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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 worked.

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 extensive testing."

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 critical.

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.

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