Association Name Changes
By Stacia H. Bontempo
ASAE AMC Connection from April 2001
Changing the name of your organization changes its identity, no matter
how slight the change. Careful consideration must be given to selecting
the new name and to the transition process to ensure that your
organization's identity is not jeopardized.
The selection process
Creating a new name by deleting a word from or adding a word to the
old name is an approach that is preferred by Christopher Bonner,
president, Bonner Consultants, Inc., McLean, Virginia. "If the decision
has been made to change the name, the new name should be a derivative
of the old name. This helps reduce recognition problems, and if your
association works hard to influence members of Congress, you want to be
easy to identify."
Bill Moroney, president and CEO, United Telecom Council,
Washington, D.C., agrees. His organization has gone through several
name changes, although it has kept its acronym (UTC). He attributes the
smooth transition process to this, as it has reduced recognition
problems. However, not all of the name changes using this acronym
In 1994, when UTC was the Utilities Telecommunications Council,
the leadership changed the name to just the acronym to avoid limiting
its membership to utilities. Moroney reports that "by the time I came
on board a couple of years ago, UTC was losing its identity. Among
other things, it was having directory assistance problems, and
regulators were asking 'Who is UTC?' One regulator asked, 'If the
acronym doesn't stand for anything, does the organization?' " This led
to another name change to United Telecom Council with a tag line that
further clarified its position in the marketplace--"The
Telecommunication & Information Technology Association for
Utilities, Pipelines, & Other Critical Infrastructure Companies."
In some cases, the selection process results in no name change.
Stanley S. Bissey, director of membership services, San Francisco
Medical Society, describes his experience with name changes at the
Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA), Atlanta.
"Our executive committee was concerned that our name, 'Trial
Lawyers,' turned people off and had a negative connotation. Fueling
that was the movement by several other state trial lawyer associations
that recently had been renamed. After several meetings and some modest
persuasion from the staff, GTLA remained GTLA. Some of the reasons
given were tradition; cost of converting logos, stationary,
publications, and so forth; and perhaps most noble of all, a desire not
to run and hide from a proud profession."
Assistance with the decision and process
Some associations choose to handle the name change decision and
process internally while others lean heavily on outside sources, such
as attorneys and other consultants, to help ensure that the name is a
suitable fit for the association's mission and vision. Still others
conduct public opinion polls or use focus groups.
World at Work, formerly the American Compensation Association,
Scottsdale, Arizona, used a perceptual management firm to do the
branding process. It conducted focus groups that included members and
nonmembers as well as scientific perceptual mappings across eight
months and then presented the board of directors with suggested names,
taglines, and logos. Anne C. Ruddy, executive director, explains: "It's
not an inexpensive process. We wanted a name that we could grow into,
and our volunteer leadership felt that they weren't the right ones to
pick a suitable name."
Ruddy suggests keeping members informed about the progress of
the name change decision. After the change took place, World at Work
received some complaints from members who felt that they should have
been more involved in selecting the name.
By using extensive public opinion analysis, quantitative
testing, and research, the American Chemistry Council, formerly the
Chemical Manufacturers Association, Arlington, Virginia, selected its
new name. It found that members of its target audience were consistent
in their opinions about the words used in the new name.
For example, it found that the word council indicated a group of people working together to solve a problem. Other words, such as association, alliance, and institute were not as favorable as council. The word association was thought to be used too extensively, the word alliance reflected a more temporary arrangement (much like a military alliance), and institute
made them think of a more academically oriented organization. Terry
Yosie, vice president for strategic communication, explains, "Our
industry is very analytical, so we approached our name change with
Transition to the new name
A clear transition plan, which includes plans for advertising,
public relations, reprinting, updating of print and electronic
publications and Web site, changing voice mail messages, and more is
The College and University Professional Association for Human
Resources, Washington, D.C., formerly the College and University
Personnel Association, launched an extensive marketing plan immediately
after accepting its new name. Audrey R. Rothstein, CAE, assistant
executive director of planning and operations, reports, "We rolled out
a substantial direct mail campaign targeting chapters and regional
leaders, corporate partners, advertisers, the media, third party
providers, past presidents, and others. There were many other steps
too--the creation of a new membership booth, new signage for the
building, new letterhead and business cards, and much more."
Bonner recommends rolling out the press releases once the new
name is launched. "Although 'X is now Y' is a one-time announcement,
you should find reasons to communicate organization news, research, and
anything else to the media to get your new name out in the
marketplace," Bonner adds. A successful transition usually takes
anywhere from 12 to 18 months, he notes. "You should carry the
'formerly X' line on your printed materials for some time depending on
how different your new name is from the old."
Stacia H. Bontempo is an Edgewater, Maryland-based freelance writer and association marketing consultant.