It has been an unusually active year for our clients changing the names of their organizations. We have two public broadcasters and a health care client who did. The need to reinvent themselves happened for a number of reasons — they wanted to come across as innovative or be forward-looking in embracing new media or primarily to honor a donor who gave them a huge endowment gift.
Their chief concern is whether current donors and members will recognize them as the same organization they’ve been investing in for years and whether they’ll appreciate and accept the change as justified and being for the better.
The Los Angeles Free Clinic received an extraordinary $10 million endowment from philanthropists Cheryl and Haim Saban. In April 2008 the Clinic was renamed The Saban Free Clinic in honor of the gift which was the largest in their history. Northeastern Ohio public television outlets WNEO and WEAO, better known as “PBS 45 & 49”, launches a new identity this fall as “Western Reserve Public Media” to better represent the full range of their broadcast, Internet, new media and print services.
Similarly, our public television client in Southern Arizona broadcasts 6 streams of television content, 3 streams of radio content and has a robust website. So, the entity that incorporates KUAT-TV and radio stations KUAT-FM and KUAZ-AM/FM adopted the name “Arizona Public Media” earlier this year, but not yet in its membership promotion. Under our guidance, they are testing the old names vs. the new name to make sure they won’t lose members or revenue from the new ID.
Well, I was probably the best one to manage this test program because I changed my own name about ten years ago – not my last name, but more boldly, my first. Like these stations, my birth name (Bernice) was a bit old fashioned for the time and my personality. And being somewhat bubbly, I wanted a name that I always loved and thought better reflected who I was. I wanted to be Brooke – a bubbly, pleasant and soothing image of a running stream.
However, like the public broadcasters and health organization, I had to submit my recommendation for a name change to my Board of Directors. My joint Chairman and Chairwoman (mom and dad) were skeptical, and the other Board members (brothers and sister) all said “what?” But after two rounds of presentations and votes, they passed my amendment and Brooke it became.
Now if our not-for-profit clients have a similar experience to mine (as KUAT is so far), it should take about nine months to a year for people to accept and get used to the new name and to get the same recognition and support I experienced.
At first people would forget to call me Brooke and would quickly correct themselves. Nobody minded trying to learn my new name, but there is one important factor in my own test that KUAT, Western Reserve and Saban all share: we need to keep something of the past (and present) that will make people remember – our logos.
In my case my face, hair color and style could be considered my logo. If my friends and colleagues forgot my new name (and believe it or not, it still happens), they could still recognize me and identify the new name with my face. Arizona Public Media, PBS 45 & 49 and the Free Clinic need to attach or at least relate their new names and logos to the old ones for a good length of time. This was proven in our KUAT tests in acquisition, lapsed and add gift promotions.
I must say, I didn’t lose any of my special appeal keeping my logo, but KUAT did by using only their new one. A fall off of 40% from asking people to contribute an add gift to “AZPM” proved that. Likewise, when we asked people to “rejoin” AZPM, it didn’t make sense in their minds because they were never members of an entity with that name. The lapsed control package beat the test by 87%. Again the connection has to be there and can’t be broken for a good length of time. (Fortunately, I never experienced any personal lapses so I don’t have a similar experience to compare.)
Only in acquisition did the new name not act as a hindrance in getting responses. The new logo is ahead of the control by 60%. Which makes sense – my younger co-workers who never knew me as Bernice have no problem remembering that I’m Brooke.
As stations and organizations ponder a name change – whether because of the upcoming transition to digital and a different spot on the dial or to better encompass all the services they provide – these are important lessons to remember. And hopefully, those old antiquated names will only provide fodder for good-natured ribbing (as is my case) or a fond look back at both a different yet familiar past.
If you have any questions, just email bernice@car – oops, firstname.lastname@example.org.