial brand equity to consider. To help its audiences understand and embrace the name change, Hightail shared initial drafts with key stakeholders and solicited feedback—all while explaining the logic behind the name change. Hightail created collateral including videos and leveraged assets such as its high profile CEO to secure stakeholder approval before going public with the launch.

Make Sure It’s Also New and Improved

Rebranding is not for everyone, anyone thinking about it needs to consider the time and financial commitment as well as the impact to existing brand equity. But there are many reasons to drop a name that is no longer relevant or meaningful. We are happy we did it—Highwire represents our talent and our philosophy, and we will continue to take risks that positively impact our business.

Kathleen Gratehouse, is a principal at Highwire PR. Follow Kathleen: @Kathleengpr