Still Like Sara Lee? 5 Tips for Communicating a Name Change

Sara Lee is one of those stalwart brands that instantly calls to mind certain images—in this case, it's an image of a box of banana cake in the frozen food section in a grocery store. Its old slogan, "nobody doesn't like Sara Lee," is hard to forget.

That image will linger with some of us for a while, despite the recent announcement by Sara Lee Corp. that it is changing its name to Hillshire Brands Co.

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 5 that the name change is part of an effort to rejuvenate slumping sales of the Hillshire Farm-branded lunch meats. The company feels that the Hillshire name is already well-known to consumers, and that the renaming of the parent company will serve to boost the packaged meats brand, reportedly a billion dollar product line.

WSJ says the name change also reflects the company's "long, steady move away from traditional baked goods...that made Sara Lee a familiar name for grocery shoppers." The company still sells Sara Lee-branded frozen desserts, but it's unclear if the company is committed to that product line.

Changing the name of a brand, even one not so ingrained in the collective mind of the marketplace as Sara Lee, can have any number of negative connotations. For PR pros, communicating a name change can be a wrenching process—internally and externally. Here are five tips you can use if you find yourself in the tough position of communicating the renaming of a brand.

  1. Involve yourself in the process as early as possible. Many companies make the mistake of involving PR too late in the process. The conduit through which people will hear about a name change is the media, so the PR team should be involved from the very beginning.

  2. Sell the new name internally first. If employees don't understand the reason for the name change or if they have any other concerns, your external outreach will suffer accordingly. But don't give your internal audience too much time to critique it and build a wave of negativity before the public announcement.

  3. Go beyond the press release. A press release announcing a new name should be only the second step (after selling the name internally) in a complete communications effort.

  4. Initiate an open dialogue with your community on social media channels. While not exactly crowdsourcing ideas for a new name, opening a dialogue with a brand's longtime fans on social media channels will send a message that their feelings and loyalty matters to you.

  5. Identify ways that you can engage consumers as co-branders and use their experiences to help build the brand.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI