You Might Need to Change the Name of Your Firm

Most creative firms are poorly named, especially if they are named after the principal and perhaps multiple partners. Unless you turn out to be a very large agency with a 40+ year track record, your name matters. Naming it in the traditional way after yourself does this:

  • it makes it a tad more difficult to sell
  • it encourages new clients to work with you when you should be doing other things that the firm really requires of you
  • it makes it difficult to add significant partners, because every time you do so the name will likely change
  • it makes your agency look small

Chances are that you didn't put much thought into naming the company when it began with just you as an employee. The attorney was pressuring you to come up with some name that s/he could put on the forms, and so you defaulted to the easy choice. If I had done that, my company would be Baker Inc., or Baker & Associates, etc.

You may in fact agree with me that the name of your creative entity isn't ideal, but the supposed "equity" in your current name has held you back. That's nonsense, really. Do you really think someone who wants to work with you would think: "There was this amazing firm, but I can't remember the name." Especially if you keep your current website alive and just point it to the new one. Besides, the real people who know of you, have talked to you, and are interested in your firm are easy to reach--you already have them on your mailing or emailing list. This is the biggest lie you're telling yourself about naming your own company: "We've built up equity in this name and so we'll leave it as is."

Typically, this issue comes to the forefront when you are adjusting or completely changing your positioning. All your marketing materials and your website will need to change anyway, so why not couple that with a name change (if it's warranted)?

Here are the qualities of a good name:

  • it should be short
  • it should not include "design" (that word is marginalized)
  • It should not be trendy, like RazorFish
  • you should be able to purchase the appropriate domain ending in .com. Using any other TLD is simply a sign that the .com version was taken and you settled for something else
  • it should be intuitively easy to pronounce to avoid a prospect having to ask how to prononce it
  • there should be an interesting story behind it, which you'll tell the curious prospect or client if they ask but otherwise it'll just be something you in the firm know about-
  • it should not feature your location (e.g., 42nd St. Studio)
  • it should not feature any names of real people in the agency-
  • it may declare your specialized focus: e.g., Orthopaedic Marketing--ideally it will be an empty vessel to fill with your tagline

This last point may be the most important. With all the common domain names taken, when I name companies I first write down all the single words that describe what they do, who they do it for, and the process they use. Then, I use a reverse dictionary, starting with a Latin one (but also using Spanish and French and German) to look those words up and see if there's a foreign word that translates one of those key English words, modifying it however I want. To accomplish this last part of the project, I use the tiles from a Scrabble game and keep rearranging them until I find something that meets the criteria outlined above. Often I do that on airplanes, getting very strange looks from my seatmates!

The next step is to see if the domain is available. I have found that Domain Tools and Instant Domain Search are the best resource for this. If it's available, they'll tell you and you can register it (Network Solutions is the most trusted and stable registrar). If it's not available, they'll give you the full history of ownership. Often it's owned by an individual buyer and there's nothing of substance on the site. You can typically buy those names for $1,000-$3,000.

DomainTools also has a feature that provides hundreds of options that might work, adding something to the beginning or end of your preferred name, like "".

Now you have a name that fits all the criteria above, and most importantly it's an empty vessel. You fill that empty vessel with your tagline, which also should be short (<10 words). It will usually start with "Marketing for…".

Need one more argument to change your name? Over the 18 years that I've been consulting this field, I've noticed that the most effective marketing piece that you can mail to prospects and clients is your moving piece or name change announcement. No, really! It somehow signals that big changes are afoot, and that they are good changes.

To illustrate some good names just to get you started, here are some of my favorites (all are clients except one):

  • 50000 ft.
  • Biro
  • Callahan Creek
  • Cinco
  • CloserLook
  • Dine
  • EnglishMoon
  • EchoDitto
  • Extractable
  • FitzMartin (middle names of principals)
  • High Rock
  • Ibis
  • Immersion Active
  • Interrupt Marketing
  • Carbon & Light
  • Method
  • Monkey Forest
  • The Naming Group
  • Newfangled
  • Ologie
  • Origin
  • Primal Screen
  • Questus
  • ReTake
  • Raincastle
  • Red Canoe
  • Sliced Bread
  • Smith & Jones (fictitious names)
  • SquareCircle
  • Third Degree
  • Toolhouse
  • Triad
  • Unboundary

Is it time to inject a little change at your firm and change your name? At least consider it.

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